Isuzu UTE A-League Round 13 Match Preview

Head coach Giancarlo Italiano believes Wellington Phoenix fans will be the difference makers in Friday night’s top of the table match against Melbourne Victory.

The club is hoping for its largest crowd of the season at Sky Stadium for what is arguably the biggest regular season game in Phoenix history.

It is the first time the Isuzu UTE A-League’s top two placed teams have squared off in Wellington, with just one win separating the Nix and Victory at the top of the competition ladder.

A raucous crowd cheered the Phoenix on to a dramatic 2-0 win over Western Sydney Wanderers before Christmas and Italiano is hoping for a similar atmosphere on Friday night.

“I felt as though the crowd kept us in the game and gave us belief that we could beat Wanderers,” he told media after training on Thursday. “And when we scored that goal in the 90th the place was rocking.

“I hope the crowd does come out as they’ll be the difference.

“We’re at home so we’re going to try and dominate the game. With all home games we’ve tried to take the initiative.”

Despite the top of the table billing, Italiano is treating the match “like every other game”.

“I’m not buying into all of the hype because for us the value of this game is the same as every other game, it’s just worth three points.

“The focus is always on the 90 minutes and trying to get the best result we can.

“Whether it’s Victory or Sydney every game is tough in the A-League. Even last week Perth were a really good opponent and they really stretched us, probably harder than some of the other teams.

“Every opponent that we play is a good opponent. If I go in there with the emphasis that this is the be-all and end-all it takes away from the remainder of the season.

“The players will be motivated themselves. I don’t need to tell them the value of this game.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 10: Lukas Kelly-Heald of the Phoenix controls the ball infront of Bruno Fornaroli of Melbourne Victory during the A-League Men round four match between Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park, on November 10, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The Phoenix memorably drew 1-1 with Melbourne Victory in round four, despite not registering a single shot at goal at AAMI Park.

Giancarlo Italiano says their attack has “definitely matured” since then, with the Nix scoring 11 goals in their past five road games, including four against Perth Glory on Sunday night.

“We’ve also matured tactically. I think we’re finding the right cohesion now with the front three, our sixes are quite brave in the build-up and with our fullbacks bombing on we’re finding a nice balance.

“The fact that we play the majority of players every week that helps a lot as well.

“I don’t think we’ll have it that easy this week against Victory. When it comes to defending they’re probably the best team in the league.

“[They’re] quite compact, they’re ball orientated on the press and they’re really efficient so it’s going to be a real hard game for us tomorrow to break them down.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 12: Coach Giancarlo Italiano talks to his players during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on January 12, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Wellington have leaked eight goals in their past three matches after conceding just seven in their first nine games.

Italiano isn’t concerned, given he changed tactics in the 4-3 win over Perth and pressed for the first time this season.

“It can’t be every game that we’re unbelievably good at defending. There are times when the opponent plays well so you’ve got to put that into context.”

Both teams are close to full-strength for the top of the table match. Oskar van Hattum is available for the Phoenix again after missing the Unite Round match in Sydney, while New Zealand U-17 international Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues remains in the extended squad as striker Oskar Zawada is not yet ready to return from his thigh injury.

The Victory are without golden boot frontrunner Bruno Fornaroli who is with the Socceroos at the Asian Cup.

“If you look at the overall Victory squad they’re quite good right across the park.

“As big a loss as he is they still have a lot of players that can hurt you and we’re very respectful of that.”

The Phoenix men warm-up for training at NZCIS on the eve of their top of the table match against Melbourne Victory. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

The round 13 Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 7pm (5pm AEDT) Friday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Tickets for the top of the table match are available here.

Most recent meeting:
10 November 2023 – Melbourne Victory 1 Wellington Phoenix 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Victory 24W & 12D.

Wellington Phoenix squad
(two to be omitted)3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 30. Alby KELLY-HEALD (gk), 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.
Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured), 26. Isaac HUGHES (injured).

Melbourne Victory squad (two to be omitted) 2. Jason GERIA, 3. Adama TRAORE, 4. Rai MARCHAN, 5. Damien DA SILVA, 6. Leigh BROXHAM 7. Chris IKONOMIDIS, 8. Zinédine MACHACH, 11. Ben FOLAMI, 14. Connor CHAPMAN, 16. Stefan NIGRO, 17. Nishan VELUPILLAY, 19. Daniel ARZANI, 20. Paul IZZO (gk), 21. Roderick MIRANDA, 22. Jake BRIMMER, 24. Eli ADAMS, 25. Ryan TEAGUE, 27. Jordi VALADON, 28. Franco LINO, 40. Christian SICILIANO (gk).
Unavailable: 10. Bruno FORNAROLI (international duty).