Round 4 Preview: ‘That’s what’s special about our game and I don’t think that will change’

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

Round 4 of the Isuzu UTE A-League season is upon us! Ahead of the action getting underway, aleagues.com.au previews all six of the contests.

Friday, 7:45pm (AEDT) – Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix

Two of the league’s form sides to begin the season will kick-off Round 4 as Melbourne Victory welcome Wellington Phoenix to AAMI Park.

Both teams come in with the same record after three games (two wins, one draw) and have won plenty of plaudits for their performances in the early going.

Victory are currently in the midst of their best start to an Isuzu UTE A-League season since their title-winning 2014-15 campaign, which has been spearheaded by star striker Bruno Fornaroli.

The Uruguayan born Socceroo has scored six goals to begin the season and will be available for selection despite being cited by the independent match review panel for a war of words with Adelaide United coach Carl Veart in their spicy 1-1 draw with the Reds last Saturday night.

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Fornaroli was handed a show cause notice on Monday, but after the panel convened later in the week, it was determined that the “MRP’s jurisdiction was not appropriately enlivened” and the notice was withdrawn.

“I’m surprised that he got cited,” Popovic said on Thursday morning.

“I think we all were. But we have to respect the process and we did that. JD (Victory Director of Football John Didulica) did a great job and he’s cleared to play. We followed the protocol, and the process and he’s available. 

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“We asked for reality TV, we want all this access to everything that people can feel what happens whether it’s on the field. off the field and change rooms, in team meetings. Everyone wants to have an understanding of what really happens and and no one wants any of that sense it and it never is.

“And things that happened in the football match. It’s emotion, passion, we don’t want to change. That’s what’s special about our game and I don’t think that will change.”

Victory, however, will be without captain Roderick Miranda after he was sent off in the draw with Adelaide, while fellow defender Adama Traore will miss due to a hamstring injury. In better news, Victory could regain right-back Jason Geria after he was absent last week due to injury.

Meanwhile, Wellington are riding high after back-to-back wins at home.

Giancarlo Italiano’s side put Brisbane Roar to the sword with an impressive 5-2 win last weekend, led by Oskar Zawada, who took his tally to four goals for the season with a hat-trick.

Zawada has scored one goal for every 124 minutes he has played for the Wellington Phoenix in the competition, among players to have scored more than five goals for the club only Tomer Hemed (once every 122 minutes) has scored more frequently for the club.

Phoenix, however, will have to turn the tide if they are to come away with three points, having lost their last three Isuzu UTE A-League contests against Victory and considering they haven’t won at AAMI Park in their last 18 league matches (D6, L12), conceding 37 times and keeping only one clean sheet.

In fact, their last win at the venue was in April 2017, when they defeated Victory 3-0, with Roly Bonevacia scoring a brace and Shane Smeltz adding a goal late in the contest.

Opta stat: Kosta Barbarouses (Wellington Phoenix) is set to play his 300th game in the Isuzu UTE A-League, becoming just the eighth player to reach the milestone; his 80 career goals are more than twice as many as all seven previous players to reach the milestone combined (33).

MATCH DETAILS

Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix
Friday, November 10 2023
AAMI Park
Kick-off: 7:45 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+
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Saturday, 3:30pm (AEDT) – Western United v Newcastle Jets

Western United will be looking to get back on track after consecutive defeats, when they return to Ballarat to take on Newcastle Jets on Saturday afternoon.

After starting the season with a win over Melbourne City, John Aloisi’s side have lost back-to-back games on the road to Western Sydney Wanderers and Macarthur FC.

Western were much improved against the Bulls after their 5-0 defeat to the Wanderers a week earlier, but failed to convert the myriad of chances that fell their way early in the contest, before conceding a late winner from Ali Auglah.

Now, Western play three consecutive home games at Mars Stadium, a venue they have had mixed success at – winning three games, losing five and drawing two.

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“The results aren’t as good as we would like in terms of having won one game, but we are still looking at how we can build off the performances,” Aloisi said.

“Three home games now, it’s very hard to win in the A-League away from home at the moment. It looks like there’s only three teams that have won away from home.

“Victory first round (against Sydney FC), Macarthur (against Central Coast Mariners) and us against City if you call that away from home.

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“We’re not going there and then not going there for another two-three months, we’re going there three in a row so we can make it sort of like it’s our home and the feel of the place, and the players get used to the drive there and the change rooms, the surroundings.

