PREVIEW: A-League leadership at stake as Phoenix go into Christmas fixture

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix can go into Christmas as leaders of the men’s A-League — but a familiar foe stands in their way.

The Phoenix host Western Sydney Wanderers at Sky Stadium on Saturday evening, knowing a win will cement their competition lead.

The two sides have already met once this season, with the Phoenix securing a hard-earned point at CommBank Stadium in round one.

Head coach Giancarlo Italiano is full of respect for the Wanderers, who entered the round just two points behind the Nix in third place.

“They’re a good outfit,” Italiano told media before the team’s final pre-game training session on Friday. “They press quite well so I’m expecting them to come out and press and stick to what they’ve been doing all year. We don’t take them lightly.

“They’ve got a lot of good young energetic players. I’m a big fan of [Nicolas] Milanovic. I think he’s quite effective around the box. [Marcus] Antonsson is very clinical as an out and out nine … and [Jorrit] Hendrix the other import is very good on the ball.

“They’ve got a lot of quality, so we respect them quite a bit.”

Giancarlo Italiano … ‘Players are fine, they’re in good spirits.’

Italiano believes the Phoenix have improved “steadily” since the scoreless round one stalemate.

“They were tough. It was very hard to make some chances.

“The weather was a little bit different but [now] we’re at home. Our mentality is we’re going to try and play our football and play as best as we can.”

But he has reiterated “there’s still a big window of improvement” for his side.

“In terms of the ball, we can be a lot better. Defensively, we’re quite sound. There are little bits and pieces we can fix.

“Like I said a couple of weeks ago the big thing for us is we’re not peaking now, we’re peaking towards the end of the season.

“It’s a long body of work that we’re trying to teach the boys. It’s not going to be perfect all the time, but it is going well at the moment.”

Wellington have had a limited build-up to the match, having played Macarthur FC in Sydney on Monday night.

“It has its difficulties, more in terms of preparation for the coaching staff.

“Because it’s a shorter turnaround we don’t have the full available week to prepare like we usually do, but you just deal with it.

“The players are fine, they’re in good spirits.”

Ben Old and Sam Sutton both made their first starts of the season in the 3-0 win over Macarthur FC, after injury-disrupted pre-seasons.

“I thought they were very good. Their outputs were exceptional, especially given they hadn’t started for the long time.

“Those two being together on the same side actually helped them because they’ve played quite a number of games together and they’re good friends as well, which helps in terms of chemistry and cohesion.

“I was very pleased with both of them. But you could throw that statement across all the boys on Monday night. They were quite good.”

Past meetings

Most recent meeting: 22 October 2023 – Western Sydney Wanderers 0 Wellington Phoenix 0

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 12W, Wanderers 14W & 7D.

How to watch

The game will be broadcast LIVE and free-to-air on Sky Open in New Zealand, as well as LIVE on Sky Sport 1 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.


Game to be played on Saturday December 23, 2023

Wellington Phoenix v Western Sydney Wanderers
Sky Stadium, Wellington, 5.30pm (NZT)


Wellington Phoenix (two to be omitted)

3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON, 18. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 19. Sam SUTTON, 23. Luke SUPYK, 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 42. Fergus GILLION, 43. Matt SHERIDAN.

Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured).

Western Sydney Wanderers

6. MARCELO (c), 7. Dylan PIERIAS, 9. Marcus ANTONSSON, 10. Milos NINKOVIC, 11. Valentino YUEL, 13. Tate RUSSELL, 14. Nicolas MILANOVIC, 16. Tom BEADLING, 17. Lachlan BROOK, 19. Jack CLISBY, 20. Lawrence THOMAS (gk) 21. Jorrit HENDRIX, 29. Dylan SCICLUNA, 31. Aidan SIMMONS, 33. Alex BONETIG, 36. Oscar PRIESTMAN, 39. Marcus YOUNIS, 40. Jack GIBSON (gk).
Unavailable: 25. Josh BRILLANTE (suspended).


This story is published with the help of the Wellington Phoenix.

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