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Old 28th-February-2009, 01:43 PM
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Australian A-League Melbourne vs Adelaide

Despite the familiarity of the opposition in Saturday*s A-League Grand Final, the circumstances upon which the Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United meet are a stark contrast to those of two years ago.

It was then that Adelaide United contested for Australian football*s biggest domestic prize as a symbol of organization and consistency; the year before they had clearly been the competition*s best side as they secured the league title before losing out during the finals series.

Having disappointed during the inaugural A-League season, a quality-laden Melbourne side would be inspired to a league title by an astute player recruitment drive that brought effervescent Brazilian forward Fred to Australia.

In the final itself, the South American would help tear apart an Adelaide outfit whose implosion was spectacular and the implications of which are perhaps still being felt within the club to this day.

Suggestions that United have been mentally scared by their 6-0 defeat at the Telstra Dome were given a sense of legitimacy by their most recent aggregate defeat by the same score-line, as manager Aurelio Vidmar embarked on a now famous rant at the post match press-conference during which he labelled his home city as nothing more than a &Pissant town* and blaming internal politics at the club for the embarrassing loss.


Adelaide*s solidity 每 particularly in defence 每 was its undoubted strength as it approached its first ever Grand Final two years ago but recent performances suggest a fragility that has perhaps been brought about by an epic Asian Champions League campaign.

FORM GUIDE

Melbourne Victory

Jan 11. Perth Glory 3-2 Melbourne Victory (A-League Regular Season)
Jan 16. Melbourne Victory 3-0 Central Coast Mariners (A-League Regular Season)
Jan 23. Melbourne Victory 2-0 Wellington Phoenix (A-League Reglar Season)
Feb 7. Adelaide United 0-2 Melbourne Victory (Major Semi Final, 1st Leg)
Feb 14. Melbourne 4-0 Adelaide United (Major Semi Final, 2nd Leg)

Adelaide United

Jan 18. Wellington Phoenix 1-1 Adelaide United (A-League Regular Season)
Jan 25. Central Coast Mariners 0-1 Adelaide United (A-League Regular Season)
Feb 7. Adelaide United 0-2 Melbourne Victory (Major Semi Final, 1st Leg)
Feb 14. Melbourne 4-0 Adelaide United (Major Semi Final, 2nd Leg)
Feb 21. Adelaide United 1-0 Queensland Roar (Preliminary Final)

HOW THEY GOT HERE

The A-League takes on a two-stage format, an initial 21 rounds of league football followed by a final series involving the top-four sides at the end of the regular season.

Those teams play-off against each other for a place in the Grand Final, with the top two teams initially playing each other in a two-legged tie for a direct place in the final, the loser allowed another chance to qualify in a one-off Semi Final against the winner of the tie between third and fourth (also a two-legged tie).

This season, Melbourne and Adelaide finished 1st and 2nd respectively on the league ladder, with the former securing its place in the Grand Final with a 6-0 aggregate victory in the semi.

Adelaide then recovered to beat the Queensland Roar 1-0 at Hindmarsh Stadium to set up a replay with Melbourne in the final, the Roar having initially defeated the Central Coast Mariners 4-1 over two legs.

KEY MATCH-UPS

Michael Theoklitos (Melbourne) vs Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide)

Former teammates at Melbourne and currently battling for national team honours after similarly impressive seasons on the domestic scene. The two goalkeepers have been career-long rivals, with Galekovic arguably having edged out his opposite number after his performances for Adelaide during their run to the Asian Champions League Grand Final, establishing himself as Pim Verbeek*s preferred &keeper for A-League based Soccerooos squads.

Archie Thompson (Melbourne) vs Sasa Ognenovski (Adelaide)

Two years ago, Archie Thompson scored five goals as Melbourne romped to their grand final victory and has forged a reputation as the most lethal of Australia*s domestic strikers. His positioning, speed and agility make him Melbourne*s most potent attacking threat. Ognenovski has been one of the signings of the season, bringing with him a physicality and tenacity from the Queensland Roar that was crucial for his team in Asia. He will need both of those qualities to combat Thompson on Saturday, the striker often subdued at a higher level by his more physical opponents.

