Melbourne Victory versus Adelaide United

Date: Friday 13 January

Kick-off: 8:00 pm AEDT, 7:30 pm ACDT

Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne

This is one of the great rivalries of the Hyundai A-League, with these two having faced off in two grand finals over the years, both of which have gone in Melbourne’s favour. Victory held a vice-like hold over their rivals prior to last year with an unprecedented 10 straight wins in their battles. Adelaide hit back by winning the two in a row, including a 1-0 win earlier this season before they drew their most recent match 1-1 in December. Victory players get to play for a new coach two games in a row with new coach Jim Magilton taking over from stand in assistant coach Kevin Muscat last week. Both teams have endured a roller coaster ride having sacked both their coaches in the last month and go into this game desperate for the three points.

Adelaide have not lost a game since John Kosmina took charge just before Christmas, winning two games and drawing two others. That spurt of form has put them back in the running for the top six, and they currently sit eighth on the table, but on the same points as Victory. After successive wins over Wellington and Melbourne Heart, they drew with Brisbane 1-1 last week.

New Victory coach Jim Magilton is hoping for the same positive effect John Kosmina has had on his recent appointment at Adelaide United. Both of these teams should be energised by the new personnel in charge and that makes this match very hard to predict. Under Kosmina, the Reds have sharpened up, not just physically, but mentally. Gone are the lapses which saw them struggle in the first half of the season and they appear more accountable across the park.

The new coach has not sought to re-invent the wheel, instead encouraging the best qualities of the group he has got and asking for a more team-orientated performance. Considering his team are unbeaten in four games, you would have to say that is working.

Magilton faces a similar challenge at Melbourne, but he arguably has a better base product to work with, especially in attack. Clearly, the ingredients are there at the club, he just needs to get them mixed in just right to help them rise to the lofty pre-season expectations which ultimately cost his predecessor his job.

Kewell is the key to igniting this team and last week’s match under interim coach Kevin Muscat ironically was his best game for the club after Durakovic’s departure.

Defence is also a worry, having failed to keep a clean sheet in nine matches, but if the midfield can get hold of the ball more than there will be fewer opportunities for the opposition to score.

Hard to predict this game but playing at home under a new coach you would be leaning towards Victory taking the three points.

Melbourne Heart versus Perth Glory

Date: Sunday, 15 January

Kick-off: 4:00 pm AEDT

Venue: AAMI Park

Melbourne fans get two matches at AAMI Park this week with the Heart hosting Perth Glory.

After a strong run of five straight wins Heart have had a stumble in recent weeks picking up just one point from a possible six but van’t Schip’s side are in equal second spot on the ladder and well placed for a top two finish by the end of the season.

Perth Glory on the other hand are stuck in the bottom half of the top six with several teams, and need to muster up a strong and consistent run if they are looking to play finals football this season.

Heart were dealt some bad news this week with confirmation influential skipper Fred is likely to miss the next six weeks with a groin injury. This will be a huge blow for Heart and coupled with the departure of Adrian Madaschi from defence it will be interesting to see how the team handles the loss of two key personnel.

Kristian Sarkies – he was the forgotten man at Heart a couple of weeks ago but since forcing his way into the side, Sarkies has shown the special talent that he is. The former Victory and Adelaide midfielder is a real weapon for Heart – especially from set pieces – as evidenced by his spectacular free-kick goal against Gold Coast last Sunday.

You know what you’re going to get with the Glory, plenty of grit and effort for the full 90 minutes which will mean an uncomfortable afternoon for the home side. The real question is whether the Glory have that little bit extra to unlock Heart’s miserly defence.

The two previous clashes went to the away side but I’m expecting that trend to end here. Heart to win.

