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Preview: Sydney FC vs Wellington Phoenix – 19/12/21

Season Preview

A-League Men’s Round 5: Sydney FC vs Wellington Phoenix FC

Kick-off: 6:45pm

Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Kogarah

Live stream: Paramount+

Last time they met: Sydney FC 1 (Le Fondre 23′) defeated Wellington Phoenix 0 in a pre-season match on 14/11/21. In the A League, Sydney defeated Wellington 2-1 on 8/2/21 at Jubilee Stadium.

Click here to discuss the match on the forum.

Four games and no wins. Four games and two points. Four games and two goals. Four games, and second last.

Call it a slow start, a slump, a trend or a trough. If Sydney can’t beat a battered Wellington Phoenix on Sunday afternoon, then practically one-fifth of the season will have passed and the table won’t lie. Sydney are short-priced favourites. Frankly, it’s hard to see why.

The Phoenix come into the match with mixed form. Last Friday, Newcastle beat them 4-nil in what Ufuk Talay described as the worst performance of his time as head coach. The Jets dominated most of the match, scored three in the second half, and the Phoenix barely had a moment.

But on Wednesday Wellington bounced back, beating Avondale FC 4-1 in the FFA Cup. The mid-week minutes might drain some Phoenix players, but Avondale were reduced to 10 men midway through the first half and Talay rotated his squad in what was hardly a taxing game.

Phoenix star striker Gary Hooper remains unavailable for personal reasons, leaving hard-working Englishman David Ball as one of the few experienced Wellington players. Ball, young Kiwi Olympian Ben Waine and Cove favourite Josh Sotirio will provide the goal threat, guided by Rene Piscopo and new signing Luka Prso.

The Phoenix are of course battling bigger forces. Last season they played away from home for almost the entire season, providing great football but just missing the finals. Talay had to completely rebuild his squad for this season, losing key players Steven Taylor, Cameron Devlin, Ulises Davila and Tomer Hemed. This season they have drawn with Macarthur, beaten the Mariners, then lost to the Wanderers and the Jets. Can they continue to punch up against the factors dragging them down?

The Sky Blues have had seven days to dwell on Sunday’s submission to the Mariners, and plan around some key absences. Thankfully Rhyan Grant – at time of writing – remains the only player ruled out by COVID-19.  (Edit: Grant has now been mentioned as ready to play some part in the game) With case numbers exponentially increasing around the city, this can’t be expected to last. Kosta Barbarouses joins Luke Brattan on the injury list after shifting from gastro to a busted fibula. Michael Zullo is training with the squad but unlikely to play any part, and Connor O’Toole and Chris Zuvela are also still recovering from injury.

Steve Corica has more questions than answers in every area. Up front, Bobo should be the better for a thankless 45 minutes against the Mariners last week, and could join Adam Le Fondre in attack. But Corica might be tempted to surprise the Phoenix with the more mobile Elvis Kamsoba in a free role, or provide another chance to Patrick Wood.

In midfield, the hope builds that Calem Nieuwenhof is fit and ready for more minutes, while Patrick Yazbek looked solid in his second half stint last weekend. Paulo Retre and Anthony Caceres are expected to start, but are surely on notice. It’s also time for a little more influence and end product from both Max Burgess and Milos Ninkovic.

The backline isn’t settled either. Harry Van Der Saag’s season has veered between sublime and shocking. If Rhyan Grant returns from COVID without a blip, then Sunday could be Van Der Saag’s last A League start for a while. Corica might even go for the younger but highly-rated Callum Talbot, who had some minutes against the Mariners. (Edit: Grant has now been mentioned as ready to play some part in the game) Corica may also be tempted to swap Ben Warland for James Donachie to seek more authority in the middle.

Remember this is a double-header, with the A League Women’s side kicking off at 4:05pm in their first ever match against the Phoenix.

Click here to discuss the match on the forum.