Carlos Hernandez (Melbourne) vs Jonas Salley (Adelaide)

Costa Rica international Hernandez struggled to fill the gap generated by Fred*s departure last season but has gradually adapted to the physical demands of Australia*s premier domestic competition. A source of creativity and finishing this season, he has managed to strike up a crucial understanding with the strike pairing of Allsopp and Thompson. Their combination play has the potential to tear apart any A-League outfit, which is why the role of Ivorian defensive midfielder Jonas Salley will be so crucial. One of Adelaide*s most unheralded stars, his ability to embrace the more inglorious of midfield works is crucial to any success they might have. He will need to use his natural physique and fitness to break up Melbourne attacks throughout the match 每 it might literally be his sole responsibility at times.

Kevin Muscat (Melbourne) vs Travis Dodd (Adelaide)

The two captains could not be any more different as footballers. Muscat is the archetypal hate figure for the game*s purists 每 and anyone who is not a Melbourne fan. Whether it be his willingness to wind up his opponents off the ball or his shameless physicality within view of the referee, as a leader he has been instrumental for Merrick*s side. Dodd, meanwhile, brings with him certain key qualities forged within the European school that make him a unique footballer. His positive and direct style do not forsake a technical ability that allow him to provide and finish in equal measure, whilst his leadership qualities from wide areas are borne out of a willingness to work tirelessly both in defence and attack. Whilst they might not be direct opponents on the pitch on Saturday, the match will be heavily influenced between them.

STRENGTHS

Melbourne Victory

Not necessarily a side who dominate possession or play a consistently attractive brand of football, it is their ability to adapt to the demands of any match that make them so dangerous.

Whether it be through a rather robust and direct system where the strength of Daniel Allsopp is utilized up front or through the raw pace of Thompson, Melbourne have any number of ways in which they can win matches.

That extends to a willingness to embrace the more unattractive side of the game, particularly through Kevin Muscat*s intimidating presence in defence and midfield.

Adelaide United

Intelligent users of the ball, when at their best they are particularly difficult to break down, a trait that was built upon from the first two seasons under the guidance of John Kosmina.

Though they began the season with an attacking swagger, the fatigue brought upon by their Champions League campaign necessitated the switch to a counter-attacking style that served them equally well toward the end of the league season.

Natural width will be their greatest advantage over a Melbourne outfit who tend to be slightly more narrow, with the likes of Cassio, Scott Jamieson and Travis Dodd particularly impressive down the flanks this season.

WEAKNESSES

Melbourne Victory

Often rely on the individual brilliance of their players to win them matches, which serves them well within a small domestic competition.

However, Merrick hasn*t introduced to the club any particular tactical sophistication and the effects of Fred*s departure last season exposed his rather one-dimensional.

This might seem to contradict their greatest strength 每 an ability to win matches through various means 每 though it is a very select core of footballers and their ability to interact that make that possible.

If even one of either Thompson, Allsopp or Hernandez has a particularly poor match, things might get difficult for the home side.

Adelaide United

Have a reputation for choking during finals and will still be thinking about their two 6-0 drubbings at the hands of Melbourne.

Aside from any inherent mental scarring, they might be exposed for a lack of mobility through the centre of the park, particularly in defence.

Haven*t been at their best over the past month and appear to have been drained by their Champions League campaign, they lack a creative talisman in midfield to drive them forward in attack.

TEAM NEWS

Melbourne Victory

1.Michael THEOKLITOS (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (Captain), 3.Michael THWAITE, 5.Sebastian RYALL, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 9.Danny ALLSOPP, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.NEY FABIANO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 14.Billy CELESKI, 15.Tom PONDE**AK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Jose Luis LOPEZ, 18.Leigh BROXHAM, 19.Evan BERGER, 20.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 22.Nick WARD


Out: Nil.

Unavailable: Nil.

Adelaide United

20.Eugene GALEKOVIC (gk), 2.Robert CORNTHWAITE, 6.CASSIO, 7.Lucas PANTELIS, 9.Paul AGOSTINO, 10.CRISTIANO, 13.Travis DODD (captain), 14.Scott JAMIESON, 15.Jonas SALLEY, 16.Daniel MULLEN, 18.Fabian BARBIERO, 19.Sasa OGNENOVSKI, 24.Paul REID, 27.Michael MARRONE, 28.Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 30.Mark BIRIGHITTI (gk)

In: CASSIO (returns from suspension).

Out: ALEMAO (groin 每 1 week).
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