Adelaide United return home for the first time in more than two weeks looking for a response against Central Coast Mariners in an historic Pride Game at Coopers Stadium.
After three away games in eight days, Adelaide will be a lot fresher given they have a whole week to prepare for its crunch clash.
United had collected four points from its initial two games, but its most recent 4-1 setback against Macarthur to close the road trip would have left a sour taste.
Central Coast are also searching for a first league victory in seven matches and suffered a controversial 3-2 defeat to Melbourne City
Adelaide is undefeated in its previous five matches at home against the Mariners, having not lost since November 2016.
There has also been just the solitary draw in this fixture since August 2010, which occurred in February 2018.
Juande is expected to return after being rested, while Isaías and Michael Jakobsen will miss the match with quad and hamstring issues respectively. Stefan Mauk will make his last appearance for the Club after securing a move to J2 side Fagiano Okayama.
What the experts say:
Marcos Flores: Central Coast Mariners is a team that recovered their solid team structure in defence. Credit to Nick Montgomery who I guess learned that from his time as a player in England during his time being mentored by Graham Arnold at the Mariners. Adelaide United is trying hard to find that consistency to become a great team. At times the Reds are really electric going forward. If they are capable of playing like that in the large periods, they can challenge team’s in the finals.
Robbie Thomson: Like most people, I’ve enjoyed watching Adelaide play their football this season, although I did commentate the last game, the 4-1 loss to Macarthur, and I felt they looked a little lacklustre, tired. Instead of running over the top of a Bulls side low on confidence, they ran out of steam. That was a third game in a week though, for Carl Veart’s men, so perhaps they will be better for a full week to prepare.
Like many sides, the 2021 Mariners did a lot better than the 2022 Mariners, at least in the league. The run to the final of the FFA Cup certainly used up a lot of emotional and physical energy and they have paid for it in the league so far this year. Physically, the Central Coast are not the most imposing side, but they have real quality going forward and the addition of Jason Cummings has perhaps given them that little bit of aggression they needed.
Simon Hill: The Reds slipped to their heaviest loss of the season against Macarthur and were defensively very porous. The Mariners will have fire in their belly after their late penalty appeal against Melbourne City was controversially turned down. So, both teams with something to prove – it could be fire and brimstone on Saturday night.
One to watch
Marcos Flores: Personally, I do like Louis D’Arrigo’s class and vision. He alongside Stefan Mauk and Isaias have the ability to control the middle of the park well. But with Isaías doubtful someone else will need to step up.
Robbie Thomson: Hard to look past Stefan Mauk for his final game at Coopers Stadium before his transfer to Fagiano Okayama. A great leader on the pitch, I’m sure he’ll be looking to sign off with a win, and why not a goal to boot.
Simon Hill: At the risk of sounding predictable, if Craig Goodwin fires, then so do Adelaide. But he cannot do it all on his own, and the defence in particular will need to be a lot tighter if the Reds are to earn three points.
Marcos Flores: The number 8, Oliver Bozanic, is a key player for the Mariners. It will be interesting to see which of the Reds midfielders will block his passes between lines.
Robbie Thomson: There will be some fantastic match-ups all over the park, Cummings vs Barr, Bozanic vs Mauk, Ibusuki vs Hall, but I’m think the goalkeeper battle could decide this one. Both Joe Gauci and Mark Birighitti were excellent last time out in losing causes. Gauci doesn’t have the same experience of his opposite number, but has a real opportunity this season to make a name for himself and is growing with each outing. I think the goalkeeper battle will be key in this one.
Simon Hill: Jason Cummings v Hiroshi Ibusuki. Different types of number 9’s, but each highly effective at what they do. Cummings is clever on the floor – Ibusuki more of a traditional target man, but both players can score.
One change you’d like to see
Marcos Flores: I do trust in the coaches and I’m respectful about their tactics and player selections. Their challenge is to find consistency on their performances to get a good chance to be contenders in Finals.
Robbie Thomson: I don’t generally like playing coach, as it’s a hard enough job without the commentators telling them how it should be done! I love seeing young exciting players get their opportunity, like we’ve seen from Adelaide this season, but I also appreciate what experience brings to the table and I think Adelaide will only benefit from a fit Isaias back in the middle of the park. His leadership, technique and competitiveness were missing vs the Bulls.
Simon Hill: The Reds backline was under strength against the Bulls. The end result was 32 shots on goal for the home team. The experience of Michael Jakobsen was sorely missed.
Last five meetings
2-1 loss (A)
3-2 win (H)
2-0 win (H)
2-1 loss (A)
1-3 win (A)
Macros Flores: 2-1 Adelaide.
Robbie Thomson: Adelaide currently boast the worst home form of the competition with just one win from five at Coopers’ this term and the pressure is on them to bounce back and confirm their place in the leading peloton. The Mariners, second from bottom, have no other choice but to come looking for all three points if they still harbour ambitions to play finals football, so this one should be an absolute cracker.
Simon Hill: Adelaide 2-1 Central Coast Mariners. I’m predicting the usual Coopers scenario – the Mariners taking a first half lead, before the Reds mount a second half comeback.
Saturday, 26 February vs Central Coast Mariners
Isuzu UTE A-League 2021/22 – Matchweek 17
Kick-off 7.25pm ACDT
Venue: Coopers Stadium
Broadcast: Network 10