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A-League round-22 preview panel

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/03/2017 Emma Kemp and Vince Rugari

PREVIEW OF A-LEAGUE ROUND-22 MATCHES (ALL TIMES AEDT):

FRIDAY, March 3

Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory at Allianz Stadium 7.50pm

Head to Head: Sydney 10 Victory 13 drawn 17

Last clash: Round 17 2016-17 - Sydney 2 bt Victory 1 at Etihad Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Sydney $1.95 Victory $3.75 Draw $3.50

Kevin Muscat's expecting a dogfight; Graham Arnold expects to win it. Everyone else is expecting goals. This is essentially the Premiers' Plate decider, and potentially a grand-final preview. Will controversy and spite reign as they did in the previous two encounters, both 2-1 Sydney wins? Will Besart Berisha score his 99th and 100th A-League goals? Will Bernie Ibini start? So many questions ahead of this top-of-the-table blockbuster. With an eight-point gap to Sydney, Muscat's men simply must win to have a shot at springing a premiership upset.

Key: It's Marco Rojas and James Troisi versus Milos Ninkovic and Alex Brosque. Which ball players can rise above the dogfight and best service their respective marksmen Berisha and Bobo?

Tip: Sydney

SATURDAY, March 4

Wellington v Perth at QBE Stadium 5.35pm

Head to Head: Phoenix 12 Glory 14 drawn 5

Last clash: Round 14 2016-17 - Glory 2 bt Phoenix 1 at nib Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Phoenix $2.60 Glory $3.50 Draw $2.50

Blink and you probably missed it - Perth have surged to third spot and have a decent chance to extend their lead over fourth-placed Melbourne City in this edition of the 'distance derby'. It'll be staged at a ground they've never played at before - Albany's QBE Stadium - and against a suddenly resurgent Phoenix outfit who stunned Brisbane 2-1 last weekend at Suncorp Stadium. Banished trio Roly Bonevacia, Tom Doyle and Ryan Lowry are back in the selection fold for Wellington.

Key: Are the Phoenix fair dinkum or was their win over the Roar just a sudden response to a turmoil-filled week off the pitch?

Tip: Draw

Western Sydney v Adelaide United at Spotless Stadium 7.50pm

Head to Head: Wanderers 5 Reds 5 drawn 4

Last clash: Round 2 2016-2017 - Wanderers 2 bt Reds 1 at Coopers Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Wanderers $1.87 Reds $3.75 Draw $3.75

It's been the Wanderers' week from hell, and this winless venue is not one to provide relief. Their Sydney derby triumph of a fortnight ago must feel in another lifetime for Tony Popovic, whose team have since suffered 4-0, 2-0 and 5-1 losses within a week. The latter, Tuesday's Asian Champions League thrashing by Shanghai SIPG in China, was the low point but, at the very least, several key players were left at home and would be fresh to face the last-placed Reds, who were gallant in their midweek 2-1 ACL loss to Jiangsu Suning. This is a must-win for the sixth-placed Wanderers if they intend to make the finals.

Key: After seven days' rest, veteran striker Brendon Santalab is Western Sydney's best hope and will be raring to bury a few goals.

Tip: Draw

SUNDAY, March 5

Central Coast v Melbourne City at Central Coast Stadium 5.00pm

Head to Head: Mariners 10 City 5 drawn 5

Last clash: Round 16 2016-17 - City 2 bt Mariners 1 at AAMI Park

Tab Sportsbet: Mariners $4.00 City $1.75 Draw $4.00

Down to 10 men and ripped apart 3-1 last weekend by Sydney FC, fourth-placed City have much to play for. Pride is one thing, but there's also the matter of stopping Perth's sudden surge into third. With one point separating third, fourth and Brisbane in fifth, this final six weeks will be a battle of consistency. That is something City have lacked all campaign. Can they rediscover it against an improved but inferior Central Coast? The Mariners, held 1-1 last weekend by the Jets, will continue to attempt an unlikely playoffs berth from ninth spot.

Manny Muscat is suspended for City after last week's antics and subsequent dismissal.

Key: Michael Jaksobsen finally returns from injury. What role will the Danish defender play?

Tip: Melbourne City

Newcastle v Brisbane at McDonald Jones Stadium 7.00pm

Head to Head: Jets 14 Roar 13 drawn 9

Last clash: Round 14 2016-17 - Jets 3 bt Roar 2 at Suncorp Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Jets $2.75 Roar $2.35 Draw $3.40

Now fifth on the A-League ladder and winless in their past five matches across all competitions, Brisbane were trounced 6-0 on Tuesday night by Ulsan Hyundai in South Korea but, fortunately, get a few days to recover before their trip to the Hunter. But there is an injury cloud over Thomas Kristensen (thigh), while their defence is hugely depleted and their youngsters are starting to feel the strain of week-in, week-out football. The Jets, who have already beaten them twice this season, stand poised to take take full advantage and can creep into the top six with a win.

Key: How will Brisbane's defence shape up, and what role will recruit Avraam Papadopoulos play?

Tip: Jets

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