PREVIEW: ‘We’re taking it game by game’ — Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano

posted in: A-League (Men), News

Wellington Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano is sticking to the “game by game” mindset that has seen the team make their best start to an A-League season.

The Phoenix entered the inaugural Unite Round in second place on the Isuzu UTE A-League, just two points behind unbeaten Melbourne Victory and three points clear of the chasing pack.

The Nix have played all but one of their rivals, the reigning champions Central Coast Mariners, through the opening 11 rounds of the season, but Italiano hasn’t felt the need to reassess his team’s goals.

Main photo: Giancarlo Italiano … ‘It only matters when we get to round 27.’

“I’m still of the mindset that we take every game on its merit, it’s game by game,” he told media before training on Friday.

“I think you’ll see over the next five or six weeks, probably by the end of February, the table will start sorting itself out and then we’ll start readjusting goals and what we can achieve.

“For me, every time we talk about the future or where we are on the table it seems to be a bit more of a distraction than a positive element and that’s because once you take focus away from the now it’s very easy to lose sight of what’s been working for us.

“That’s the same messaging I give to the group every day. It only matters when we get to round 27 where we sit.”

Wellington face the Perth Glory for the second time this season, having beaten Perth 2-1 in their home opener back in October thanks to some late heroics from Alex Paulsen, who saved his first penalty of the season.

This time the ‘distance derby’ is being played at a neutral venue with CommBank Stadium in Sydney staging the Unite Round fixture on Sunday night.

“I think both teams don’t have a disadvantage with travel,” Italiano said. “We’re both equally disadvantaged with the three-to-four-hour flight.

“I think the venue will be interesting. A neutral venue so no one has that home support.”

Perth started the round in 11th place with two wins and two draws from the opening 11 rounds.

“Irrespective of what Perth’s results have been they’ve actually been very good in all of their games.

“They’ve just been unlucky I feel. They’ve dropped a lot of points at the end [of matches]. That’s a confidence thing more than anything.

“We’re going into this game with our eyes wide open and we respect them. We feel like we have to be at our best to get the three points.”

Kosta Barbarouses … in top form. Photo credit: Natural Light Photography Company.

In-form Kosta Barbarouses: ‘He has that belief he can score’

Giancarlo Italiano will be able to call on a near full-strength squad, with veteran forward Kosta Barbarouses again leading the frontline.

Barbarouses has scored six goals in his past four games, after being unable to find the back of the net in the opening seven rounds.

“The fact that those [first] two goals against Macarthur were well taken gave him the confidence to say ‘alright, this is the old me’ and now I don’t think confidence is an issue.

“He has that belief that he can score. This could have started at round one or round two.

“For me, he’s done nothing different; he’s just been a really good professional on and off the park. He’s a good leader in the group and it was more about time than anything.”

Italiano says he and the coaching staff don’t need to do anything to keep Barbarouses motivated.

“I don’t need to give him extra incentive. He’s very ambitious in terms of what his goals are.

“He wants to be the best version of himself this year and then hopefully it gives him the form to get back into the All Whites and potentially that World Cup.”

Young forward Oskar van Hattum hasn’t made the trip to Sydney because of injury and has been replaced in the extended squad by New Zealand U-17 international Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues.

Zawada won’t be back till February

Striker Oskar Zawada remains sidelined with a thigh injury, but has been able to do some individual work at training this week.

“Oz is back on feet now. He’s doing some straight line running. The fluid’s out of his leg so it’s looking promising at the moment.

“I’d expect maybe another two weeks before he’s training fully and then hopefully he’ll be able for that influx of games in February.”

Past meetings

Most recent meeting: 28 October 2023 – Wellington Phoenix 0 Perth Glory 1

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 19W, Glory 20W & 11D.

How to watch

The game will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 2 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.


Game to be played on Sunday January 14, 2024

Perth Glory v Wellington Phoenix
CommBank Stadium, Sydney, 9.45pm (NZT)


Perth Glory (two to be omitted)

1. Oli SAIL (gk), 2. Johnny KOUTROUMBIS, 3. Jacob MUIR, 7. Stefan COLAKOVSKI, 8. Mustafa AMINI, 9. David WILLIAMS, 10. Salim KHELIFI, 12. Luke IVANOVIC, 13. Cameron COOK (gk), 14. Riley WARLAND, 15. Aleksandar SUSNJAR, 17. Jarrod CARLUCCIO, 19. Trent OSTLER, 20. Giordano COLLI, 22. Adam TAGGART (co-captain), 23. Daniel BENNIE, 24. Oliver BOZANIC, 27. Jayden GORMAN, 28. Kaelan MAJEKODUNMI, 34. Andriano LEBIB.

Unavailable: 5. Mark BEEVERS (co-captain) (injured), 11. Adam ZIMARINO (injured), 21. Antonis MARTIS (injured), 29. Darryl LACHMAN (injured), 77. Bruce KAMAU (suspended).

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, 25. Jack DUNCAN (gk), 26. Isaac HUGHES, 30. Alby KELLY-HEALD (gk), 40. Alex PAULSEN (gk), 43. Matt SHERIDAN, 51. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES.

Unavailable: 9. Oskar ZAWADA (injured), 24. Oskar VAN HATTUM (injured).


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

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