Melbourne Victory coach’s challenge to his fringe Socceroos: Isuzu UTE A-League R5 Preview

A-Leagues reporter James Dodd takes you through all the fixtures from round five of the Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24.

Round 5 of the Isuzu UTE A-League season is upon us! Ahead of the action getting underway, previews all six of the contests.


Friday, 7:45pm (AEDT): Macarthur FC v Melbourne Victory

The Isuzu UTE A-League returns after a week’s hiatus with two of the form sides before the international break as Macarthur FC and Melbourne Victory lock horns at Campbelltown Stadium.

Both sides are undefeated in the league to start this season, sitting on the same record of two wins and two draws from four games. Incredibly, the Bulls and Victory were the league’s bottom two sides at the end of the 2022-23 campaign.

Victory’s improvement has been spearheaded by their new look attack, with the likes of Bruno Fornaroli, Daniel Arzani, Zinedine Machach and Nishan Velupillay leading the charge.

Fornaroli and Arzani, along with teammate Ben Folami were awarded their Socceroos caps at half-time of Australia’s 7-0 win over Bangladesh, after making their debuts in years gone by.

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Coach Tony Popovic was asked if he believes receiving the cap will serve as added motivation for the trio to break back into the Socceroos side heading into the Asian Cup in two months time.

“We hope they have,” he said on Thursday.

“When you get your cap, it really reminds you of the great honour you have of representing your country. That really cements it when you have that cap and your number.

“We want them to aspire to having more. We will do our part in assisting them in that. Ultimately it comes down to them and how they’re training, preparing and performing. But no one should limit their goal to just club football.

“They should all dream and aspire to be Socceroos.”

Victory are set to regain defensive duo Roderick Miranda and Adama Traore after they missed the 1-1 draw with Adelaide United due to suspension and injury respectively.

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Meanwhile, for Macarthur, it’s the first game of yet another hectic week in their schedule.

The Bulls will be in action three times in the next nine days, taking on Shan United on Thursday in the AFC Cup, before coming up against Adelaide United on Sunday – all at home.

It will be fascinating to see how Mile Sterjovski manages his team throughout this period, with the Bulls being in with a chance of locking their place in the knockout stages of the AFC Cup with a win against the side from Myanmar.

The Bulls, however, have been the best team in the league during crunch time, scoring four goals in the final 15 minutes of games this season.

No team has scored more than Macarthur during this time, but Victory are one of four teams yet to concede a goal in this period.

Opta stat: Melbourne Victory are unbeaten in their first four games of the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League season (W2 D2); the last time they enjoyed a longer undefeated run to begin an Isuzu UTE A-League season was in 2014-15 when they started with 10 games without loss (W6 D4).


Macarthur FC v Melbourne Victory
Friday, November 24 2023
Campbelltown Stadium
Kick-off: 7:45 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Saturday, 2:30pm: Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne City

Melbourne City and Wellington Phoenix will be without two of their most important players this weekend, when they meet in Auckland on Saturday afternoon.

Star attacker Mathew Leckie was a chance to make his return from over two months on the sidelines, with City coach Aurelio Vidmar saying he was in the mix to come back if he got through training on Thursday.

However, he hasn’t been included in the squad that travels across the ditch this week.

He has been out of action since suffering a knee injury in the build-up to the Socceroos’ friendly with Mexico in September. The winger also sustained a setback in his recovery, meaning he has missed more than the initial six weeks he was set to be on the sidelines for.

Meanwhile, Wellington will be without star striker Oskar Zawada, who has been left out of the squad with a groin injury.

Zawada has started this season strongly, scoring four goals from his opening four matches, along with tallying an assist. The onus will now fall on the likes of Kosta Barbarouses, David Ball and Oskar Van Hattum to try fill the gap left by the Polish striker.

Wellington come into the game undefeated to start the Isuzu UTE A-League season under new coach Giancarlo Italiano, with two wins and two draws to their name.

The two sides met back in August during the Australia Cup Round of 16 which City won comfortably 3-0 at Jack Edwards Reserve, but the tide has turned since – with the Phoenix having amassed four more points to begin the new campaign.

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Wellington have an incredible record in Auckland, only losing once in 16 matches there, with this weekend’s clash set to be the final match they will host in New Zealand’s biggest city.

