Melbourne Victory’s quest for consecutive Hyundai A-League titles starts on Friday night with an Elimination Final against Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park.
Kevin Muscat’s men may start as favourites to progress in front of their home fans but they have found the Phoenix to be a hard nut to crack so far in the 2018/19 Season.
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All three clashes during the regular season ended in draws and Friday night’s match-up – which kicks off at 7.50pm (AEST) – is far from a formality.
Here are four things Victory simply must do to get past Wellington and stay alive in this year’s competition.
Stop Wellington’s flying Fijian
It is an obvious one, but if Victory’s back four fail to deal with the speed, skill and finishing of Roy Krishna then Muscat’s men can start planning for next season.
Krishna is in career-best form, snaring the Hyundai A-League Golden Boot with 18 goals during the regular season, two clear of next-best Sydney FC man Adam Le Fondre.
And he’s enjoyed his clashes with Victory this term as well, scoring three goals in the last two meetings between the two clubs, including a double in Round 14's 3-3 draw at AAMI Park.
Draw on their big-game experience
While this is Wellington’s first finals appearance since 2014/15, Victory’s players are well versed in what it is like to be involved at this stage of the season.
The majority of Muscat’s squad were part of the team that went all the way last year, while the likes of Keisuke Honda, Ola Toivonen, Georg Niedermeier and Raul Baena bring years of experience playing high-stakes games overseas.
When things get tense late on – as they often do in finals football – having players who have experienced pressure situations before is a massive advantage.
Nullify Phoenix’s marauding full-backs
If there is one area where Victory have looked vulnerable against Wellington this season it has been out wide.
Wing-backs Liberato Cacace and (the now-injured) Louis Fenton wreaked havoc against the Melbourne side in all three meetings this campaign.
It is most likely to fall on the likes of Thomas Deng, Leigh Broxham and Corey Brown to win their individual battles out wide and cut-off the supply line to Wellington’s attackers in the box.
Start each half strong
A feature of Wellington’s success this season has been surging out of the blocks at the beginning of each half.
Mark Rudan’s men have scored the majority of their goals in the 15 minutes either side of the break, with 18 of their 46 (39%) for the campaign, coming in that period.
You can be sure Muscat will know those stats and he will demand his side keep things tight early in each half to give the Big V their best chance of securing the win.