Isuzu UTE A-League Unite Round Match Preview

Wellington Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano is sticking to the “game by game” mindset that has seen the team make their best start to an A-League season.

The Phoenix entered the inaugural Unite Round in second place on the Isuzu UTE A-League, just two points behind unbeaten Melbourne Victory and three points clear of the chasing pack.

The Nix have played all but one of their rivals, the reigning champions Central Coast Mariners, through the opening 11 rounds of the season, but Italiano hasn’t felt the need to reassess his team’s goals.

“I’m still of the mindset that we take every game on its merit, it’s game by game,” he told media before training on Friday.

“I think you’ll see over the next five or six weeks, probably by the end of February, the table will start sorting itself out and then we’ll start readjusting goals and what we can achieve.

“For me every time we talk about the future or where we are on the table it seems to be a bit more of a distraction than a positive element and that’s because once you take focus away from the now it’s very easy to lose sight of what’s been working for us.

“That’s the same messaging I give to the group every day. It only matters when we get to round 27 where we sit.”

Wellington are playing the Perth Glory for the second time this season, having beaten Perth 2-1 in their home opener back in October thanks to some late heroics from Alex Paulsen, who saved his first penalty of the season.

This time the ‘distance derby’ is being played at a neutral venue with CommBank Stadium in Sydney staging the Unite Round fixture on Sunday night.

“I think both teams don’t have a disadvantage with travel,” Italiano said. “We’re both equally disadvantaged with the three-to-four-hour flight.

“I think the venue will be interesting. A neutral venue so no one has that home support.”

Perth started the round in 11th place with two wins and two draws from the opening 11 rounds.

“Irrespective of what Perth’s results have been they’ve actually been very good in all of their games.

“They’ve just been unlucky I feel. They’ve dropped a lot of points at the end [of matches]. That’s a confidence thing more than anything.

“We’re going into this game with our eyes wide open and we respect them. We feel like we have to be at our best to get the three points.”

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 will be able to call on a near full-strength squad, with veteran forward Kosta Barbarouses again leading the frontline.

Barbarouses has scored six goals in his past four games, after being unable to find the back of the net in the opening seven rounds.

“The fact that those [first] two goals against Macarthur were well taken gave him the confidence to say ‘alright, this is the old me’ and now I don’t think confidence is an issue.

“He has that belief that he can score. This could have started at round one or round two.

“For me he’s done nothing different he’s just been a really good professional on and off the park. He’s a good leader in the group and it was more about time than anything.”

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

Italiano says he and the coaching staff don’t need to do anything to keep Barbarouses motivated.

“I don’t need to give him extra incentive. He’s very ambitious in terms of what his goals are.

“He wants to be the best version of himself this year and then hopefully it gives him the form to get back into the All Whites and potentially that World Cup.”

Young forward Oskar van Hattum hasn’t made the trip to Sydney because of injury and has been replaced in the extended squad by New Zealand U-17 international Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues.

Striker Oskar Zawada remains sidelined with a thigh injury, but has been able to do some individual work at training this week.

“Oz is back on feet now. He’s doing some straight line running. The fluid’s out of his leg so it’s looking promising at the moment.

“I’d expect maybe another two weeks before he’s training fully and then hopefully he’ll be able for that influx of games in February.”

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

The Unite Round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory is scheduled to kick-off at CommBank Stadium in Sydney at 9:45pm (7:45pm AEDT) Sunday and will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.

Most recent meeting:
28 October 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 0 Perth Glory 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 19W, Glory 20W & 11D.

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, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 30. Alby KELLY-HEALD (gk), 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.
Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured), 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM (injured).

Perth Glory squad (two to be omitted) 1. Oli SAIL (gk), 2. Johnny KOUTROUMBIS, 3. Jacob MUIR, 7. Stefan COLAKOVSKI, 8. Mustafa AMINI, 9. David WILLIAMS, 10. Salim KHELIFI, 12. Luke IVANOVIC, 13. Cameron COOK (gk), 14. Riley WARLAND, 15. Aleksandar SUSNJAR, 17. Jarrod CARLUCCIO, 19. Trent OSTLER, 20. Giordano COLLI, 22. Adam TAGGART (co-captain), 23. Daniel BENNIE, 24. Oliver BOZANIC, 27. Jayden GORMAN, 28. Kaelan MAJEKODUNMI, 34. Andriano LEBIB.
Unavailable: 5. Mark BEEVERS (co-captain) (injured), 11. Adam ZIMARINO (injured), 21. Antonis MARTIS (injured), 29. Darryl LACHMAN (injured), 77. Bruce KAMAU (suspended).