PREVIEW: Friendship set aside as leaders Phoenix visit Ufuk Talay’s Sydney FC

Giancarlo Italiano is playing down Friday’s first head-to-head A-League clash with former Wellington Phoenix coach — and friend — Ufuk Talay.

Talay guided the Wellington Phoenix to the Isuzu UTE A-League finals in three of his four years as head coach, with Italiano his assistant.

On Friday night the close friends will be in opposing technical areas as the top-of-the-table Phoenix visit Sydney FC, now coached by Talay.

Main photo: When they used to share the same dugout … Ufuk Talay (left) and Giancarlo Italiano. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Italiano doesn’t view the match as a chance to get one over his mate.

“I don’t look at it in that respect,” Italiano says. “For me, the main thing is the team performs well.

“It’s not me vs Uffy. We’re not the ones running out on the pitch. It’s more about his team against my team.”

‘I like to win every game and Uffy likes to win every game …’

However, both coaches are extremely competitive.

“We’re not going to go into the game wanting to lose the game so…it’s the same intent every week.

“It’s a battle with their coach from a tactical point and the team have to perform well.

“I like to win every game and Uffy likes to win every game so that pretty much settles that.”

They have remained in contact since Talay left the Phoenix, even more so since he took charge of the Sky Blues three rounds into the new season.

“We speak regularly and now that he’s got the job at Sydney FC we’re probably in more regular contact than usual.

“We’re good friends off the pitch. We confide a lot of things in each other — that’s part of friendship.

“But this week is as normal as can be.”

What isn’t normal is the way Ufuk Talay is setting Sydney up, making changes to the system he implemented at the Nix with Giancarlo Italiano.

“They’re completely different if you look at the way they press, their intent is quite high energy, not that we weren’t high energy for four years when he was head coach, it’s just a different style.

“I actually like watching them play to be fair. He’s been there six/seven weeks and he’s been able to get a lot of what he wants into the team already.”

Phoenix have best defensive record in league

Italiano has also changed Wellington’s set-up this season and has made the league leaders very hard to beat.

The Phoenix have the best defensive record in the competition, conceding just seven goals in their first nine matches. The Nix have also already registered five clean sheets, four of which have come in their last five games, to match their tallies from the past two seasons.

“Our style is very distinct, very different and I think it’s very hard to find tactical solutions which curb all our threats.

“But it’s the same with him (Talay). He’s got a different way of playing now and it’s just as hard for any opposition coach to analyse his team.”

Italiano has identified the next four matches as potentially season-defining period for his side.

“I think it’s probably the most important one because we have two games away then we’ve got the Unite round against Perth — so essentially three away games and then we have Victory at home.

“Usually the goal of most coaches is they don’t want to lose away and I have the same intention.

“And if we’re in a good position when we play Victory in a month at home that’s also going to be a big game. But in saying that every game is big in this league.

“Definitely being away from home for three weeks will take its toll so the whole squad is going to be up for some good minutes. I’m going to rely on everyone, so I have to make sure all of the boys are focussed and ready to go.”

Giancarlo Italiano is only able to call on his full-time squad members as he has given the reserves players, who have been training with the team throughout the season, a couple of weeks off over the festive period.

Oskar Zawada to miss game

The Phoenix will be without Oskar Zawada for a third straight match.

“Oz had more fluid drained yesterday (Tuesday) from the contusion in his leg and he’s off feet now for a couple more days.

“We’ll see how that progresses and then our physio will be able to make an assessment next week on how long his recovery will be. I’m still planning for maybe at least three/four weeks without him.”

The rest of the squad are available for selection, with two Nix defenders to celebrate milestones on Friday night.

Tim Payne will play his 100th A-League match and Scott Wootton is in line to play his 50th.

Past meetings

Most recent meeting: 12 March 2023 – Sydney FC 0 Wellington Phoenix 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 15W, Sydney FC 26W & 6D.

How to watch

The game will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 4 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.


Game to be played on Friday December 29, 2023

Sydney FC v Wellington Phoenix
Allianz Stadium, Sydney, 9.45pm (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, 30. Alby KELLY-HEALD (gk), 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN.

Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured).

Likely Sydney FC (two to be omitted)

1. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 4. Jordan COURTNEY-PERKINS, 6. Jack RODWELL, 8. Jake GIRDWOOD-REICH, 9. Fabio GOMES, 10. Joe LOLLEY, 11. Robert MAK, 12. Corey HOLLMAN, 13. Pat WOOD, 15. Gabriel LACERDA, 16. Joel KING, 17. Anthony CACERES, 19. Mitch GLASSON, 20. Adam PAVLESIC (gk), 21. Zac DE JESUS, 22. Max BURGESS, 23. Rhyan GRANT, 25. Jaiden KUCHARSKI, 26. Luke BRATTAN (c), 28. Nathan AMANATIDIS.

Unavailable: 24. Wataru KAMIJO (injured).


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

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