In fact, their next match in the City of Sails will more than likely be against the A-Leagues’ newest franchise in Auckland which is set to join the competition next season.

City should have Tolgay Arslan available after he went off with an injury in their 3-3 draw with Macarthur FC before the break, while Vidmar expects Socceroos duo Jamie Maclaren and Aziz Behich, along with Olyroos’ Callum Talbot and Patrick Beach to be ready to go come Saturday following international duty.

However, defender Nuno Reis will be out for 10 days due to a muscular injury at training and youngster Zane Schreiber has been sidelined after slightly straining his Medial Cruciate Ligament in his knee.

Vidmar said the club are taking a strategic approach to the travel to Auckland, with some of their players sitting in Business Class while others fly Economy, in order to maximise recovery.

“We have a certain allocation of business and the people that are going to go in there are going to be based on load management and recovery management,” he said.

“So we’ve spoken to the players about that, they understand that… I know where I’ll be in 80F or something like that!”

City, however, will be looking to turn around their poor run of form away from home, having not won in their last six Isuzu UTE A-League games away from AAMI Park (D3 L3) and have conceded six goals in each of their last two such fixtures.

All eyes will be on star striker Jamie Maclaren, who is edging towards another slice of City history. Maclaren only needs four more goals to become the first player in City colours to reach 100 league goals for the club, and comes into the contest having scored a brace in each of his last two matches against the ‘Nix.

Opta stat: Wellington Phoenix have won their last two games in a row in New Zealand in the Isuzu UTE A-League; the last time they enjoyed a longer winning streak in such fixtures was a seven-game stretch from January 2020 to May 2021.


Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne City
Saturday, November 25 2023
Mt Smart Stadium
Kick-off: 2:30 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Saturday, 5:30 PM: Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets

Central Coast Mariners welcome arch-rivals Newcastle Jets to Industree Group Stadium on Saturday evening, as they look to end a difficult start to their Championship defence.

The Mariners come into the contest looking for answers to their poor start to the regular season, sitting at the foot of the table without a point to start the new season.

Mark Jackson’s side fell to a 2-1 defeat to Brisbane Roar before the international break, which equalled Brisbane’s record of having the longest losing streak to start a season of any reigning champion in the history of the competition (four losses in the 2014-15 season).

Central Coast will be hoping to avoid an unwanted piece of history this weekend against the Jets. They will welcome back attacker Angel Torres from suspension, but lose Harrison Steele who was sent off against the Roar.

The Mariners have a great recent record against the Jets, winning five of the last six matches against their arch rivals.

Newcastle, on the other hand, looked to have turned a corner before the break, claiming their first win under new coach Robbie Stanton against Western United in Ballarat.

Apostolos Stamatelopoulos has been the surprise package to start the season, scoring four goals from four games.

His goal tally already eclipses his A-Leagues season-best of three, coming in the 2018-19 season with Adelaide United and the 2020-21 campaign in his last stint with the Jets.

In an added boost, young gun Archie Goodwin is a chance to play his first minutes of the season after an injury riddled start to the campaign.

Initially, Newcastle were set to host the contest, but due to ongoing turf renovation following a recent Supercross event at McDonald Jones Stadium, it was agreed to move the match to Gosford, with the Jets’ home leg to take place on March 2 2024.

Opta stat: Central Coast Mariners have lost their first four games of the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League season, the joint-longest losing run of any reigning champion to start a season in the history of the competition; the last time the Mariners lost more consecutive games was an 11-game stretch from January to July in 2020.


Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets
Saturday, November 25 2023
Industree Group Stadium
Kick-off: 5:30 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Saturday, 7:45 PM: Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers

The 36th Sydney Derby is upon us.

Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers will renew hostilities on Saturday night, with a bumper crowd expected to pour through the Allianz Stadium turnstiles for the first iteration of the Derby this season.

The Sky Blues got back on track before the international break, thumping Adelaide United 5-1 in Ufuk Talay’s first game as head coach.

Sydney hadn’t scored a goal in their opening three games of the season prior to Talay’s arrival, but they had four to their name before the first-half was up at Coopers Stadium.

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Their opponents, however, come into the contest off the back of a very impressive start to the season, going undefeated from their opening four games and sitting top of the table on goal difference.

