The season is beginning to heat up across the A-Leagues. Aussie football pundit Tom Smithies runs the rule across the men’s and women’s draw for this round’s matches.
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In the women’s competition, the race to the finals is on.
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Here’s a look at the week’s match ups:
A-LEAGUE MEN — ROUND 10
CENTRAL COAST v NEWCASTLE JETS
Central Coast Stadium, 5:05pm
ODDS: Mariners $2.25, Draw $3.45, Jets $3.05
The F3 derby has produced some of the A-Leagues’ most memorable moments and with both teams showing positive signs this season, it has the ingredients to be a classic.
Local boy Oliver Bozanic has bravely led Central Coast’s band of brave young local academy products, with rookie coach Nick Montgomery’s faith in youth thus far rewarded.
Arthur Papas’ Jets have produced some of the season’s most scintillating football, although consistency has been lacking. A win could propel the Jets into the top six.
SYDNEY FC v BRISBANE ROAR
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 7:45pm
TV: Network 10 (Sydney, Brisbane), P+
ODDS: Sydney FC $1.53, Draw $4, Brisbane $6.25
Sydney FC’s faith in discarded Melbourne Victory attacker Elvis Kamsoba has been rewarded, after he netted his fourth goal of the season in all competitions midweek to send the Sky Blues into the FFA Cup semi-finals.
‘Acrobatic Elvis’ has been a key find for Sydney FC along with fellow mature-age signing Max Burgess, as last season’s runners-up slowly gather steam in the A-League season – a fourth successive win would keep them within touching distance of the top two.
With one goal (Luke Ivanovic) in four games, bottom-place Brisbane just needs to start scoring.
ADELAIDE UNITED v MELBOURNE CITY
Coopers Stadium, 7:45pm AEST
TV: Network 10 (Adelaide, Melbourne), P+ Radio: SEN Fanatic, 2SM, 5AA
ODDS: Adelaide $4.25, Draw $3.80, City $1.75
Having finished his academy apprenticeship at Melbourne City, Bernanrdo Oliveira looms as a thorn in his former club’s side, having showed glimpses of huge promise this season.
The son of Adelaide United great Cassio has made six A-League appearances, including two starts, justifying his decision to return “home”. And he looks set to line up against City’s feisty sipper Scott Jamieson in a mouth-watering clash.
Fellow excitement machine Marco Tilio looks set to be rewarded with another start after his stunning strike against the Wanderers.
A-LEAGUE WOMENS — ROUND 7
SYDNEY FC v CANBERRA UNITED
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 5:05pm
ODDS: Sydney FC $1.20, Draw $7.50, Canberra $10
Sydney FC have made an emphatic start to the season, with five wins from six games, and laden with Matildas stars, Ante Juric’s side appears to be the team to beat at this early stage.
Sharpshooter Mackenzie Hawkesby leads the A-League Women’s golden boot race, but she’s had plenty of support with the Sky Blues netting 17 goals in six games.
Last season’s finalists Canberra United need to get a move on if they want to crack the top four once again.
ADELAIDE UNITED v MELBOURNE CITY
Coopers Stadium, 5:05pm
ODDS: Adelaide $5.55, Draw $4.50, City $1.45
This could be the making of Adelaide United, who’ve never qualified for the A-League Women’s finals series, after last season’s heartbreaking miss, but are well placed approaching the midway mark of the season.
A win over second-place Melbourne City would draw them level on points and make a real statement to rival teams. And the home side catches City when it’s vulnerable, with Matildas Holly McNamara and Winnonah Heatley still away on Asian Cup duty.
WELLINGTON PHOENIX v BRISBANE ROAR
WIN Stadium, 2:05pm
ODDS: Phoenix $6.50, Draw $5.30, Roar $1.35
It might be a battle at the basement, but there’s plenty still at stake for two sides at very different stages of development. Put together on the eve of the season, Phoenix’s inaugural women’s team have battled valiantly but found the intensity of the competition predictably hard to maintain, especially later in games. However, this is an excellent chance to record a first win of the season against a Brisbane side painfully low on confidence and struggling after making the semi-finals last season.
WESTERN SYDNEY v MELBOURNE VICTORY
CommBank Stadium, 4:05pm
TV: Bold, 10 Play
ODDS: Wanderers $4.60, Draw $4.10, Victory $1.60
A pivotal contest beckons at CommBank Stadium, with injury ravaged Victory fending off a Wanderers side buoyed by a first win of the season last weekend. The reigning champions have shipped goals after suffering injuries in defence, and could be dragged into the pack if they suffer a third consecutive loss. Western Sydney need to find goals if they are to make that happen, having scored just twice in five games, though one of those was enough to secure last weekend’s victory at Brisbane.
