Isuzu UTE A-League Round 20 Match Preview

Wellington Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano has brushed aside the team’s past results at AAMI Park on the eve of their second visit to the Melbourne stadium this season.

The competition leaders are visiting three-time premiers Melbourne City on Saturday night, having earned a valuable point against the ground’s other tenants Melbourne Victory in round four.

Incredibly the Phoenix have not won at AAMI Park since April 2017 and last beat City at the venue in December 2013.

“We haven’t even spoken about that,” Italiano told media at Wellington Airport on Friday. “I’ve travelled there many times before and it’s a hard place to play.

“I always find the Victory games the hardest because of the atmosphere and they have a good fan base and are loud and vocal. Even the City fans, when they show up it can be an intimidating place.

“But it’s still the same normal pitch for both teams and we’ll be going there and trying to get three points.”

He loves the atmosphere at AAMI Park, but has mixed feelings about the ground.

“The tough part is we’ve found it difficult to win there for so long. I’m not sure if it’s maybe a mental thing.

“I don’t think it’s the travel because we’ve played other teams at other parks, and we’ve won.

“I’m not really sure what it is and hopefully we can change it tomorrow.”

The Phoenix can move six points clear at the top of the table with a long overdue win at AAMI Park and Italiano is sticking to his game-by-game approach as the club edges closer to its first piece of silverware.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 03: Alex Rufer and Oskar van Hattum of the Wellington Phoenix celebrate Oskar’s goal during the A-League Men round 19 match between Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United at Sky Stadium, on March 03, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

“I think simplicity is the key to most things in life. The simpler you keep things, the more effective I think you are.

“The more convoluted, the more complex you make things makes it hard.

“I like simple messaging, I like simple targets [and] simple goals all players can relate to.

“Even with my tactics, sometimes it can be a little bit bland my approach but it’s simple and it plays to everyone.”

Ben Old in training at NZCIS on Friday. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.

Kick-off has been pushed back one and a half hours to 7pm AEDT (9pm NZT) because of forecast extreme heat in Melbourne.

“We’ve spoken about it. We really can’t train for it. We don’t have the capabilities of increasing the temperature at training, but we’re very mindful.

“It’ll be more of a strategic approach going into the game.

“I think it’ll be unreasonable to think the players can press at a certain intensity. It’ll be more about game management than anything.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 12: Kosta Barbarouses in action during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training session at NZCIS on January 12, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Giancarlo Italiano has declared Kosta Barbarouses “fit and firing” after he came off the bench in the 3-1 home win against Adelaide United on Sunday, having sat out the scoreless draw in Perth the previous week.

“That week off was more about precaution and making sure he’ll be ready for the upcoming games.

“We could have risked him the week before, but we felt as though the best thing to do was just nurture him through and make sure he’ll be available for the back end [of the season].”

Barbarouses has scored 10 goals this season and is level with Melbourne Victory great Archie Thompson as the fifth highest men’s goal scorer in A-League history with 90. He’s two shy of the New Zealand record of 92 held by Shane Smeltz.

Giancarlo Italiano looks on during training at NZCIS on Friday. Photo: Cam McIntosh/Photmac.

Italiano will be without Polish striker Oskar Zawada for another week after he was a late withdrawal from the side that played Adelaide, but midfielder Nicholas Pennington is back available for selection after three weeks out with a foot injury.

Melbourne City are unable to call on Celtic loanee Marco Tilio, who is carrying a hamstring injury, but have welcomed back fellow Socceroos forward Mathew Leckie.

The round 20 Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at AAMI Park in Melbourne at 9pm (7pm AEDT) Saturday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
25 November 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 1 Melbourne City 0

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 12W, City 18W & 8D.

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, 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), 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.
Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured).

Melbourne City squad (two to be omitted): 1. Jamie YOUNG (gk), 4. Nuno REIS, 6. Steven UGARKOVIC, 7. Mathew LECKIE, 8. James JEGGO, 9. Jamie MACLAREN (c), 10. Tolgay ARSLAN, 11. Leo NATEL, 14. Vicente FERNÁNDEZ, 15. Andrew NABBOUT, 17. Terry ANTONIS, 21. Alessandro LOPANE, 22. Curtis GOOD, 25. Callum TALBOT, 26. Samuel SOUPRAYEN, 33. Patrick BEACH (gk), 35. Zane SCHREIBER, 37. Max CAPUTO, 38. Harry POLITIDIS, 44. Marin JAKOLIS.
Unavailable: 2. Scott GALLOWAY (calf), 23. Marco TILIO (hamstring), 34. Arion SULEMANI (ACL), 46. Ben MAZZEO (ankle).

Main image: Cam McIntosh/Photomac.