Preview: Melbourne v Wellington

Is there something familiar in the air? With the business end of the season fast-approaching, Melbourne Victory is back to its best as it readies for the battle for the Premiers’ Plate and then the championship which follows.

Date: Tuesday January 26
Kick-off: 6:00pm AEDT, 8:00pm NZDT
Venue: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne

Played 8: Wins: Melbourne 3, Wellington 1. Draws: 3

Previous Meeting
Wellington Phoenix 1, Melbourne Victory 1, Westpac Stadium, December 2009

Past five matches:
Melbourne Victory:
Round 20: Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney FC 0, Etihad Stadium
Round 21: North Queensland Fury 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Dairy Farmers Stadium
Round 22: Newcastle Jets 3, Melbourne Victory 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium
Round 23: Melbourne Victory 6, Perth Glory 2, Etihad Stadium
Round 24: Melbourne Victory 2, Adelaide United 0, Etihad Stadium

Wellington Phoenix:
Round 20: Adelaide United 1, Wellington Phoenix 1, Hindmarsh Stadium
Round 21: Central Coast 0, Wellington Phoenix 2, Bluetongue Stadium
Round 22: Wellington Phoenix 3, Brisbane Roar 1, Westpac Stadium
Round 23: Wellington Phoenix 3, North Queensland Fury 0, Westpac Stadium
Round 24: Perth Glory 2, Wellington Phoenix 0, ME Bank Stadium

Is there something familiar in the air? With the business end of the season fast-approaching, Melbourne Victory is back to its best as it readies for the battle for the Premiers’ Plate and then the championship which follows.

Around this stage of last season, Melbourne put together an impressive run of home results which saw it surge late to edge out Adelaide and win the premiership. In the past two weeks, Melbourne has recorded two impressive home wins, over Perth and Adelaide and faces an Australia Day clash with Wellington at Etihad, which could put it top of the table.

In fact it was against Wellington at Etihad where Melbourne secured that premiership success last season, with a late Archie Thompson goal proving enough to get Victory over the line on goals scored.

But that was then and this is now and Melbourne now faces a dogged three-way fight against Sydney and Gold Coast. With matches away to both of those teams to come, the defending champions need to get as many points in the bank as possible and the match against a Phoenix side coming off an unsuccessful road trip to Perth last Friday, shapes as a real opportunity.

While a three-day break might flatten some teams, Melbourne is looking forward to testing out its fitness on a quick back-up ahead of the Asian Champions League coming up in late February. While Ernie Merrick initially looked to rotate his squad over this period, he will only make some minor changes in the midfield for this match, including Marvin Angulo into the starting XI.

More importantly from a personnel point of view, Evan Berger and Matthew Kemp come into the squad having spent time on the sidelines with hamstring injuries. Their return highlights the depth Melbourne boasts when close to full-strength and at least one of them is expected to force their way into the starting line-up in the coming weeks.

Of course, Wellington has its own focus for this match, with a win all but guaranteeing a spot in its first finals series. While an imposing home record has been the key to a very good season for Ricki Herbert’s men, their away form has also been solid with seven points from their past five away games.

They come to Melbourne having secured a point when they played at Etihad earlier in the season and that will give them confidence. The recent recruitment of Liam Reddy and Eugene Dadi has added strength at either end of the field. Dadi’s addition has made them look a lot more potent in front of goal, even though he missed a penalty in the 2-0 defeat to Perth last weekend.

But the veteran striker may find it hard to back-up off a road trip after four days and Herbert may look to utilise his other attacking options. He also might find it a sage tactic to not worry too much about attacking, clog up Melbourne’s midfield and just frustrate the home side in the aim of getting a valuable point. Of course that’s easier said than done against an attack as strong as Melbourne’s, especially with Carlos Hernandez and Archie Thompson in such good form.

Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19. Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 25.Aziz BEHICH, 26.Marvin ANGULO, 28. Diogo FERREIRA *Four to be omitted

In: Evan BERGER (return from injury), Nathan ELASI (promoted), Matthew KEMP (return from injury), Diogo FERREIRA (promoted from NYL)
Out: Nil

Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Mate DUGANDZIC (calf, 1 week), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite), Surat SUKHA (hamstring, 1 week)

Wellington Phoenix squad: 2. Manny MUSCAT, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. DIEGO, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Adrian CACERES, 15. Eugene DADI, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 23. Costa BARBAROUSES, 40. Liam REDDY (gk)

*two to be omitted*

In: Chris GREENACRE (return from injury), Marco ROJAS (promoted), DANIEL (promoted) DIEGO (promoted)

Out: Tony LOCHHEAD (groin – 2 weeks)

Unavailable: Mark PASTON (gk) (leg – season)