A-League preview: Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix

Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix will meet in Round 4 of the 2013-14 A-League season at Etihad Stadium on Monday November 4 at 7:30pm AEDT.

Geria, Contreras/Ansell, Leijer, Traore
Milligan, Broxham
Thompson, Troisi, Nichols, Barbarouses

Bertos, Sigmund, Durante, Caira
Lia, Muscat
Cunningham, Hernandez, Brockie


Played: 20, Wins: Victory 11, Wellington 3, Draws: 6

Previous encounter:

Wellington 2-3 Victory, March 31 2013

Past five matches (including pre-season):

Victory: WDDLW

Wellington: DDLLW

The Game:

Last week we had Ange Postecoglou farewelling Melbourne Victory against his former club Brisbane Roar, and the sense of symmetry continues in Round 4, with Kevin Muscat promoted to the top job and set to meet his former long-term mentor Ernie Merrick, now in charge of the Phoenix.

It was Merrick who gave Muscat his first taste of senior football at Sunshine George Cross in 1989-90 and the fiery defender later became the Scotsman's stalwart captain as the pair won two A-League titles together at Victory.

Now Merrick will return to confront to his former pupil and bring another Victory old boy Carlos Hernandez with him. All eyes will be on Muscat to see how the former Socceroo handles the pressure of stepping into Postecoglou's sizeable shoes, while Merrick will be determined to prove Victory wrong for letting him go in 2011.

Pablo Contreras is available again after serving a two-match suspension, but it remains to be seen if he will return to the starting XI straight away after Nick Ansell and Adrian Leijer impressed in his absence against Brisbane last week.

Paul Ifill meanwhile will have something to prove after being withdrawn at half-time against the Jets last time out.

The big issue:

Victory – Will it be business as usual for the Victory under new management? Muscat is unlikely to make any major changes to Postecoglou's preferred style and approach, but the 40-year-old will surely have his own ideas about how the game should be played. It will also be interesting to see how the Victory squad reacts to losing their authoritative, inspired tactician to the national team, and how they respond to the new man in charge.

Wellington – Consistency has been an concern for the Phoenix so far under Merrick. They impressed for spells in all three of their games to date, but have only two points to show for their efforts after conceding late to lose to Brisbane and failing to beat a substandard Newcastle side in Napier last weekend. A gritty 1-1 draw at Western Sydney was their best result to date, and more of the same fighting spirit may required if they are to keep Victory at bay on Monday.
The game breaker:

Carlos Hernandez - When the Costa Rican has performed early in his return to the A-League, so have the Phoenix. Just as likely to drift out of a game as he is to dominate it, the mercurial playmaker will surely never have more motivation than when offered a chance to remind the Victory faithful of what they are missing out on. If Carlos arrives at Etihad determined to prove he's still got it, the home side will have their work cut out for them.

Prediction: Victory 2-1 Wellington

It's tempting to tip an upset Phoenix win and a fairytale return for Merrick and Hernandez against a home team reeling from the loss of their highly valued head coach. But Victory have grown in stature with each round this season, and as long as the departure of Postecoglou does not derail their progress, they should have too much quality for the visitors from the New Zealand to spring a surprise.

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