The Wellington Phoenix are welcoming the chance to test themselves against the benchmark team of the new Isuzu UTE A-League season.
The Phoenix visit Melbourne City on Sunday night in the final match of round four.
City have won their opening three matches, scoring six goals and conceding just one, while the Nix sit seven points adrift with two draws and a defeat.
“For me Melbourne City are the best team in the competition,” Phoenix head coach Ufuk Talay told media on Friday.
“They’ve got three wins, they’re flying high, they’ve got some really good players and they play some really good football.
“I think our boys know that if they’re not focussed, up to it and match the intensity it’s going to be a really tough challenge for us. [But] I see it as great opportunity to play the best team.”
Talay wants to see an improved showing in Melbourne, after conceding two early goals in their 3-1 defeat to Newcastle Jets last week.
“We need to be a lot better with the ball. I think the intensity needs to be higher in the first 15 minutes.
“We have a game plan against Melbourne City how we can do that.”
He has a near full-strength squad to pick from, with club captain Alex Rufer the only player unavailable for selection because of injury.
“It’s great to have that competition within the team because players know that if they don’t do their job and they’re not performing the next player in line is ready to take their spot.
“It’s great to have the depth we have this season and hopefully we can keep the players on the park as much as we can to keep that depth.
“When we do pick a side we believe that’s the team that’s going to win us the game or get us the result.
“Also, when we do pick a side, it’s not just the starting XI, we need to think about the bench and who can come on and make an impact and change the game.
“We’ll pick a side that we believe is going to get us through the game to a certain point and then the players that come on should make a change.”
Popular forward David Ball is in line to feature for the Nix for the first time this season, having been side-lined with a toe injury since the end of the 2021-22 campaign.
“He was going to play limited minutes for the reserves but we thought if he’s going to play limited minutes he might as well play for us,” Talay said.
“David has been a very influential player for us. He understands his role and what we want for him. We’ll see how the game goes and we’ll make a decision on how much he plays.
“He’s worked very hard. He’s itching to get back on the park as most footballers are. We’re very pleased he’s back with the squad.”
Brazilian playmaker Yan Sasse is available for selection again too after serving his two-match suspension for the red card he received in round one.
“We brought in Yan because we think he’s an influential player in the role that he plays.
“He’s a creative player and that’s something that we possibly lacked in the last couple of games.
“Yan will hopefully play a decent role in the game against City.”
The fourth round Isuzu UTE A-League match between the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City is scheduled to kick-off at AAMI Park in Melbourne at 7:00pm NZT (5:00pm AEDT) and will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 2 & 7 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.
Most recent A-League meeting: 9 May 2022 – Melbourne City 2 Wellington Phoenix 1
All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, City 16W & 7D.
Wellington Phoenix squad: 3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Steven UGARKOVIC, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Lucas MAURAGIS, 13. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 17. Callan ELLIOT, 18. Ben WAINE, 19. Sam SUTTON, 20. Oli SAIL (gk), 21. Joshua LAWS, 23. Clayton LEWIS, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 31. Yan SASSE, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk).
Unavailable: 14. Alex RUFER (injured).
Melbourne City squad: 1. Tom GLOVER (GK), 2. Scott GALLOWAY, 3. Scott JAMIESON (C), 4. Nuno REIS, 6. Thomas LAM, 7. Mathew LECKIE, 8. Richard VAN DER VENNE, 9. Jamie MACLAREN, 13. Aiden O’NEILL, 14. Valon BERISHA, 15. Andrew NABBOUT, 16. Taras GOMULKA, 18. Jordon HALL, 22. Curtis GOOD, 23. Marco TILIO, 25. Callum TALBOT, 30. Luke ORESTI, 33. Matthew SUTTON (GK), 36. Kerrin STOKES, 37. Max CAPUTO, 38. Jordan BOS.
Unavailable: 10. Florin BERENGUER (hamstring).