The Wellington Phoenix are welcoming the Isuzu UTE A-League leaders to Sky Stadium for their first match of 2023.
The Phoenix are playing host to Melbourne City, who entered round 10 with a four point lead at the top of the ladder.
City have dropped just five points so far this season, with two of those coming in round four when they surrendered a two-nil lead to draw 2-2 with the Nix at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
The competition leaders are unbeaten in their last five matches against Wellington, but the Phoenix have won the previous four meetings in New Zealand.
Head coach Ufuk Talay believes Melbourne City are “a great match-up”.
“I think Melbourne City is a good footballing side,” Talay told media on Saturday. “They want to play football, which is great.
“There’s a structure and a style that they play, which makes it a lot easier to analyse and determine what they’re going to do.
“They’ve got some very good players, especially in the front end, they score a lot of goals and defensively they work hard as well.
“For us it’s a game that we’re playing at home, it’s a game that we need to win. It’s very important that we pick up three points.”
Socceroos striker Jamie Maclaren has scored 10 of City’s goals so far this season, but Talay says the Nix haven’t focused on Maclaren.
“We look at the collective of what the opponent does. Obviously, we look at the attributes that they have and the style that they play and how they try to exploit the opposition and try to stop them exploiting us.
“We never really focus on individuals, but we do know where players make runs and where they like to receive the ball and try to stop that.”
The Phoenix have lost one of their leading scorers, with Ben Waine leaving the club to join League One leaders Plymouth Argyle in England.
“We lose a little bit of depth with Waineo leaving. We’ll have a look at the January window if we need to do anything.
“We always thought that at some stage Waineo was going to take that next step so we signed Oskar van Hattum thinking that he’ll be the next player to step up into that role.
“He’s back at full training, which is good for us and he’ll be available for selection.
“We’ve still got Kosta (Barbarouses), Oskar (Zawada),…Bally (David Ball) can play up there and we can even play Yan (Sasse) at times [up front] so we’ll still be able to rotate players.”
Defender Tim Payne is available for selection again after being a late withdrawal against Perth Glory because of a stomach bug, but academy graduates Ben Old (hernia) and Finn Surman (shoulder) remain side-lined with injuries.
Left back Sam Sutton will also miss the team’s opening match of 2023 because of illness, with attacking midfielder Noah Karunaratne promoted to take Sutton’s place in the matchday squad.
The ladder is incredibly congested, with the Phoenix starting the round in seventh, just three points off third and four points off bottom.
The Nix are unbeaten since the A-League resumed after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and Ufuk Talay wants that trend to continue.
“Are we playing good football? I believe we are playing good football, [but] are they turning into results? No, not at the moment. I think we’ve dropped too many points.
“I think we dropped two points against Adelaide. The Western United game I think we dropped three points there.
“We score goals but we’re conceding too many at the same time. I think we score the most goals in the competition at the moment and we just need to stop conceding goals. That’s the way we can win games.”
The 10th round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 3:00pm (1:00pm AEDT) and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Tickets – WPX New Year Double Header
Most recent A-League meeting: 30 October 2022 – Melbourne City 2 Wellington Phoenix 2
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, City 16W & 8D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 35. Noah KARUNARATNE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Unavailable: 3. Finn SURMAN (injured), 8. Ben OLD (injured), 18. Ben WAINE (departed the club), 19. Sam SUTTON (illness).