The A-League season is two weeks old and what have we learned so far? Actually, very little. Seven of the ten matches thus far have ended in draws, and in the other three, it has been the underdog getting the points each time. And for those involved in various fantasy leagues, price changes occur after this weekend, except for players from Wellington and Brisbane, who had byes in the first two weeks, and Gold Coast, who have this weekend off.
Five Burning Questions from Round 2
- Is this the year Perth Glory finally wins an A-League title?
- Can Sydney FC pull itself out of its early-season mire?
- Is the Melbourne Victory era at the top of the table finished?
- Can North Queensland Fury continue winning with its thrilling football?
- When will Melbourne Heart convert its possession into penetration?
Adelaide United v Melbourne Heart
Friday 20 August, 8:00pm AEST at Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide (Fox Sports 1)
With draws in their first two fixtures, Adelaide goes into this match as slight favourites over the Heart, although both teams have question-marks over their scoring power. Adelaide did manage to get on the board first last week against Central Coast Mariners through Iain Fyfe, but never looked like adding to the tally and couldn’t hold out, eventually conceding six minutes from time. Nonetheless it was a well-deserved point on the road but like many teams, a win is required to break from the pack. Melbourne Heart too is looking for its first win and indeed its first goal, or at least the first goal scored by its own players. Newcastle Jets’ Ben Kantarovski became the answer to future trivia questions when his own goal got the Heart on the scoreboard for the season. The Heart is the recent World Cup in a microcosm, teams with previous little time together having trouble getting past organized defences. It’s nowhere near time to panic, but every week without that first win builds the pressure. Adelaide is in the same boat though, and the pattern may continue until either team can develop fluency.
Team News: Heart suffered a huge blow with the loss of Australian marquee signing Josip Skoko, with Wayne Srhoj or Jason Hoffman expected to slot into the position. Aziz Behich comes into the squad as cover for Kristian Sarkies but is unlikely to start. Adelaide is without the suspended Adam Hughes while Joe Costa and Robert Cornthwaite are still a week away, while there are doubts over the fitness of key striker Sergio van Dijk.
Prediction: Adelaide United 1-1 Melbourne Heart
Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets
Saturday 21 August, 5:15pm AEST at nib Stadium, Perth (Fox Sports 3)
With a 2-0 victory over the, er, Victory last weekend, Perth announced itself as legitimate title contenders. Perth dominated the last couple of seasons of the old NSL but has never been the same force in the five years of the A-League but that looks set to change. With twin marquee signings Robbie Fowler and Mile Sterjovski the Glory has the most potent attack in the competition and sits on top of a crowded ladder with five goals scored in two matches. Steven McGarry in the midfield was excellent last week and looms as key again, while the defence which leaked three goals in the opening match was rock solid last week. The Jets, meanwhile, will be disappointed to have only come away with a point against the Heart after Kantarovski’s late own-goal. They look capable of improving upon last season’s sixth position, Newcastle has won just one of six matches against the Glory and it is hard to see that record improving for Branko Culina’s men.
Team News: Josh Mitchell has received a temporary international clearance after a pay dispute with Romanian club Universtatea Craiova but may find it difficult to break into the team., as will Michael Baird, but expect them to play roles off the bench. The Jets’ centre-back Nikolai Topor-Stanley will miss with a hamstring strain, while Chinese signing Zhang Shuo won’t yet make his debut due to injury.
Prediction: Perth Glory 3-1 Newcastle Jets
Brisbane Roar v Sydney FC
Saturday 21 August, 7:30pm AEST at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane (Fox Sports 3)
Both teams sit on one point – but with Brisbane having had the bye last week there’s not quite the same level of concern. The Roar was defensively solid in its opening-round stalemate against Gold Coast but will be keen to open its account at home in front of a Sydney FC outfit that wasn’t good enough against North Queensland last weekend. No sooner had Scott Jamieson equalised than the reigning champions leaked another goal; a similarly frail performance will raise serious questions. Sydney will look to lift for captain Terry McFlynn’s 100th A-League game but with a number of key losses, both in the offseason to opposition clubs, and in recent weeks to injury, it could be a tough beginning to the season. Brisbane also has a much-changed team from last season, but the week off could prove important.
Team News: Mark Bridge looks set to miss again for Sydney while Alex Brosque went down in training this week – further harming their attacking options. Hirofumi Moriyasu and Matt Jurman come into the squad. For the hosts, Massimo Mudocca will miss with a strained quadriceps with young midfielder Rocky Visconte and striker Reinaldo looking to come into the side.
Prediction: Brisbane Roar 1-0 Sydney FC
Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners
Sunday 22 August 1.00pm AEST at Westpac Stadium, Wellington (Fox Sports 3)
Last season Wellington was by far the better team, scoring five goals and not conceding any to the Mariners. But Central Coast have looked much better in the opening two matches of 2010/11, shutting out the Heart and then wearing down Adelaide’s defence to finally equalise at home last week. The two weeks, while generally solid, have betrayed a lack of incisiveness which may cost the Mariners against a Wellington side that simply does not lose at home. The Phoenix was up 3-1 last week before Shane Smeltz and Jason Culina deprived them of the win, and a lack of solidity may provide some hope for the counter-attacking Mariners. They will rely upon Matt Simon, whose opening two matches have been top-class. But with Wellington duo Paul Ifill, who destroyed Central Coast last season, and Chris Greenacre, who has stepped up to become an impressive foil, both in form it may be more of the same from the Phoenix.
Team News: No major injury concerns for Wellington coach Ricki Herbert, although backup keeper Reece Crowther is out for two months and has been replaced by former Brisbane man Griffin McMaster. Jade North and Diego are a month away from returning. Central Coast may have Patricio Perez ready to make his season debut after a hamstring problem. And another player joins the 100-club this week, Central Coast strike Adam Kwasnik.
Prediction: Wellington Phoenix 3-1 Central Coast Mariners
Melbourne Victory v North Queensland Fury
Sunday 15 August, 3pm AEST at AAMI Park, Melbourne (Fox Sports 3)
Last week the Victory was in it deeper than Genesis and Sum-41 put together, with talisman Carlos Hernandez looking set to join Archie Thompson in the long-term casualty ward and the team looking old and flat in a defeat to Perth Glory. But with Hernandez cleared of major trouble and the arrival of Brazilian Ricardinho as the club’s international marquee signing, all of a sudden there is hope for the blue half of Melbourne. The Victory took two of the three matches against the Fury last season, including the home fixture 2-0, so the visitors will be up against it to deny Melbourne a maiden win for the season. However, the Fury cannot be discounted, as one of the three teams to have taken three points from any fixture so far. Substitute Dyron Daal made the difference with a late winner against Sydney last week, following on from the opening-round draw with highly-fancied Perth. Their style of play has won admirers with an attacking brand of football, and Franz Straka will be looking for more of the same to exploit the ageing Victory. Whether it works or not may have a huge bearing upon each team’s direction for the rest of the season. And if this season has taught us anything, it’s that such answers don’t come so early.
Team News: In further good news for the Victory, striker Robbie Kruse also returns, although his return will be tempered by the loss of midfielder Billy Celeski, who went down in training with a knee strain and will miss two weeks. Straka has added five names to the squad but it seems unlikely the lineup will change much after such a positive start.
Prediction: Melbourne Victory 2-2 North Queensland Fury