State of Play: What A-Leagues sides need to do to progress in Asia

PREVIEW: Macarthur take on Phnom Penh Crown on Matchday 4 of the AFC Cup.

As we move towards the business end of the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup group stage, KEEPUP looks at the state of play for each of the A-Leagues representatives.

At the halfway point of the group phase in this season’s AFC competitions, all three Australian sides are well placed to progress.

No A-Leagues side has made it past the group phase of Asian competition since Melbourne Victory did so in 2020 – falling 3-0 to Ulsan Hyundai in the Round of 16 – but Melbourne City, Macarthur FC and Central Coast Mariners look ready to change that.

Despite a slow start to the domestic campaign that ultimately saw Rado Vidosic depart to make way for Aurelio Vidmar, City have been impressive in Asia, registering two wins and a draw from their opening three matches to sit on top of Group H in the Asian Champions League.

Central Coast Mariners have been similarly off-colour in the opening rounds of the Isuzu UTE A-League, but no side has scored more goals in the opening three matchdays across either AFC Competition than the 15 netted by Mark Jackson’s men as they sit top of AFC Cup Group G.

Meanwhile, Mile Sterjovski’s Macarthur side sit second in Group F behind Phnom Penh Crown, with their 8-2 victory at home against Cebu FC an early highlight in their inaugural continental campaign.

Here’s everything you need to know as they enter the pointy end of the group stage…

How to watch?

Melbourne City’s AFC Champions League matches will be live on Paramount+, while the AFC Cup fixtures featuring Central Coast Mariners and Macarthur FC will be broadcast live and free via 10Play.

Melbourne City

Results so far:

  • 0-0 draw v Ventforet Kofu
  • 1-2 win v Zhejiang
  • 0-2 win v Buriram United

Games still to play:

  • 8 November: v Buriram United (H)
  • 29 November: v Ventforet Kofu (A)
  • 12 December: v Zhejiang (H)

Matchweek 4 preview:

Melbourne City v Buriram United
Date: Wednesday, November 8
Venue: Melbourne Rectangular Stadium
Kick-off: 8pm AEDT
Broadcast: Paramount+

In his first game in charge, new City head coach Aurelio Vidmar orchestrated a crucial victory in the Isuzu UTE A-League over Sydney FC. Now he turns his attention to the ACL, and a clash with Thai giants Buriram United.

Vidmar is no stranger to Thai football having coached Bangkok Glass and Bangkok United, as well as BG Patham United where he won the Thai Champions Cup in 2021.

As Vidmar and City prepare to host Buriram – led by ex-Newcastle Jets head coach Arthur Papas – the new City head coach has reflected on his time in Thailand and identified the progress he has witnessed in Thai football over the years.

“I think they’ve got some really, really big talents,” he said. “For me, the last three or four years, the big shift for Thai football was players like Theerathon (Bunmathan) going to Japan and being really successful. That’s the key: in a place like Thailand where you’ve more or less got everything, it’s pretty cruisy, to be honest, so guys who want to extend themselves, I think that can only be really healthy for Thai football.

“A lot of quality players, right around the league. I think what also makes Thai football strong is: it’s not just one league. They’ve got second division, third division, fourth division… there’s a lot going on and a lot of opportunities. “

Vidmar says spirits are high in the City camp after the club’s first win of the Isuzu UTE A-League season; he’s watched over his side’s last ACL game – a 2-0 win over Buriram away from home on October 25 – and says he’ll be making only minor tweaks to the approach for that fixture in oder to keep things simple for the playing group.

“It’s hard. When I look at the game they played in Buriram, I wasn’t there,” he said. “I didn’t understand what the tactics were and what was the situation from what (former head coach Rado Vidosic) wanted there.

“We’re just going to change a couple of little things – nothing too drastic. I’m really something who wants to keep things really simple to understand for the players.

“We’ve been playing inside our playing style, obviously you need to matchup to what the opposition are doing as well, but I’m more worried about what we’re doing other than the opposition.”

Vidmar has enjoyed prior success in Asia with Adelaide United, leading the Reds to the 2008 ACL final.

State of play:

Most goals in AFC Champions League:

5 – Aleksandar Mitrovic (Al-Hilal)

5 – Talisca (Al-Nassr)

4 – Ali Jasim (Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya)

4 – Hernandes Rodrigues (Incheon)

4 – Igor Sergeyev

Most assists in AFC Champions League:

5 – Mohammed Alburayk (Al-Hilal)

3 – Ayman Yahya (Al-Nassr)

3 – Marin Jakolis (Melbourne City)

3 – Miralem Pjanic (Sharjah)

3 – Zeca (Pohang Steelers)

Central Coast Mariners

Results so far:

  • 0-1 loss v Terengganu
  • 9-1 win v Stallion Laguna
  • 6-3 win v Bali United

Games still to play:

  • 8 November: v Bali United (A)
  • 29 November: v Terengganu (H)
  • 13 December: v Stallion Laguna (A)

Matchweek 4 preview:

Bali United v Central Coast Mariners
Date: Wednesday, November 8
Venue: Kapten I Wayan Dipta Stadium
Kick-off: 11pm AEDT
Broadcast: 10Play

Pressure is mounting on the shoulders of Mariners Football Manager Mark Jackson after a disappointing start to his side’s Isuzu UTE A-League Championship defence. Three consecutive losses is the equal-worst start from a defending Champion (Brisbane Roar 2014-15); the Mariners lost many of their stars to overseas clubs after last season’s Grand Final win over Melbourne City, including Jason Cummings, Nectar Triantis and Samuel Silvera – not to mention head coach Nick Montgomery and assistant Sergio Raimundo.

It’s been back to the drawing board for the Mariners, who now need to ensure a decent start to the AFC Cup campaign does not go to waste. The Mariners travel to Indonesia to take on Bali United on Wednesday night having recorded two convincing wins and one shock defeat to Terengganu FC; Jackson’s side sit just one point clear atop Group G.

State of play:

Macarthur FC

Results so far:

  • 0-3 win v Shan United
  • 8-2 win v Cebu FC
  • 3-0 loss v Phnom Penh Crown

Games still to play:

  • 9 November: v Phnom Penh Crown (H)
  • 30 November: v Shan United (H)
  • 14 December: v Cebu FC

Matchweek 4 preview:

Macarthur FC v Phnom Penh Crown
Date: Thursday, November 9
Kick-off: 7pm AEDT
Venue: Campbelltown Stadium
Broadcast: 10Play

Macarthur FC are under pressure to perform as they take on group leaders Phnom Penh Crown at Campbelltown Stadium on Thursday night.

Macarthur’s AFC Cup campaign hit a hurdle last time out, losing 3-0 to their Thursday night opponents on October 26. Two weeks have passed and the Bulls will be confident of carrying their Isuzu UTE A-League form back into AFC Cup action to enact revenge on the Cambodian outfit.

Macarthur have put together the equal-best start to a domestic campaign in the club’s history under head coach Mile Sterjovski, drawing with Brisbane Roar in Round 1 before enjoying wins over Central Coast and Western United.

Macarthur are unlikely to reclaim top spot in the group on Thursday. Sterjovski’s side sit three points behind Phnom Penh and have a goal difference of +6 compared to +10 for the group leaders.

State of play:

Most goals in AFC Cup:

8 – Shintaro Shimizu (Phnom Penh Crown)

5 – Marco Tulio (Central Coast Mariners)

4 – Darren Lok (Sabah)

4 – Jason Cummings (Mohun Bagan)

3 – Dimitri Petratos (Mohun Bagan)

3 – Valere Germain (Macarthur)