“You take it for granted when you’re always playing at one venue, but you’re playing like us at a few different venues it can become a bit like it doesn’t feel like home. We are going to treat like it’s our home ground and we are looking forward to these three games.”

Saturday’s loss to the Bulls marked the first time since the beginning of the 2021-22 season that Western have lost two games on the bounce without scoring, but they’ve only lost one of their last eight matches when they’ve scored at least once (six wins, one draw).

Meanwhile, Newcastle are still searching for their first A-Leagues win under new coach Robbie Stanton.

The Jets led 2-0 against Western Sydney Wanderers last Sunday, but surrendered their two-goal advantage in the second-half, meaning the wait for an elusive win this season extends for another week.

Newcastle would be pleased with their attacking output through three games, having scored seven goals in those contests, with striker Apostolos Stamatelopoulos scoring three since returning to the club this off-season.

The Jets, however, haven’t beaten Western in six games (four wins, two draws) and since August 2020 during the COVID-19 enforced hub in New South Wales.

Opta stat: Newcastle Jets have not won their last six Isuzu UTE A-League matches away from home (D2, L4), including two matches in Victoria; the Jets have conceded at least two goals in each of their last four away losses including five against the Melbourne Victory in their last match on the road.

MATCH DETAILS

Western United v Newcastle Jets
Saturday, November 11 2023
Mars Stadium
Kick-off: 3:30 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+
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Saturday, 5:30pm (AEDT) – Western Sydney Wanderers v Perth Glory

Perth Glory coach Alen Stajcic is welcoming the task of going up against Western Sydney Wanderers’ attack, which he believes is the best in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Wanderers have scored seven goals in three games to start the new season, including scoring five in one-half against Western United back in Round 2.

Marko Rudan’s side also fired home a whopping 13 goals in three Australia Cup matches, before their elimination in the quarter-finals to Brisbane Roar.

Glory kept their first clean sheet of the season in a 2-0 win over Central Coast Mariners last weekend, but face a much sterner test against the high-powered Wanderers attack on Saturday, which boasts the likes of Brandon Borrello, Marcus Antonsson, Lachlan Brook and in-form youngster Nicolas Milanovic.

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“I think they’ve probably been the best attacking team in the competition,” Stajcic said.

“Adelaide and Victory have been very good as well in terms of getting forward and creating chances, but I definitely put Wanderers up there with them and their front four players have been exceptional in beating people, creating chances, combining with each other.

“[They’re] definitely a massive threat going forward and one that will one that we’ll have to try and stop.

“I actually thought our defence was really good in the first two games as well. We just lost one or two moments in a game which can happen in football rather than giving away too many shots on target or too many easy chances.

“I don’t think there’s been any game so far where we’ve given away more than three or four chances per game, which is sort of means you’re tracking, ok… If you’re keeping it pretty tight at the back as long as then you can protect yourself from those crucial moments.

“Mariners had a couple of long range shots and we got a long range shot against us against Newcastle as well… We’re ensuring that teams have to shoot from distance and have to create something from a lot further out from goal.

“I think we’ve got a good platform, but certainly a lot of things we have to tighten up on as well… particularly our set piece defending last week, even though we had a lot of set pieces to defend, it wasn’t where it should be.”

Perth’s road form continues to be a concern having only won one of their last 23 league matches outside Western Australia (D4, L18); the win coming against Central Coast Mariners last season.

Glory did win the last contest between the two sides back in March 2023 at HBF Park, thanks to a late strike from Aaron McEneff.

Opta stat: Adam Taggart (Perth Glory) has taken the most total shots (17) and the most shots on target (8) of any player in the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League season, scoring two goals and racking up 2.9 Expected Goals in the process.

MATCH DETAILS

Western Sydney Wanderers v Perth Glory
Saturday, November 11 2023
CommBank Stadium
Kick-off: 5:30 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+
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Saturday, 7:45pm (AEDT) – Adelaide United v Sydney FC

The Ufuk Talay era at Sydney FC gets underway this weekend as the Sky Blues travel to the city of churches to face Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium.

Talay was announced as the new senior head coach this week after the club parted ways with predecessor Steve Corica following a difficult start to the season.

The Sky Blues came into the campaign with plenty of momentum after winning the 2023 Australia Cup, but their fortunes have changed dramatically, losing their first three games, and are yet to score a single goal.

“I’d be naive to come in and say that we’re going to scrap in two days everything that’s been done previously,” Talay said.

“For me what I look at is how can we improve what’s been done previously and how can we get the best out of the players?