NEWCASTLE JETS v PERTH GLORY
No.2 Sportsground, 6:45pm
ODDS: Jets $1.85, Draw $4.15, Glory $3.25
This is an early six-pointer, with fifth-place Newcastle Jets and sixth-place Perth Glory merely separated by goal difference, with Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory just ahead of the table. Both teams have faced Covid challenges. Emily van Egmond’s Matildas call up officially ends her short-term stint at the Jets, meaning the likes of Cassidy Davis, Sunny Franco and Norwegian Marie Dolvik Markussen will have to step up if the Jets want to play finals. Gema Simon’s imminent return from a calf problem will help.
Covid rampant in A-Leagues, but confidence in seasons grow
Over half of A-Leagues players – men and women – have now contracted COVID-19 and are back at training or in recovery, bolstering plans to complete the seasons on schedule.
The A-League Men’s grand final, scheduled for May 28, and the Women’s showdown – set for March 27 – remain on track despite a rash of recent postponements.
At some clubs, almost the entire regular playing squad has been affected by the coronavirus, which in effect it means a number of squads are approaching “herd immunity” in the sense of having enough players having had the virus to be confident of avoiding future postponements.
With experts anticipating the current Omicron wave will begin to peak shortly – and maybe at that point in NSW – A-Leagues officials have told clubs they expect the rate of postponements to drop away rapidly, possibly as soon as next week.
A-Leagues Commissioner Greg O’Rourke remained confident that postponed fixtures could be accommodated in the existing season framework.
“We are working on a schedule that gives us the flexibility to play games in a timely manner, and be able to work around any further disruption – though we are also optimistic that postponements will become much less of an issue moving forward,” said O’Rourke.
“As we have said previously, we have a few options, and we have the ability to be quite agile in both the men’s and women’s competitions as required.
“Last year we felt the concept of playing games almost every night, particularly in the summer months, worked well, and that’s definitely one thing we are looking at now.
“One of the reasons we have been able to get to this point is the sacrifices and willingness to be flexible from all our teams, but especially the men’s and women’s teams from Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory.”
So far the men’s competition has been more affected than the women’s, with the majority of male squads having seen significant numbers of infections among players and coaching staff.
The worst affected has been the Mariners, with 14 players and five staff having contracted Covid, as well as family members and children, while Melbourne City head Patrick Kisnorbo estimated that only a handful of his squad had avoided it so far.
The team most indirectly affected so far, Perth Glory’s men’s squad, will embark on a rapid-fire tour of four states from this weekend to play a number of their outstanding games.
Glory’s squad went into isolation after young defender Pacifique Niyongabire tested positive in Brisbane on December 15, and hasn’t played since.
Under a schedule still being finalised, the Glory squad is expected to fly out of WA on Sunday and play in Brisbane next Wednesday, three games in NSW, against Melbourne City and a final fixture in Adelaide before returning to WA soon after the state’s borders are due to re-open.
Which clubs will bolster their squads in transfer window?
A host of A-League clubs are on the hunt for mid-season reinforcements, with the men’s transfer window opening Friday.
Several clubs have already lined up incoming moves to bolster their squads, with new signings eligible to play from now on.
As clubs scour the market, Australian players will be at a premium, with only a minority of clubs having visa spots open for mid-year signings.
Among those is Melbourne City, with the reigning champions believed to be considering targeting an Asian player to take advantage of the so-called “+1” rule in the Asian Champions League.
Another, Wellington Phoenix, are also understood to be looking at one recruit at least.
Sydney FC will welcome fringe Socceroo Mustafa Amini into competitive action from this weekend, to replace Luke Brattan after the latter’s season-ending knee injury, and Amini will also be eligible to play in next week’s FFA Cup semi-final with the Mariners.
Adelaide meanwhile have loaned back an old boy in Lachlan Brook from EPL side Brentford, with another signing on the cards – rumoured to be former Perth playmaker Diego Castro.
The new signings will be gratefully received by Adelaide coach Carl Veart, with winger Ben Halloran leaving for FC Seoul and captain Stefan Mauk likely to exit for the J-League.
Mid-season signings have regularly made a significant contribution at clubs, including Jamie Maclaren at City in 2019, Jordy Buijs at Sydney FC in 2017, Roy Krishna at Wellington Phoenix in 2014 and Shane Smeltz at Gold Coast United in 2011.
***TOM SMITHIES writes for KEEPUP
Originally published as A-League preview: A look at the round’s match ups across the men’s and women’s draws