5 points clear: Will the Nix go on to claim historic A-Leagues crown? This is what the data says

Watch the highlights from the Wellington Phoenix's 2-1 win over Macarthur FC over the weekend.

With Central Coast Mariners in hot pursuit, Wellington Phoenix are entering untravelled territory in their battle for the A-League title.

Flying high at the Isuzu UTE A-League summit, Wellington Phoenix are eyeing their first-ever major trophy – but can Giancarlo Italiano keep his side on course for a landmark moment in the club’s history?

The New Zealand-based team sit five points clear of second-placed Central Coast Mariners – two-time winners of the competition – in the A-League table with nine regular-season games remaining before the final series between the top-six sides.


That rise of the Phoenix has coincided with the appointment of analyst-turned-head coach Italiano, who has won more games (10) and points-per-match (two) in his first 18 league clashes than any other Wellington manager in that timeframe across their A-League history.

Indeed, since the turn of the new 2023-24 campaign Down Under, Wellington have gained 384 places in Opta’s Power Rankings – the most of any team in their competition – and rank 799th overall, behind only the Mariners (596th) among A-League teams.

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Yet, the question remains: can Italiano’s side continue to perform at their exceedingly high levels and end their run as the only side in Australia’s top league without a trophy?

Wellington, who finished sixth in the regular campaign last term, have benefitted from a transformed identity under Italiano, prioritising patient possession and capitalising on opportunities when they arise – a tactic becoming increasingly prominent across European football, too.

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Phoenix have the highest passing accuracy (85.5%) of any A-League team this season. That is partially explained by them also being the only club in the division to have played fewer than 30% of their passes forward.

The fantastic passing accuracy is the club’s highest figure since Opta records began in the 2012-13 campaign, though Italiano’s men have still managed 30 goals in 18 league games as Kosta Barbarouses (nine goals), Bozhidar Kraev and Oskar Zawada (both five) lead their scoring charts.

Barbarouses was twice on target as the visiting Wellington overcame Macarthur 2-1 on Sunday, battling to their second win in as many games and continuing their eight-match unbeaten run since the December 29 loss to Sydney FC.

An insistence on possession has also translated into Wellington profiting from creating better opportunities in front of goal, with only the Newcastle Jets’ 0.139 expected goals (xG) per shot – a measure of the quality of chances – bettering Phoenix’s 0.137 xG per attempt among A-League teams this campaign.


Although Italiano has created a winning culture at Wellington, as well as altering the in-game philosophy, it remains to be seen whether this approach will be sustainable come the decisive end of the season.

Wellington have made the fewest penalty-area entries (22.1) and high turnovers (5.2) – both per game – of any A-League team, which again emphasises Italiano’s possessional focus and cautious but well-drilled tactic when his team are defending off the ball. 

Though those metrics are far from concerning, Phoenix have also only managed just over 10 shots per game, the fewest of any A-League team in the 2023-24 season and a club-record low since Opta began collecting such data in 2012.

While Wellington, powered by the likes of Barbarouses, Kraev and Zawada, have registered a 55 per cent shooting accuracy and 16% shot conversion rate – both club records since Opta data collection started – the underlying data suggests Italiano’s men are somewhat overperforming due to those exceptional finishing metrics.

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Phoenix have outperformed their xG tally, scoring almost five more goals than the quality of chances suggest they should, with only Perth Glory (6.9) capitalising on more unlikely opportunities and boasting a higher differential between goals scored and expected goals.

So they may come under pressure in their top-of-the-table contention if they cannot start to forge a higher volume of opportunities, as their current high standard will be tough for their forwards to maintain over the long term.

Observers may suggest title-winning teams deliver in big moments and take their chances, as Wellington have seemingly done all season, but the data also suggests they have been fortunate at the other end of the pitch, making clear how difficult it will be to sustain their results.

Only Melbourne Victory (18) have conceded fewer goals than Wellington’s 19 and while significant credit should be apportioned to Phoenix’s first-choice goalkeeper Alex Paulsen, Italiano’s men must improve further if they are to secure an unlikely first title.

That is because no A-League side can boast a higher positive differential between expected goals against and actual goals conceded than Wellington’s 7.6. 

When compared to the likes of the Mariners (0) and third-placed Macarthur (3.7), the data suggests Phoenix are somewhat fortunate that their opposing attackers are not punishing them as often as they should based on the chances that are being given up.

Optimistic Wellington supporters will hope their side continue to outperform expectations at either end of the pitch but Italiano knows even more is required if his team are to continue their astounding form at the A-League summit, with their next task coming on the road against Perth Glory on Saturday.