Sunday, October 20, 2013

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Wellington Phoenix


Played: 3, Wins: Wanderers 2, Phoenix 1.

Previous encounter:

Wanderers 2-1 Phoenix, March 10 2013

Past five matches:

Wanderers: LDLWD

Phoenix: DWWWL

The Game:

Neither side could manage a winning start to the 2013-14 campaign in Round 1 and will be looking to rectify that fact at Parramatta Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Last season's premiers snatched a 1-1 draw with reigning Champions Central Coast on the back of an 87th-minute equaliser from new recruit Tomi Juric in Gosford on Saturday. A depleted Phoenix led early against the Brisbane Roar and looked set to share the points before Ivan Franjic scored a late goal to steal a 2-1 victory for the visitors. It was a brave effort from Ernie Merrick's new-look side, while the Wanderers showed they will again be a force this season. The fact that Shinji Ono, Juric and Brendan Santalab all started on the bench shows the depth of Tony Popovic's squad while the Phoenix will again be missing Andrew Durante, Jeremy Brockie, Leo Bertos and Glen Moss on international duties and the injured Louis Fenton.

The big issue:

Wanderers – second-year syndrome is often talked about in all codes and it's vital last season's Premiers make a decent start this season, especially at home. The Wanderers looked rusty in the first half in last week's grand-final rematch but started to find their rhythm and create chances in the second half. They still have the roster to challenge for both crowns this season but their ability to handle the weight of expectation will determine where they finish in 2013-14. And that starts this week in front of the rabid Red and Black Bloc at Parramatta Stadium.

Phoenix – keep the home fans as quiet as possible. The Wanderers fans are only entering their second season but they are already a formidable force and have been a big part of the fledgling club's success so far. The Phoenix led against the Roar last weekend but couldn't hold on. A fast start is imperative at Parramatta Stadium if they are to have any hope of pulling off the upset.

The game breaker:

Youssouf Hersi – the livewire winger was central to the Wanderers' success last season and he started with a bang last weekend, setting up the equalising goal with a dangerous cross. While Popovic has built a side based on solid defence and structure, Hersi provides the X-factor and is capable of breaking any game open at any moment.

Prediction: Wanderers 2-1 Phoenix

The Wanderers should have too much class for the under-strength Phoenix but Merrick's men showed last weekend they won't go down without a fight this season, despite being written off by most pundits. It will be interesting to see whether Popovic keeps marquee man Ono on the bench again, while Carlos Hernandez holds the key for the Phoenix and will be better for the run after getting through a full game against the Roar in Round 1. Expect the Wanders to dominate the midfield battle and create more chances, but if they don't cash in on their opportunities Hernandez and co are capable of stealing an upset victory.

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