Popa v journo in tense standoff after Arzani question: Isuzu UTE A-League R17 Talking Points

Catch all the goals from an action-packed round 17 of the Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24.

These are the key talking points from Round 17 in the Isuzu UTE A-League, headlined by a spicy Melbourne Derby and the red-hot form of Perth Glory’s captain.

Popa’s tense exchange with reporter: ‘I would’ve liked if you mentioned them’

Saturday night’s Melbourne Derby was spicy, on and off the field at AAMI Park.

Melbourne Victory full-back Jason Geria and Melbourne City’s Marin Jakolis came together as tempers threatened to boil over in an entertaining 0-0 draw between the three-time reigning premiers and fourth-placed Victory.

After the match, there was also a tense exchange between Victory head coach Tony Popovic and a journalist centred on a question regarding Daniel Arzani.

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Arzani was visibly frustrated as he was withdrawn in the 65th minute, throwing his bottle as he took his place on the Victory bench.

Initially asked about Arzani and how he looked frustrated when he came off, Popovic – whose side were left winless in six matches – replied: “Was he? I didn’t notice.

“Was he frustrated?… Probably with his performance.”

A little later in the press conference, another journalist asked Popovic about Arzani.

This is the entire exchange:

Reporter: “On fire in the first half, involved in everything then ran out of gas in the second half. (Is that) why you took him off?”

Popovic: “No… Outstanding first half?”

Reporter: “To me it looked like he was involved in quite a lot. I don’t know if you disagree or not but I thought he was creating quite a bit.”

Popovic: “Okay.”

Reporter: “You might disagree, that’s fine.”

Popovic: “No, no that’s good. That’s your view but yeah that’s good. I would’ve mentioned a lot of other players apart from Daniel Arzani from that performance. A lot of players.”

Reporter: “In reference to him being subbed off that’s why I’m asking.”

Popovic: “But if you reference in terms of performance. If you watched the game of football, you would’ve mentioned Ryan Teague, Fabian Monge, Roderick Miranda, Damien Da Silva, Jason Geria. The list can go on.”

Reporter: “But the reason I’ve mentioned Arzani is because he’s been subbed off.”

Popovic: “I answered that earlier didn’t I about the subbing off?”

Reporter: “That’s fine. I just thought he played well and got subbed off.”

Popovic: “Okay.”

Reporter: “That’s the only reason I brought it up. You’re right. There were many players who played well tonight.”

Popovic: “Yeah and I would’ve like if you mentioned them because those boys are 21 and 20 years old playing in a Derby. Anyway, a narrative is a narrative.”

Kraev the WWE star?!

After Wellington Phoenix continued their ladder-leading ways with a 2-1 win over Macarthur FC, the attention turned to the club’s trip to Perth and a different sport making headlines in Western Australia.

The Phoenix will meet Perth Glory at HBF Park on Saturday – the same night as the WWE’s Elimination Chamber wrestling event at Optus Stadium.

Following Kosta Barbarouses’ brace, which helped Wellington stay five points clear at the summit, Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano was asked which of his players would do best in a WWE ring.

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“That’s a good question,” Italiano smile after Sunday’s match. “I would say Bozhidar Kraev would be a good wrestler.

“One for the accent and I know he loves WWE. I think he’d probably going to go out there and hassle some of the wrestlers as well.

“But I think there’s a couple in there that would do alright.”

Vuka’s new role for the Mariners

Central Coast Mariners are flying high on a national and continental scale this season and Danny Vukovic is playing a key role for the reigning Isuzu UTE A-League champions.

Vukovic kept another clean sheet as the second-placed Mariners prevailed 1-0 over Western Sydney Wanderers at Industree Group Stadium.

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The 38-year-old former Socceroos goalkeeper has kept nine clean sheets in 2023-24 and head coach Mark Jackson hailed his response to a new role this term.

“I thought he pulled off an outstanding save in the first half,” Jackson said during his press conference.

“We’re asking Vuka now to be part of our build-up play. To be the start point of our attacks from the six-yard box.

