PREVIEW: Title talk won’t sidetrack us, vows Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano

posted in: A-League (Men), News

The Wellington Phoenix need a draw or better against Adelaide United to regain the lead in the men’s A-League after defending champions Central Coast Mariners grabbed a win on Saturday.

The Mariners beat Newcastle Jets 1-0 to draw level on points with the Phoenix but go to the top of the table on the strength of having won more games.

A win or draw against Adelaide United at Sky Stadium on Sunday would extend the club’s unbeaten run in 2024.

However, head coach Giancarlo Italiano is trying to ignore the increasing title talk surrounding his team.

With eight rounds of the Isuzu UTE A-League remaining, questions are being asked about whether 2024 is the year the club wins its first title.

Italiano says a maiden premiership would be historic for the Nix, but he doesn’t want to get sidetracked by what’s going to happen in the future.

“I think it’s very, very important that we focus on the now,” he told a media briefing. “That’s the only thing that we can control.

“And I’ll keep saying it because it’s what’s working for us.

“The group internally has made a goal in terms of the number of wins that they want to get. It’s irrespective of where they finish on the table.

“It’s very important that we don’t get sidetracked with becoming first. If you’re solely focused on the end result, as opposed to the process, you can lose your way very quickly and that builds anxiety [and] it builds feelings that we can’t control.

“What we can control is the football and if we keep along that track anything is possible with this team.

“If we keep performing the way we are and we make it very hard for us to be beaten, we will definitely be challenging.”

Italiano believes the next three or four games, starting with Adelaide United at Sky Stadium on Sunday evening, will determine their season.

“If we get another win or another three points, I think that makes it very hard for us not to be in the six.

“But our focus is not that we want to be in the six, our focus is we want to be the best team we can be, have consistent performances and play the football that we know that we can.

“The underlying drive within the group and the motivation is that they want to finish as high as possible, win as many games as they can [and] perform in the way that we know we can.

“It’s more about sticking to those things, and then wherever we finish, we finish.”

Adelaide started round 19 in 10th place, eight points adrift of the top six, but “they’re a difficult opponent”.

“They have a lot of dangerous players, even with [Zach] Clough out.

“They still have [Hiroshi] Ibusuki, [Nestory] Irankunda, who’s a great talent, [Ryan] Kitto for me is a very solid left-sided player, and they have a bit of experience with the Spanish boys as well.

“When we played them last, I felt as though it was one of our better performances overall.

“We probably gave them some soft goals off the set piece to bring them back into the game, which is something we have to be conscious about because they’re very, very effective off set pieces.

“There are no easy games. The beautiful thing about the A-League is that on any given day…any team can beat any team.

“You have to be on in this league.”

Kosta Barbarouses … ready to return after a calf injury.

Leading goalscorer Kosta Barbarouses returns

Giancarlo Italiano will welcome back top scorer Kosta Barbarouses on Sunday.

Barbarouses, who has found the back of the net 10 times this season, missed last Saturday night’s scoreless draw in Perth with a calf injury.

“Kosta’s doing better than expected. He’s close to full training. We’re going to monitor him today (Friday) to see where he’s at. I don’t know how long he’ll have for the weekend.”

Fullback Sam Sutton is also expected to return after five matches out with an ankle injury, while Bozhidar Kraev, Oskar Zawada and Youstin Salas are in line for more minutes after coming off the bench in Perth.

“For me, it’s now making sure that we load those players adequately so that we don’t put them at risk.

“And we’re also looking at having a full-strength squad at the back end of the season.”

How to buy tickets

Past meetings

Most recent meeting: 4 January 2024 – Adelaide United 2 Wellington Phoenix 2

All-time A-League head-to-head: Phoenix 11W, Adelaide 22W & 15D.

How to watch

The game will be broadcast LIVE on Sky Sport 3 in New Zealand and on Paramount+ in Australia.


Wellington Phoenix v Adelaide United
Sky Stadium, Wellington, 5pm (NZT)


Table at 12.30am (NZT) on Sunday March 3.


Wellington Phoenix (two to be omitted)

3. Finn SURMAN, 4. Scott WOOTTON, 5. Fin CONCHIE, 6. Tim PAYNE, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES, 8. Ben OLD, 9. Oskar ZAWADA, 10. David BALL, 11. Bozhidar KRAEV, 12. Mo AL-TAAY, 14. Alex RUFER (c), 17. Youstin SALAS, 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), 43. Matt SHERIDAN.

Unavailable: 15. Nicholas PENNINGTON (injured).

Adelaide United (two to be omitted)

1. James DELIANOV (gk), 2. Harry VAN DER SAAG, 3. Ben WARLAND, 4. Nick ANSELL, 6. Stefan MAUK, 7. Ryan KITTO (c), 8. ISAÍAS, 9. Hiroshi IBUSUKI, 17. Luka JOVANOVIĆ, 19. Yaya DUKULY, 21. Javi LÓPEZ, 22. Ryan TUNNICLIFFE, 23. Luke DUZEL, 37. Jonny YULL, 40. Ethan COX (gk), 42. Austin AYOUBI, 43. Giuseppe BOVALINA, 51. Panagiotis KIKIANIS, 55. Ethan ALAGICH, 66. Nestory IRANKUNDA.

Unavailable: 10. Zach CLOUGH (personal reasons), 18. Jay BARNETT (injury), 26. Ben HALLORAN (suspended), 27. Josh CAVALLO (injury), 49. Musa TOURE (injury).


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

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