Central Coast Mariners versus Newcastle Jets

Date: Saturday, 14 January

Kick-off: 5:30 pm AEDT

Venue: Bluetongue Stadium

The F3 derby at Bluetongue stadium historically has seen both clubs very close in win- to-win ratios against each other with the 2008 Grand Final victory by the Jets being the important result between the two clubs but

2011/2012 is a different story. The Mariners are on top of the ladder and are favourites to win the title this year whilst Jets have been relatively poor, especially away from home and Gary Van Egmond knows they won’t be playing finals football unless they can turn their form around.

The most recent clash was won by the Mariners, with a goal in each half to Rostyn Griffiths and the recently-departed Matt Simon handing Graham Arnold’s side a 2-0 win.

Matt Simon of course will not be there to help their cause anymore after his departure to Korea and the Jets have their own concerns with the off-field drama of key midfielder Kasey Wehrman, a big loss in the middle of the park.

On a 12-game unbeaten run, the Mariners are quite rightly being trumpeted as title favourites as the Hyundai A-League heads into the second half of the season. They are playing with confidence, flair and their typical efficiency which makes them extremely difficult to beat. Arnold has them playing to a simple and perfect game-plan which means even when key personnel like Simon leave, it’s easy for someone else to step in and play their role.

It will be tight but the home side’s form is simply too good at the moment and they should have just a bit too much quality for the Jets.

Brisbane Roar versus Sydney FC

Date: Saturday 14 January

Kick-off: 7:45pm AEDT, 6:45pm local

Venue: Suncorp Stadium

Brisbane’s record-breaking 36-match unbeaten streak ended at the hands of Sydney FC the last time these two sides met. It was a cold, wet, windy day at WIN Jubilee Oval in Kogarah, and the conditions suited the giant-killing Sky Blues to a tee. A first-minute goal to Dimi Petratos and corner kick from Brett Emerton that was hijacked by the wind gave them a 2-0 buffer which was all they needed to see off the Roar in a result that shocked the competition.

Brisbane Roar will finally be back to near-full strength with their talisman Thomas Broich back into the side and Brazilian Henrique over his recent knee troubles. Postecoglou would be breathing a huge sigh of relief. Roar haven’t quite looked the same without him.

Brisbane’s mastermind in midfield should make his long awaited return from injury, and that’s great news for Besart Berisha who has clearly missed Broich’s service over the past eight matches.

The Roar are a completely different side with the German in the mix, so it’s going to be interesting to watch how the men in orange go with him and Henrique back in the team. Will they return to their record-breaking ways, or have they really just slipped back to the rest of the A-League pack?

Brett Emerton – with his side reeling from three losses on the trot, it’s time for the marquee man to stand up and take a game by the scruff of the neck again. And he’s done it before, most notably when he teamed up beautifully with Nick Carle at home to Gold Coast earlier in the season, tearing shreds down the right flank and tipping the match in their favour.

Vitezslav Lavicka is under enormous pressure to keep his position as head coach and Roar are keen to stabilize their form back to the juggernaut it was previously.

Can Broich and Henrique influence the match in their first game back after a such long departure from the team? It’s an intriguing tie with my tip leaning towards the home side.

Gold Coast United v Wellington Phoenix

Date: Sunday 15 January

Kick-off: 6:30 pm AEDT, 5:30 pm local

Venue: Skilled Park

The Phoenix haven’t beaten Gold Coast United for a season-and-a-half, but they certainly came close last time they locked horns.

Both these sides were tipped at the start of the season to finish down at the lower end of the ladder, but both have been playing relatively well of late.

Gold Coast have only lost once in their last six games and have tightened up their defence whilst Wellington have been strong in the last two months enjoying a steady climb up the ladder.

With that crazy holiday schedule now behind us, Gold Coast and Wellington find themselves with an opportunity to steady this ship and consolidate this weekend. They’ve both proven to be difficult teams to beat this season, despite what their respective ladder positions suggest.

Wellington will have a long flight to contend with to the Gold Coast and a tough defence to break, look for a result by one goal either way, Phoenix have the better squad but Gold Coast at home could surprise.