Preview: Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
With three matches in the space of six days, Melbourne could well have a firm hold on the Premiers' Plate by this time next week.
Date: Saturday January 23 Kick-off: 7:00pm AEDT, 4:00pm AWST Venue: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
Head-to-head Played 20: Wins: Melbourne Victory 12, Adelaide Reds 5. Draws: 3
Previous Meeting Melbourne Victory 3, Adelaide United 1, Etihad Stadium, October 2009
Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: Round 18: Central Coast Mariners 0, Melbourne Victory 3, Bluetongue Stadium Round 20: Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney FC 0, Etihad Stadium Round 21: North Queensland Fury 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 22: Newcastle Jets 3, Melbourne Victory 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 23: Melbourne Victory 6, Perth Glory 2, Etihad Stadium
Adelaide United: Round 20: Adelaide United 1, Wellington Phoenix 1, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 21: Sydney FC 1, Adelaide United 0, Sydney Football Stadium Round 22: Gold Coast 1, Adelaide United 1, Skilled Park Round 23: Adelaide United 1, Central Coast Mariners 1, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 19: Adelaide United 2, Perth Glory 3, Hindmarsh Stadium
Analysis: With three matches in the space of six days, Melbourne could well have a firm hold on the Premiers' Plate by this time next week. A clash against bitter rival Adelaide at Etihad Stadium on Saturday opens the three-match stint, while matches against Wellington on Tuesday and Gold Coast next Friday follow.
Wins in the matches against Adelaide and Wellington would put Melbourne top of the table heading into the game against Gold Coast, while clashes against North Queensland and Sydney finish off the regular season.
While a second consecutive premiership would be ideal, Melbourne's chief ambition is to make sure it finishes top two. The finals system makes it very difficult for a team finishing third to qualify for the Grand Final and with just two points separating three teams at the top of the table, it looks like it will be a close run thing.
On face value, a clash against Adelaide at the comfort of Etihad Stadium looks ideal for Victory. It has won an amazing eight straight matches against the Reds since the start of last season has only lost one of the past 16 encounters between the two teams.
Coupled with that, Adelaide is having its worst-season in the Hyundai A-League's five -year history. Winless in five matches and with just one success in its past 12, Aurelio Vidmar's team is bottom of the table and needs a minor miracle to find its way into the finals.
However, despite a dominant recent record from Melbourne and the fact the Reds are in such poor form, Adelaide is a team which can produce some very strong performances on occasions and Melbourne will take a degree of caution into a match which everybody expects it to win.
The brilliant 6-2 win over Perth last week, highlighted by a hat-trick to Robbie Kruse, has raised the mood, not just in the locker room but also in the stands. The fans expect this high-tempo, thrilling football every time Melbourne runs out onto the park, but the reality is that you can sometimes only play as well as your opposition will let you.
Adelaide is coming off a short back-up after giving up a 2-0 lead in its match against Perth on Tuesday and being beaten 3-2, it has a couple of key players out in Lucas Pantelis and Cassio, and will be happier than ever to park the bus and make Melbourne do all the hard work.
Vidmar has called in Robbie Cornthwaite, Alemao and Scott Jamieson into his side, which strengthens things in the defensive areas, while Iain Fyfe had his red card from the Perth match expunged which means he can play here.
Melbourne has no major reason to make any changes after such an emphatic win last week. Nathan Elasi and Mate Dugandzic come into an extended squad, while the likes of Matthew Kemp, Surat Sukha and Evan Berger will be saved for the matches against either Wellington or Gold Coast.
While a ninth consecutive win over the Reds would be a great achievement, the bigger picture for Melbourne is maintaining a charge for the premiership and giving itself every chance to defend the championship it won in such dramatic fashion against Adelaide last year.
Melbourne Victory squad: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3.Mate DUGANDZIC, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 25.Aziz BEHICH, 26.Marvin ANGULO *two to be omitted*
In: Mate DUGANDZIC (promoted), Nathan ELASI (promoted)
Unavailable: Evan BERGER (hamstring, 1 week), Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Matthew KEMP (hamstring, 1 week), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite), Surat SUKHA (hamstring, 1 week)
Adelaide United squad: 1.Eugene GALEKOVIC (gk), 2.Robert CORNTHWAITE, 3. ALEMAO, 4.Iain FYFE, 5.Daniel MULLEN, 9.CRISTIANO, 10.Adam HUGHES, 11.Lloyd OWUSU, 13.Travis DODD (c), 14.Scott JAMIESON, 15. Francesco MONTEROSSO, 16.Inseob SHIN, 17.Michael MARRONE, 18.Fabian BARBIERO, 19.Mathew LECKIE, 20.Mark BIRIGHITTI (gk), 21.Mark RUDAN *two to be omitted*
In: Robert CORNTHWAITE (promoted), Scott JAMIESON (promoted), ALEMAO (returns from injury), Francesco MONTEROSSO (promoted)
Out: Lucas PANTELIS (suspended - 1 match), CASSIO (calf - 1 week)
Unavailable: Paul REID (groin - 2 weeks), Joe COSTA (knee - long term injury list)