After making a resurgence last season, Wellington Phoenix can no longer go under the radar heading into the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 Season.
Even with a rookie head coach and a new-look squad, there will be a fair amount of expectation across the ditch for Phoenix to again be contending for finals football.
Making a strong start could be key and we’ve picked out three early-season fixtures sure to get the blood pumping for Phoenix fans.
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How will Phoenix go on Mark Rudan’s return to Westpac?
He was the man credited with turning Wellington from Hyundai A-League struggler to title contender last season.
But Rudan’s decision to swap Wellington for new side Western United should ensure it will be a chilly reception – and we’re not talking about the weather – when he comes to town on the opening weekend of the season.
While Phoenix fans were delighted with the impact Rudan had in less than 12 months at the helm, those same supporters will be hoping it’s an unhappy return to his former club.
Throw in the fact long-time skipper Andrew Durante and ex-goalkeeper Filip Kurto are also in the Western United FC side and there will be plenty of spice in this one.
Can Wellington give their own new boss Ufuk Talay a dream start to his coaching career at the expense of their former mentor?
Wellington Phoenix v Western United FC
Round 1 – Sunday 13 October
Kick-off: 6pm NZST, 4pm AEDT
Will Talay get one over his former club?
New ‘Nix boss Ufuk Talay play a key role as assistant to Steve Corica in Sydney FC’s championship-winning campaign in the 2018/19 Season.
But in just the second week of 2019/20 he’ll be looking to topple Corica’s men in the Sky Blues’ first home match of their title defence.
Talay is still highly rated at Sydney FC and will always be revered for his impact in helping the club clinch their fourth Hyundai A-League championship.
It promises to be an emotional night for the former Galatasaray and Sky Blues midfielder on his return to the Harbour City.
Sydney FC v Wellington Phoenix
Round 2 – Sunday 20 October
Kick-off: 6pm AEDT, 8pm NZST
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Can Wellington exact revenge on Melbourne Victory for last season's finals exit?
The Phoenix ended a four-year period without finals football in 2018/19 with a well-deserved sixth-place finish.
It set up an Elimination Final against the Victory at AAMI Park and despite putting up a fierce fight, Wellington’s campaign ended with a 3-1 defeat at AAMI Park.
Phoenix return to the same venue in November where – the Elimination Final aside – they performed superbly at last season.
With Talay embarking on a new era with the side, you can be sure Wellington will do all they can to claim a big scalp like Victory on their home turf.
Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix
Round 5 – Sunday 10 November
Kick-off: 4pm AEDT, 6pm NZST