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Preview: Adelaide United v Sydney FC – Round 18 2015/16

Friday, 5 February 2016
Adelaide United v Sydney FC
Coopers Stadium, Adelaide
Kick-Off: 7:40 PM (AEDT)

Hope Alex Gersbach has packed his mittens.

The young leftback did not hang around long enough to become a fan favourite the way Terry Antonis did but it is a shame to lose a talented footballer who could have helped the Sky Blues in their climb back up the table. Sydney FC do make a tidy profit from his sale to FC Rosenborg, however, while the on-sell clause is reportedly a good one.

One hopes that Gersbach is not going over simply to warm the Norwegian wood, otherwise the kid would have been better advised to serve his apprenticeship in the A-League. Regardless, every Sydney fan wishes him luck in his new adventure and hopes to see him in a Socceroo shirt and at a bigger club before too long.

Enter former Sydney FC title winner and 2005/6 Members Player of the Year David Carney.

It has become fashionable to deride the former Socceroo – as much for his unstable club career as for his one error in the Asian Cup final against Japan in 2011. But his decade as a “journeyman” is, more than anything else, testament to what injury and bad advice can do to a player’s career, while THAT error is hardly career defining.

Few Australian footballers, or imports in the national competition for that matter, can boast a CV that includes 48 international caps and 6 goals, an A-League Grand Final win, two Asian Cups, an Olympic games and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Carney is still among the most technically gifted footballers in the A-League while his sharpness suggests that he is fit again this season – Sydney would not have signed him otherwise, not at 32 years of age.

Carney’s best contribution to Sydney FC will surely come as a wide attacker in place of Andrew Hoole or Chris Naumoff and his coolness under pressure and ability to score and set up goals could be the missing piece in the Sky Blue jigsaw. The Campbelltown product also offers depth at #10.

Alex Brosque is still at least a week away and it will be interesting to see how Graham Arnold lines up his charges against Adelaide United on Friday night. With Carney expected to start on the left and Milos Ninkovic firing at #10, Sydney could play Matt Simon, George Blackwood or Shane Smeltz up top, leaving marquee Filip Holosko in his usual position wide on the right.

This is the likely scenario but Arnold could spring a surprise and give the Slovak another run as a #9, leaving Chris Naumoff and Andrew Hoole – both with much to prove following Sydney’s willingness to let them leave earlier in the week – to fight it out for the right attacking spot.

The expected tactical battle is fascinating. Sydney FC played a defensive and counterattacking game – with some success – against WSW and Victory, coming unstuck when attempting to take it to Brisbane Roar last weekend.

Which way to go away from home?

Adelaide, unbeaten by Sydney FC at Coopers Stadium in four years – are a resurgent outfit and three points will be hard to snatch from the hard-nosed unit that defends en masse, isn’t afraid to give away a strategic foul or ten and has the technical gifts to punish any opponent.

The transfer window has seen Osama Malik and form midfielder Jimmy Jeggo leave for greener pastures and in their absence, coach Guillermo Amor has put his trust in the clever Isaias, talented youngster George Mells, thuglicous Iaccopo La Rocca and new signing Stefan Mauk to act as piano-carriers for talented playmaker Marcelo Carrusca. The club was unfortunate to lose Eli Babalj to a season-ending knee injury but have more than balanced the ledger by acquiring their former goalscoring maestro Sergio Van Dijk.

Adelaide, unlike the Sky Blues, have employed largely the same method all season long – lining up deep and playing out with some style. Hitting the long ball to flyer Craig Goodwin has also been a tactic that has brought them some success.

A factor influencing Amor’s decisions will be his side’s Asian Champions League (ACL) qualifying playoff against Shandong Luneng on Tuesday night. The Adelaide coach may well test the depth of his squad should some of his players not be capable of 180 minutes of football in four days. Conversely, with the hosts sitting just a point behind Sydney FC on the A-League ladder, Friday night shapes as a genuine “six pointer”.

Do Adelaide go for the win or prioritise the Tuesday playoff?

Amor’s intentions are hard to read so Arnie may opt for a game plan that is “cautiously attacking”, looking to create chances but leaving no stone unturned in bringing eleven men back behind the ball the moment Sydney lose possession.

Psychologically, the hosts edge the visitors – United do well against the Sky Blues at home and are on a three game winning run while Sydney FC have lost their last two matches. The Sky Blues will feel, however, that last time round they were desperately unlucky not to come away from Adelaide with at least a point despite being a man short most of the contest.

Sydney’s best chance of victory lies in getting the early goal, taking the home crowd out of the equation and putting doubt into the mind of the United players, many of whom who will have one eye on Tuesday’s ACL qualifier. If they do, they could lay the foundation for what would amount to something of an upset victory.

The Sky Blues need all three points.

With only ten rounds left to play and the ACL just around the corner, Sydney FC have little time to waste.