CENTRAL Coast and Western Sydney will clash in Round 1 of the 2013-14 A-League season at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday October 12 at 5:30pm AEDT.
Played: 4, Wins: Mariners 2, Wanderers 1, Draws: 1
Wanderers 0-2 Mariners, April 21 2013
Past five matches:
A repeat of last season's grand final in a clash between the two teams who were the best throughout that campaign. The squads have changed – more so at the Mariners – but the coaches and styles should be similar. Western Sydney were remarkable in their first season in the competition and are a stable side having made few changes in the off-season. Tony Popovic's men are well-organised and hard to break down. On two occasion's last campaign, the Mariners managed and claimed 2-0 wins – including in the all-important grand final. Graham Arnold often loses players but manages to replace them and there is no reason to doubt he has not done so again and will not continue to do so. It should be a largely cagey affair and the team that can take their chances is likely to prevail.
The big issue:
Mariners – Goalkeeper Mat Ryan has departed and the Mariners have had plenty of time to prepare for life without him. A fine shot-stopper, Ryan's ability with his feet was a key for Central Coast, who like to keep possession. Against a pressing Western Sydney side, whether Justin Pasfield – likely the Mariners' number one ahead of Liam Reddy – is capable of doing the same remains to be seen. It could make it harder for Central Coast to keep the ball against the Wanderers.
Wanderers – If Tomi Juric can provide Popovic with that goalscoring target up front the Wanderers were largely missing with Croatian Dino Kresinger. On his return to Australia, the 22-year-old enjoyed his moments up front with Adelaide United before being picked up by Western Sydney. Juric has three Socceroos caps to his name, as well as a goal, and can play the part up front which could add several goals to a Wanderers team which relied heavily on attacking midfielders scoring last season.
The game breaker:
Marcos Flores – The Argentine left Victory after failing to reproduce the performances which saw him win the Johnny Warren Medal with Adelaide in 2010-11. Perhaps partly because of Ange Postecoglou's system, Flores was good at times but struggled during other periods in his one season at Victory. A move to the Mariners and under Arnold could see the 27-year-old back to his best in his preferred number 10 role.
Prediction: Mariners 1-1 Wanderers
Both the Mariners and Wanderers are hard to break down and a solitary goal may be all that separates them, but both also have the talent to score. Flores will boost the Mariners in the attacking third against a Western Sydney team which had the league's best defence last season. The Wanderers should put on the pressure that troubled most teams throughout 2012-13 and that could lead to plenty of errors and these sides sharing the spoils in Round 1.