Wellington Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay is seeking a fast start to the new Isuzu UTE A-League Men season.
The Phoenix have had to play catch-up in their past two campaigns under Talay after finding wins hard to come by in the opening month.
He doesn’t want that trend to continue and says the players have set a points target for the first six rounds of the season.
“It’s good because the players put a bit of expectation on themselves of what they want to achieve and hopefully we can hit that target, Talay said.
“We want to start a little bit better than we have in the last couple of seasons to pick up some points nice and early.”
They are opening their 15th A-League campaign against Macarthur FC, who are now led by former Phoenix captain Ulises Dávila, who left Wellington to join the Bulls during the off-season.
The reigning Johnny Warren medallist will partner fellow Macarther recruits Craig Noone, Daniel De Silva and Tomi Jurić in what has the potential to be a lethal attacking quartet.
“They’ve recruited well, they’ve got some really good players, but the focus is always on us, what we do and how we do things,” Talay said.
“We’ll go out there and try and play our brand of football, an entertaining brand at the same time and try to get a result.”
And that is the same approach the Phoenix will take to try and nullify Dávila.
“Uli was great for us. The two years he spent at Wellington Phoenix, he did some really good things for this club.
“For us it’s never the focus on individuals at other teams. It’s more so what we do and how we do it.
“We know what he can do with the ball and how effective he can be so we’ll have a plan on him not receiving the ball so he’s not as effective.”
New Phoenix vice-captain Oli Sail is looking forward to catching up with Dávila, but says “there’ll be no love lost” as soon as the opening whistle blows.
“I’m sure he’ll try to assert his influence on the game, but I’ll be very surprised if the likes of Clayton (Lewis) and Alex (Rufer) in the midfield aren’t trying to stick a few on him and kick him through the fence,” Sail joked.
“He’s a fantastic player and great guy so it’ll be really nice to see him, but it’s business as usual as soon as we cross that white line.”
The match has been moved to McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle after the pitch at Campbelltown Stadium in south-west Sydney was deemed to not be up to standard.
“I think we’re used to this now. Every obstacle or challenge thrown in front of this group and the boys take it in their stride,” Talay said.
“It was an away game for us anyway. It’s good we’re based in New South Wales so it’s not a lot of travel. It would have been a lot different if we were travelling from Wellington and we’d already prepared to go and play in Campbelltown.”
Nineteen of the 21-strong Phoenix squad are available for selection, with fullbacks Louis Fenton and Sam Sutton the only players sidelined with injuries.
Midfielders Luka Prso and Nicholas Pennington and tall defender Matthew Bozinovski are a chance to make their club debuts, while young defender Callan Elliot and English forward Gary Hooper are back with Wellington after a season away.
Hooper is one of just two players in the squad over 30, with the majority under 25.
“I think I’m very fortunate. We’ve got a young group, but a really hungry group that wants to be successful and wants to play football, which makes my job easier,” Talay said.
The opening round match between Macarthur and the Wellington Phoenix is scheduled to kick-off at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle at 6:45pm AEDT (8:45pm NZT), with the game broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 1 and SENZ Radio
Most recent meeting: 4 June, 2021 – Macarthur FC 0 Wellington Phoenix 3
All-time head-to-head: Phoenix 1W, Macarthur 1W & 1D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Matthew BOZINOVSKI, 5. James MCGARRY, 6. Tim PAYNE, 8. Ben OLD, 9. David BALL, 10. Reno PISCOPO, 11. Jaushua SOTIRIO, 12. Luka Prso, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 16. Louis FENTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 31. Kurtis MOGG, 32. George OTT, 40, Alex Paulsen (gk), 88. Gary HOOPER
Unavailable: 16. Louis FENTON (knee injury) & 19. Sam SUTTON (knee injury)