“He’s really, really buying into that now. You saw his quality in some of those aspects playing out in the first and second half.”

John Aloisi’s empathy for fellow striker: ‘He’ll be better for it’

Noah Botic was among the goals as Western United won for just the third time this season, downing Newcastle Jets 2-0 at AAMI Park on Friday night.

After Daniel Penha’s panenka penalty gave Western the lead, Botic sealed the points 10 minutes into the second half.

It has been a challenging season for Western, who registered their first clean sheet of the season.

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John Aloisi’s side sit bottom of the standings and 22-year-old striker Botic has had to carry the load up front, having bagged six goals in 21 appearances last season.

The former Hoffenheim youngster has scored three goals in 16 matches this term, including two in his past three games and Socceroos legend Aloisi believes Botic is coming out the other side after a challenging 2023-24.

“Having played in that position, I sort of understand how difficult can be when you’re not scoring goals and the team aren’t winning,” said Aloisi, who played for the likes of Portsmouth, Coventry City, Osasuna and Deportivo Alaves in Europe.

“The pressure does grow on you. It’s just that he’s experiencing now as a young player, leading the line. Being responsible as our real striker up there.

“I see him getting through this and he’ll be better for it. Now he has that confidence. I could see it in training during the week. He is buzzing around.

“His finishing is a lot cleaner. We know that he can score goals. He’s shown that in the past and in training. You can see the confidence is coming back and he is growing with it.”

Western are set to turn to their VPL 1 side (the tier below NPL VIC) for Tuesday night’s meeting with Victory after James Donachie was sent off late in the win over the Jets. Josh Risdon is also set to be absent.

“I was quickly on the phone to make sure they (Western’s VPL 1 side) took a couple of players off (against Northcote City) because we’re going to need them on Tuesday,” Aloisi said.

‘This part for me is even more important’

Adam Taggart was the star of the show in Perth Glory’s 3-2 win over Brisbane Roar at HBF Park on Saturday, but the Australia international is bringing more than just goals to the team.

Taggart scored twice to take his tally to 12 goals for the season, just one shy of a share of the Golden Boot lead, before Stefan Colakovski came off the bench to score the 78th-minute winner.

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Perth boss Alen Stajcic revealed post-match that Colakovski was sick for 10 days and even “struggled to get onto the pitch today to be honest” before bagging the winner what the Glory head coach felt was the “loudest” the crowd had been in his tenure.

When Stajcic was asked about Taggart amid growing calls for a Socceroos return ahead of next month’s 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup qualifier against Lebanon, he highlighted one key area that has been overlooked.

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“It’s about time he scored more than one goal in a game,” joked Stajcic post-game.

“We’ve been joking around about it in the team a little bit that no one had scored more than one.

“I think what’s happened in the last month is that he’s elevated his own leadership. We can talk about the goals, he’s always been a goalscorer and he’s always been able to have that kind of influence on a game.

“But just talking to other players around the group, he’s elevated himself as a leader in the group, on and off the pitch. In matches and at training sessions.

“That brings a whole new level of growth to a team. I’m obviously pleased with that part and it’s very important but this part for me is even more important.

“To have an experienced player like that who is giving so much to other players in the group is going to be a major facet in us being driven forward.”

Rain, hail or shine, Talay won’t budge on this expectation

Sydney FC’s high press caused plenty of problems in the 2-1 win over Adelaide United at Allianz Stadium on Saturday evening.

Despite the humid conditions in Sydney, the in-form Sky Blues were relentless in their pressing approach as they extended their unbeaten streak to five matches.

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When asked how much the weather impacts his team’s ability to press, Talay was clear in his response.

“I do have empathy and sympathy at times but not when the game is going on for the players,” he told reporters.

“My expectation is, we know it was humid but the boys have got to go and they go as far as they can go.

“If it’s 45, 55, 65 and then we make changes and we bring fresh legs on, and go again.

“I think that pressing is part of our identity and it’s how we want to play at Sydney FC.”