PREVIEW: League leaders Phoenix face Adelaide in fast fixture turnaround

posted in: A-League (Men), News

Giancarlo Italiano has dismissed the Wellington Phoenix’s return to the top of the men’s A-League as “more noise” ahead of Thursday night’s match against Adelaide United in Adelaide.

The Phoenix have been reinstated into first place on the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder after Australian Professional Leagues (APL) belatedly applied the new competition regulations, which state number of wins rather than goal difference is the first tiebreaker when teams are level on points.

The Nix have won six of their first 10 matches, one more than Melbourne Victory, who have also amassed 20 points.

“It’s more noise than anything else,” Italiano told media via zoom on Wednesday morning. “It’s great that we’re back at the top of the table but … whether we’re first or second depending on wins or goal difference I don’t really take any importance in that.

“I’m a football purist that’s watched football over almost 40 years now and I’ve seen top-of-the-table calculations go on head-to-head, goal difference and now most wins. In five to 10 years, we’ll be talking about some other scenario.

“If that was round 27 then that’s a big thing for us but we’re early on in the season. We’re not getting carried away with where we are on the table.

“We understand our limitations, but we also understand that we’re a team that’s going above people’s expectations and we want to continue that.”

The Phoenix have been the league leaders or had a share of the league lead for seven of the past eight rounds and Italiano believes it has put a target on their backs.

“For me personally I don’t look at being on top of the table as a burden. I do find that it is a fuel for the opposition to beat us.

“I keep saying to our group that ‘when you’re first every match has some significance or importance’.

“It’s still 90 minutes [and] … at the end of the day it doesn’t matter where you’re on the table, you still have to go be the best version of yourself, perform well and then hopefully the result looks after itself.”

Sydney FC beat the Nix 3-1 on Friday night after implementing a frenetic pressing gameplan in the first half, but Giancarlo Italiano has dismissed the notion the Sky Blues have created the blueprint to beat the competition leaders.

“How many chances did they score in the first half from a press? Zero. It was from a set piece.

“I don’t see it as an issue. Did we struggle to get out in that first part of the first half? Yes, they pressed us quite well, but as the game eventuated it’s very hard to press like that for 90 minutes and we found in the second half we had more space, and we came into the game quite well.

“I’m happy if teams press us because that’s the way we train. We’re just going to stick to what we know works for us and we just need to get better at it.

“It’s about getting better and getting consistent in those pressure situations, which there will be more of because as the season deepens every game has more value and every team is trying to fight for those three points.

“We’re a process-driven team so it’s more about refining those moments, getting better and giving the players the ability to make better and more consistent decisions and hopefully at the end of the season we’ll be rewarded.”

The Phoenix remained in Sydney after the defeat and trained in the city for the past three days before travelling to Adelaide on Wednesday afternoon.

“Because it’s a short turnaround between games, less than a week, to go back home and come back that would have had quite a toll on the players physically and more importantly mentally.

“So, staying here, being able to train and not being pushed out of our normal routine is beneficial for the boys in terms of recovery.

“[It] also means I don’t waste any sessions because when you travel not only do you lose the day travelling you lose the next day because the boys are recovering.”

Striker Oskar Zawada only omission from squad

Giancarlo Italiano is able to call on all but one of his contracted players with striker Oskar Zawada remaining in Wellington to nurse his thigh injury.

Adelaide United enter round 11 in eighth place, just one point off the top six. The Reds have lost four of their past five matches to slip out of the finals placings, but Italiano believes “it’ll be a very tough game for us”.

“They’ve had an interesting run of late [and] they’ve changed their formation,” Italiano said. “They’re experimenting with a couple of new ideas and it’s been quite interesting to watch.

“They’ve gone to a 4-2-2-2 with a box midfield and a couple of different rotations up top which is something they haven’t done before. Traditionally they’ve played with wingers. Now they’re getting their fullbacks a little bit higher.

“They’re evolving so I think it’ll be quite an interesting game at their home. At home, they’re very hard to beat.

“Even against Newcastle, when I watched them a couple of weeks ago, probably not their best game but they still came away with a 3-1 win because they’re quite good at home.”

Past meetings

Most recent meeting: 5 May 2023 – Adelaide United 2 Wellington Phoenix 0

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Adelaide 22W & 14D.

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 Thursday January 4, 2024

Adelaide United v Wellington Phoenix
Coopers Stadium, Adelaide,9.45pm (NZT)


Table at 9am (NZT) on Wednesday January 3.


Adelaide United (two to be omitted)

1. James DELIANOV (gk), 3. Ben WARLAND, 4. Nick ANSELL, 7. Ryan KITTO (c), 8. ISAÍAS, 9. Hiroshi IBUSUKI, 10. Zach CLOUGH, 17. Luka JOVANOVIĆ, 21. Javi LOPEZ, 22. Ryan TUNNICLIFFE, 23. Luke DUZEL, 26. Ben HALLORAN, 27. Josh CAVALLO, 31. BERNARDO, 41. Alexandar POPOVIĆ, 43. Giuseppe BOVALINA, 50. Steven HALL (gk), 55. Ethan ALAGICH, 62. Fabian TALLADIRA, 66. Nestory IRANKUNDA.

Unavailable: 18. Jay BARNETT (injured), 36. Panashe MADANHA (injured), 37. Jonny YULL (injured), 46. Joe GAUCI (international duty), 49. Musa TOURE (injured).

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).


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

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