Preview: Melbourne v Central Coast

Melbourne kicks off its campaign for back-to-back championships against Central Coast at Etihad Stadium, 158 days after edging out Adelaide in a memorable Grand Final at the same venue.

Date: Thursday August 6 Kick-off: 8:00pm AEST Venue: Telstra Dome, Melbourne TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 3 and Sky Sport 3. Hyundai A-League club broadcast partner is 774 ABC Melbourne, Coast FM (Gosford) 96.3FM. To purchase tickets visit

Head-to-head 12 A-League meetings: Melbourne Victory - 6 wins, Central Coast - 3 wins, Draws - 3

Previous meeting Melbourne Victory 3, Central Coast Mariners 0, Telstra Dome, Round 20, January 2009

Pre-Season: (Matches against A-League opposition or touring teams) Melbourne June 27: Wellington Phoenix 1 Melbourne victory 1, Queenstown Events Centre, Queenstown July 11: Melbourne Victory 0, Fulham 3, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne July 26: Melbourne Victory 2, Adelaide United 1, Launceston

Central Coast: June 7: North Queensland Fury 0 Central Coast 1, Jardine Park, Rockhampton July 6: Sydney FC 0, Central Coast Mariners 0, Leichhardt Oval, Leichhardt July 18: Gold Coast 2, Central Coast 2, Skilled Park, Robina July 25: Central Coast 0, Wellington Phoenix 0, Appex Oval, Dubbo

Analysis Melbourne kicks off its campaign for back-to-back championships against Central Coast at Etihad Stadium, 158 days after edging out Adelaide in a memorable Grand Final at the same venue.

The Hyundai A-League is a whole new challenge for the only multiple championship winner in the competition's history with two new teams not only meaning it is a tougher task to win the title, but it is a also a longer one with 27 rounds in the regular season.

Even still, Victory is determined to make a fast start to the season, in the same manner it did in its successful 2008/09 and 2006/07 campaigns. Melbourne has never lost the opening game of a season, with three draws and a win. Last season, Melbourne kicked off with a 0-0 draw away to Sydney.

But Melbourne will be going for all three points against a team it has a good record against in recent times. Victory has not been beaten by the Mariners since November 2007 and won its last two games against the Central Coast last season, including a 3-0 win in January. The Mariners made the finals last year, but bowed out to Queensland at the first hurdle.

Since then Lawrie McKinna's men undertook a fruitless Asian Champions League campaign, failing to register a win. But it has hardly been panic stations at the Bluetongue with McKinna sticking basically with the same squad of players he had last year but adding Chris Doig, Adam Kwasnik, Shane Huke, Nick Travis and Michael McGlinchey.

Melbourne has made even fewer changes to its squad, adding New Zealand international goalkeeper Glen Moss, Thai international Surat Sukha and Youth League player Mathew Theodore. Moss will be the only one of those three to feature in the squad, with the former Phoenix stopper winning the keeping battle with Mitch Langerak for now.

Melbourne has a full squad of 21 to pick from, with back-up striker Nathan Elasi on international duty, while Billy Celeski will not start as he is not quite back to full fitness after an off-season hip injury. That gives Leigh Broxham the chance to make his first start in an A-League match since the final game on the 2007/08 season.

It's been a strong pre-season for Melbourne, which rounded of its preparations with a 2-1 win over Adelaide in Launceston a fortnight ago. A 3-0 loss to EPL side Fulham was nothing to be ashamed of, and a sharper Victory outfit would have given the home side a lead inside the first half an hour.

The one man who has looked particularly good in the pre-season is Archie Thompson, who has been showing his physique off in local papers, after his best preparation in his time at the club. With the World Cup looming, Archie is desperate to get to South Africa and if he plays how he looks, it will be impossible for Pim Verbeek to ignore him.

Kevin Muscat has also been showing the youngsters in the squad a clean pair of heels in the sprints and the long-distance runs around The Tan. The skipper turns 36 on Friday and would like no better present than a victory on Thursday night.

Ernie Merrick is confident his men can do that given their excellent preparation for the season and an expected crowd of around 30,000 behind them.

Melbourne Victory Squad: 1.Mitch LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 9.Danny ALLSOPP, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.NEY FABIANO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 14.Billy CELESKI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 19.Evan BERGER, 20.Glenn MOSS (gk), 22.Nick WARD Unavailable: nil

Central Coast Mariners Squad: 1.Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 4. Pedj BOJIC, 5. Brad PORTER, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 8. Dean HEFFERNAN, 11. Dylan MACALLISTER, 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 16. Nigel BOOGAARD, 17. Chris DOIG, 18. Alex WILKINSON (c), 19. Matt SIMON, 20. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 21. Ahmad ELRICH, 22. Nicky TRAVIS, 23. Adam KWASNIK. Unavailable: nil

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