The A-League finals series gets underway this weekend with a pair of fascinating Elimination Finals.
On Friday night at 7:30 p.m. (AEST), Melbourne Victory take on Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium, while the Central Coast Mariners play Adelaide United in Gosford on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (AEST).
It is do-or-die time for all four teams participating in the opening week of the finals, with the two losing sides immediately eliminated from this year’s competition.
The winners will move to within one match of the Grand Final, the downside being that that match will be against the number one and two ranked sides in the Brisbane Roar and the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Let’s have a look at each of this weekend’s games:
Melbourne Victory vs. Sydney FC
Ladder Position: 4th
Recent Form: WWDLD
The Victory will have received a massive confidence boost from their superb 2-0 win over Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the Asian Champions League during the week, but at the same time that match could have drained them of physical and mental energy ahead of their finals clash.
Their form throughout the A-League season has been up and down, and is reflected in their fourth-place finish. Before their convincing last-round victory over Wellington Phoenix, they had not won in three league encounters.
Ladder Position: 5th
Recent Form: WWDLD
The Sky Blues’ recent form exactly mirrors that of their opponents on Friday night, and they too have had an up-and-down season. Coach Frank Farina copped some heavy criticism at certain stages of the campaign but Sydney, despite playing some very ordinary football at times, always hovered around the top six.
Two convincing wins in their last two regular season games should see them carry some nice momentum into the finals.
The sides have played each other three times this season, with the Sky Blues notching two wins and the other result a draw. The standout result between the teams was Sydney’s stunning 5-0 win back in January.
The superior record Farina’s men have over Kevin Muscat’s chargers this term, coupled with the fact they don’t have any ACL distractions, lends me to believe they might just sneak this one.
A Del Piero goal to settle it.
Victory 0 – 1 Sydney
Central Coast Mariners vs. Adelaide United
Ladder Position: 3rd
Recent Form: WLWWW
A February form slump had many writing off the Mariners’ chances of defending their A-League title, but Phil Moss’ men found their feet late in the season to go into the finals in tip-top shape.
The loss of many key players before the campaign even began and the departure of influential coach Graham Arnold early on did not have as devastating an effect as it could have, and the Gosford side are well positioned for another tilt at the grand final.
Ladder Position: 6th
Recent Form: LDWWD
United turned their season around in magnificent fashion after starting poorly, and at one stage looked to be the team most likely to knock off frontrunners the Brisbane Roar. They still may achieve such a feat, but their form in recent weeks has been slightly less dazzling than earlier in the year.
Adelaide’s Spanish manager, Josep Gombau, with his fervent belief in tiki-taka football and crazy touchline celebrations, has emerged as one of the league’s most notable characters. Loved by some and disliked by others, it will be interesting to see how he copes with the pressures of final football, after saying repeatedly earlier in the season that results this time around were not that important.
Adelaide have two victories to the Mariners’ one this term, with the Reds having outscored their opponents six goals to one. Interestingly, though, all three games resulted in wins for the home side.
The advantage of playing at Central Coast Stadium could swing this match the Mariners’ way.
If it had been played a couple of months ago, when Adelaide were at the peak of their powers, I probably would have leaned towards the Reds, but Moss’ chargers have looked so composed of late that they are hard to look past.
Whoever can get an early goal in this one will have a huge advantage. If the Central Coast can manage it, they will be able to sit back and hit Adelaide on the counter.
Mariners 2 – 0 Adelaide
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