Isuzu UTE A-League Round 19 Match Preview

Wellington Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano is trying to ignore the increasing title talk surrounding his team.

With the Phoenix unbeaten this year and still top of the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder with eight rounds remaining, questions are being asked about whether 2024 is the year the club wins its first title.

Italiano says a maiden premiership would be historic for the Nix, but he doesn’t want to get sidetracked with what’s going to happen in the future.

“I think it’s very, very important that we focus on the now,” he told media before training on Friday. “That’s the only thing that we can control.

“And I’ll keep saying it because it’s what’s working for us.

“The group internally has made a goal in terms of the number of wins that they want to get. It’s irrespective of where they finish on the table.

“It’s very important that we don’t get sidetracked with becoming first. If you’re solely focused on the end result, as opposed to the process, you can lose your way very quickly and that builds anxiety [and] it builds feelings that we can’t control.

“What we can control is the football and if we keep along that track anything is possible with this team.

“If we keep performing the way we are and we make it very hard for us to be beaten we will definitely be challenging.”

Italiano believes the next three or four games, starting with Adelaide United at Sky Stadium on Sunday evening, will determine their season.

“If we get another win or another three points I think that makes it very hard for us not to be in the six.

“But our focus is not that we want to be in the six, our focus is we want to be the best team we can be, have consistent performances and play the football that we know that we can.

“The underlying drive within the group and the motivation is that they want to finish as high as possible, win as many games as they can [and] perform in the way that we know we can.

“It’s more about sticking to those things and then wherever we finish, we finish.”

Fin Conchie in discussion with head coach Giancarlo Italiano at training at NZCIS on Friday. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

Adelaide started round 19 in 10th place, eight points adrift of the top six, but “they’re a difficult opponent”.

“They have a lot of dangerous players, even with [Zach] Clough out.

“They still have [Hiroshi] Ibusuki, [Nestory] Irankunda, who’s a great talent, [Ryan] Kitto for me is a very solid left-sided player, and they have a bit of experience with the Spanish boys as well.

“When we played them last I felt as though it was one of our better performances overall.

“We probably gave them some soft goals off the set piece to bring them back into the game, which is something we have to be conscious about because they’re very, very effective off set pieces.

“There are no easy games. The beautiful thing about the A-League is that on any given day…any team can beat any team.

“You have to be on in this league.”

Kosta Barbarouses training at NZCIS on Friday after missing last Saturday night’s match against Perth Glory. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

Giancarlo Italiano will welcome back top scorer Kosta Barbarouses on Sunday.

Barbarouses, who has found the back of the net 10 times this season, missed last Saturday night’s scoreless draw in Perth with a calf injury.

“Kosta’s doing better than expected. He’s close to full training. We’re going to monitor him today (Friday) to see where he’s at. I don’t know how long he’ll have for the weekend.”

Fullback Sam Sutton is also expected to return after five matches out with an ankle injury, while Bozhidar Kraev, Oskar Zawada and Youstin Salas are in line for more minutes after coming off the bench in Perth.

“For me it’s now making sure that we load those players adequately so that we don’t put them at risk.

“And we’re also looking at having a full-strength squad at the back end of the season.”

Youstin Salas is in line to make his home debut at Sky Stadium on Sunday. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

The round 19 Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United is scheduled to kick-off at Sky Stadium in Wellington at 5pm (3pm AEDT) Sunday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 3 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

You can get your tickets here to cheer on the men.

Most recent meeting:
4 January 2024 – Adelaide United 2 Wellington Phoenix 2

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Adelaide 22W & 15D.

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, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Youstin SALAS, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN.
Unavailable: 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (injured).

Adelaide United squad (two to be omitted): 1. James DELIANOV (gk), 2. Harry VAN DER SAAG, 3. Ben WARLAND, 4. Nick ANSELL, 6. Stefan MAUK, 7. Ryan KITTO (c), 8. ISAÍAS, 9. Hiroshi IBUSUKI, 17. Luka JOVANOVIĆ, 19. Yaya DUKULY, 21. Javi LÓPEZ, 22. Ryan TUNNICLIFFE, 23. Luke DUZEL, 37. Jonny YULL, 40. Ethan COX (gk), 42. Austin AYOUBI, 43. Giuseppe BOVALINA, 51. Panagiotis KIKIANIS, 55. Ethan ALAGICH, 66. Nestory IRANKUNDA.
Unavailable: 10. Zach CLOUGH (personal reasons), 18. Jay BARNETT (injury), 26. Ben HALLORAN (suspended), 27. Josh CAVALLO (injury), 49. Musa TOURE (injury).

Main image: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.