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“We’ll find out today, once we get through the session, how (quickly) we can make an imprint on the players. There’ll be a few tweaks in the way that we set up and the way that we play.”

Adelaide, on the other hand, have started like a house on fire, defeating both Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City by an aggregate score of 9-0. They did, however, slightly come back to earth when they drew 1-1 with Melbourne Victory last week.

Carl Veart will be without star winger Nestory Irankunda due to suspension, but has regained fellow teenage gun Luka Jovanovic.

Their recent form against Sydney, however, hasn’t been great, winning only two of their last 20 league matches against the Sky Blues (seven draws, 11 losses).

However, Sydney haven’t kept a clean sheet against the Reds since March 2019.

Opta stat: Sydney FC have lost their last four games in the Isuzu UTE A-League without scoring a goal; the last time any team went longer than four games without a goal was the Newcastle Jets in April 2017 (5 games), while the last time the Sky Blues went longer without a goal was a five-game stretch in December 2010.

MATCH DETAILS

Adelaide United v Sydney FC
Saturday, November 11 2023
Coopers Stadium
Kick-off: 7:45 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 Bold & Paramount+
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Sunday, 3pm (AEDT) – Melbourne City v Macarthur FC

Melbourne City will be looking to secure back-to-back league wins when they take on an in-form Macarthur side at AAMI Park on Sunday.

Aurelio Vidmar got off to a winning start at the helm last Friday, when the reigning premiers returned to form with a 2-0 victory over Sydney FC, but his team were brought down a peg when they fell to defeat in mid-week AFC Champions League action against Buriram United.

City have a phenomenal record against Macarthur, being the only side in the Isuzu UTE A-League to never lose against the Bulls (five wins, two draws).

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Their league form against non-Victorian sides at AAMI Park is just as formidable having not lost at home to an interstate team since February 2022.

City’s opponents come into the contest off the back of three consecutive wins in all competitions, seeing off reigning champions Central Coast Mariners, Western United and most recently a 5-0 win in the AFC Cup against Phnom Penh Crown.

The Bulls’ win over the Mariners bucked a poor road record, having lost seven league matches in a row leading into the contest.

Mile Sterjovski’s side, however, haven’t won at AAMI Park since May 2021.

Opta stat: Macarthur FC have won their last two games in a row in the Isuzu UTE A-League and will be looking to win three straight in the competition for the first time since a four-win stretch from November to December in 2021.

MATCH DETAILS

Melbourne City v Macarthur FC
Sunday, November 12 2023
AAMI Park
Kick-off: 3 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 Bold & Paramount+
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Sunday 5pm (AEDT) – Central Coast Mariners v Brisbane Roar

Reigning Isuzu UTE A-League champions Central Coast Mariners welcome Brisbane Roar to town in the final game of the round, as they search for their first points of the league season.

The Mariners fell to a third consecutive league defeat last Saturday night in a 2-0 loss to Perth Glory, continuing a difficult start to their Championship defence under Mark Jackson – who is also looking for his first league win since taking over from Nick Montgomery.

A loss to Brisbane this weekend, would equal the longest losing streak to start a season of any reigning champion in the history of the competition since their opponents started the 2014-15 season with four straight defeats.

Central Coast did, however bounce back in mid-week in the AFC Cup, securing a crucial 2-1 win on the road to Bali United, which keeps them in top spot of Group G.

Jackson will be without attacker Angel Torres after he was sent off against Perth. Despite not opening his league account just yet, Torres sits in second in the league for passes into the box with 29, behind Brisbane’s Jay O’Shea (37 passes).

Brisbane’s hot start to the season under Ross Aloisi hit a speed bump when they were demolished 5-2 on the road to Wellington Phoenix.

Roar hit the front inside the opening minute through Florin Berenguer, but lapse defending opened the door for the ‘Nix who made them pay on the scoreboard.

New signing Antonee Burke-Gilroy looks set to come straight into the side, while Jez Lofthouse has also been included in the squad.

Brisbane are currently in the midst of a poor run of league form in New South Wales (D2, L3) since winning in December 2022; conceding at least three goals in each of those last three losses in the state.

Opta stat: Central Coast Mariners have won their last four Isuzu UTE A-League matches against the Brisbane Roar – including two matches at Industree Group Stadium – which is as many as they had won in their previous 38 meetings against the Roar in the competition (W4 D8 L26).

MATCH DETAILS

Central Coast Mariners v Brisbane Roar
Sunday, November 12 2023
Industree Group Stadium
Kick-off: 5 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+
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