Western Sydney have been dynamic in attack, scoring nine goals, but equally resilient going back the other way, shipping only two goals and keeping three clean sheets.

Marko Rudan’s side won both derbies at Allianz Stadium last season 1-0 and 4-0, but lost the other two meetings at home – including the Elimination Final.

However, Rudan has an up-and-down record against his old friend in Talay, winning only one of his last 10 games as manager against the new Sky Blues boss in the Isuzu UTE A-League (D3 L6); though, he is unbeaten in his last three against him (W1 D2).

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Opta stat: Sydney FC have won three of their last five A-League Men games against Western Sydney Wanderers including a come-from-behind 2-1 win in their most recent clash; indeed, Sydney FC will be looking to win back-to-back games against the Wanderers in the competition for the first time since December 2018.


Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers
Saturday, November 25 2023
Allianz Stadium
Kick-off: 7:45 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 Bold & Paramount+

Sunday, 3 PM: Brisbane Roar v Perth Glory

Brisbane Roar return home for the first time in almost a month, when they host Perth Glory on Sunday afternoon.

Ross Aloisi’s side bounced back before the break with a victory over the Central Coast Mariners, which took them into the sixth place on the standings before the international break.

Roar’s record against Perth is also quite favourable winning four of their last six Isuzu UTE A-League games against the Perth Glory (L2) including a 2-1 win in their most recent encounter (February 2023). In fact, Brisbane have won each of their last three games against the Glory in Queensland.

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It will also see Aloisi come up against his former coaching partner-in-crime Alen Stajcic, who he worked alongside in the Matildas setup.

“I think Ross has done a great job,” Stajcic said.

“He’s obviously very strong in his conviction and, and passion, having worked with him, for a number of years, he’s an absolute legend of Australian football in my eyes and I think he’s done a great job.

“They made the Australia Cup final, they’ve come out positive, in every game and certainly I think they’re going to be a threat for any team this year.”

Glory come into the game fresh off a 2-0 loss to Western Sydney Wanderers, and will be looking to turn around a poor run of form away from Western Australia.

Perth have only won one of their last 24 league matches outside of Western Australia (drawn four, lost 19).

In a major boost, Glory should welcome back Adam Taggart from injury after he missed the clash with Western Sydney, while Mustafa Amini and Oliver Bozanic are also in the frame to return.

However, David Williams, Bruce Kamau, Adam Zimarino and Riley Warland are all sidelined through injury.

Opta stat: Brisbane Roar (199) are on the cusp of their 200th win in the Isuzu UTE A-League (incl. shoot-out results); their 26 wins against the Perth Glory are also their second most against any team in the competition (34 wins against the Central Coast Mariners).


Brisbane Roar v Perth Glory
Sunday, November 25 2023
Suncorp Stadium
Kick-off: 3 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 Bold & Paramount+

Sunday, 5 PM: Western United v Adelaide United

Two teams looking to get back to winning ways clash at Mars Stadium on Sunday, as Western United take on Adelaide United in Ballarat.

After winning their season opener against Melbourne City, Western have lost their last three matches, including a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle Jets at the same venue before the international break.

Western haven’t found the back of the net in any of those contests, and John Aloisi’s side will be hoping to turn things around against the Reds. The last and only previous time Western lost more consecutive games was an 11-game stretch from May to November in 2021.

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Adelaide have come crashing back to earth after back-to-back wins to start the Isuzu UTE A-League season. Carl Veart’s side suffered a 5-1 demolition at the hands of Sydney FC before the break, after a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory a week prior.

The Reds were hit by a quick one-two punch by a rampant Sky Blues outfit, who were simply a level above from the word go at Coopers Stadium.

Adelaide have a good record in their last eight matches away from home, losing only one of their last eight Isuzu UTE A-League games outside South Australia (W3 D4), despite not keeping a single clean sheet and conceding an average of 2.1 goals per game in that period.

They should welcome back Nestory Irankunda from suspension, with the teenage star set to play his first game since his move to Bayern Munich was made official last week.

Opta stat: Adelaide United substitute players have provided six direct goal involvements this Isuzu UTE A-League season (4 goals, 2 assists), which is twice as many as any other team in the competition and six more than Western United FC (0).


Western United v Adelaide United
Sunday, November 25 2023
Mars Stadium
Kick-off: 5 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+