• Christian Marchetti

FPF's A-League Elimination Finals Preview

The time has come. After a condensed A-League home and away season that went for just six months, the top six has been decided and the finals series kicks off this weekend with two huge elimination finals.


Tonight, the Mariners will face off against Macarthur in an all New South Wales affair, whilst the Roar and Adelaide clash tomorrow afternoon in Redcliffe.


Central Coast Mariners vs Macarthur FC


How did they finish the season?


Amazingly, the Mariners only won four games in the second half of the campaign, but did finish with three wins in their last five.


Disappointingly for Alen Stajcic, had they been more consistent - like they were in the first half of the season - then they might be sitting at home celebrating a week off and looking forward to a home semi-final.


They won't be though, but they will face a Macarthur side who won only one of their last four.


Ante Milicic's side arguably stumbled over the finish line in the race for the top six, and had Wellington been more consistent at the beginning of the season, they might have edged above them instead.


The Nix's 3-0 victory over the Bulls in the final game of the season was a testament to that fact.


Where will the game be won and lost?


The home side have built an imperative spine throughout the season, and if they are to be successful here then they will need those key players at the top of their game.


They have obviously lost a major part of that with Ruon Tongyik away with the Socceroos, whilst Oliver Bozanic's injury is also a major blow.


However, with the reliable partnership of Matt Simon and Marco Ureña, as well as the key cogs in defence of Mark Birighitti and Kye Rowles, the Mariners still have more than enough to win this game.


Simon and Ureña's telepathic understanding will be immensely crucial, as always. The Costa Rican in particular had an outstanding game the last time these two sides met.

Ureña has turned out to be a very shrewd piece of business by Alen Stajcic. (AAP)


The Bulls had no response to his movement, Ureña often likes to drop into midfield to receive the ball and then link up with his fellow attackers.


On many occasions, one of the Macarthur centre-backs did follow the ex-MLS striker into midfield, but he was too clever and his elite technical ability still meant he could quickly turn on the ball.


Macarthur will have to be on top of these movements early, and as they usually play with a back three, they might even take a risk and deploy two centre-half to step out and ensure Ureña has no success when dropping into midfield.


Speaking of midfield, the omission of Bozanic leaves a gaping hole - both in leadership and personnel - for the Mariners in midfield, and Stajcic will not have the luxury of trusting his most used double pivot of Gianni Stensness and Bozanic to set the tempo from the off.


Macarthur also have one of their most important midfielders in Denis Genreau also missing, meaning those who come into those roles on both sides have big shoes to fill, and if they can do so successfully then it might be what decides the outcome of this one.


What happened when they met previously this season?

Jordan Smylie netted his first A-League goal in a 2-0 win over Macarthur in round two.


This statistic has been talked about all week in the lead up to this game, because the Mariners have won all three previous meetings with Macarthur this season.


Two of those wins came in the first half of the campaign, when the Mariners started the season like a house on fire, both by a scoreline of 2-0.


Macarthur were no match for a Mariners outfit at the top of their game on those occasions, however they still couldn't beat them even when they played a much more out of touch outfit at Campbelltown Stadium three weeks ago.


Stajcic's side came into that game off the back of just one win in eight, but despite that poor return they came from behind to beat the Bulls 2-1.


The more worrying sign from that encounter for Macarthur will be that the Gosford outfit should have scored more, with goalkeeper Adam Federici keeping them in the game.


Prediction?


The Mariners more pragmatic and adaptable style will be the key factor in turning the tide in their favour here.


They have a supreme ability to wear teams down as the game goes on, and particularly if this one goes to extra time, it will only suit the hosts more.


Despite being at home though, the Mariners are facing statistically the best away side in the competition in Macarthur.


The Bulls won the most points away from home out of anyone during the home and away campaign, although the record is bittersweet as they also had a negative goal difference.


Milicic's side may have the psychological advantage when playing away from home, but the Mariners have had the wood on them all season with three previous wins and a home win seems the safe prediction for this one.


Central Coast Mariners 2 - 1 Macarthur FC (AET)


Brisbane Roar vs Adelaide United


How did they finish the season?


Both Brisbane and Adelaide had similarly frustrating finishes to the campaign, with neither finding a level of consistency that their fans will be pleased with going into a finals series.


The Roar arguably did better though, and the emergence of the likes of Alex Parsons and Jesse Daley, including the ever-improving Joey Champness, means they have much more reason to be optimistic for this game.


The Reds on the other hand have had it tough, winning just three game since the start of April and increasingly looking a shadow of the side that went on a six-game winning run across February and March.


Carl Veart's side have increasingly frustrated supporters with their one-dimensional style of play, and confidence amongst the camp seems too low to mount a serious challenge for the toilet seat.


Stranger things have happened before though, and there's no reason they couldn't re-establish their attacking flair in a one-off game, particularly with the added motivation of a semi-final potentially awaiting them.


Where will the game be won and lost?


Tomi Juric changed the game for Adelaide in their draw with the Wanderers in their final game of the season, and with Brisbane likely to lineup with their tried and trusted back three system, the Reds will need a target man that can compete aerially.

Juric celebrates his first goal for Adelaide this season against Melbourne City. (Getty Images)


Kusini Yengi was a constant nuisance when he was fit, and Juric needs to provide the same physical obstacle for the Roar defenders if United are to be successful.


However, he will also need the required service into the box, which will most likely come from Craig Goodwin and Ben Halloran out wide.


The pair have underperformed of late though, but there can't be any margin for error with their end product here though.


There also can't be any margin for error from the Roar in attack, with Dylan Wenzel-Halls most likely tasked with finishing off any opportunities in and around the six-yard box.


The striker has had a breakout campaign, but this is finals football, and he may only get one chance at Moreton Daily Stadium tomorrow.


If he does he'll need to take it, because these games are often cagey affairs and any missed chances are likely to come back and haunt either side.


What happened when they met previously this season?


The Roar and the Reds only met twice this season.


Brisbane hammered United 3-1 in the opening rounds, when things were really clicking for them under Moon.


This result was quite a while ago though so I wouldn't read too much into it.


Their most recent meeting though - which was just a month ago - should provide more clarity about the way this final plays out.


Both sides lacked creativity and spark at Coppers Stadium, with one moment of quality by Goodwin providing the Reds with the three points in a 1-0 win.


Prediction?


In their last meeting it was down to one moment of individual quality that made the difference, and we're expecting the same here, but from the Roar in front of their home fans.


Both sides enjoy having possession for long periods and like to press aggressively, and because their styles are so similar they could cancel each other out.


Therefore, whereas tactical solutions might not provide the answer, individual quality could, and the Roar have the more inform individuals as of right now.


Adelaide's usual suspects in attack, most notably Goodwin and Halloran, have not shown enough consistency towards the end of the campaign.


On the other side, Riku Danzaki and Joey Champness have had solid performances throughout the second half of the campaign and we believe one of them will score the winner here to send Brisbane into a semi-final next week.

Riku Danzaki celebrates a goal against the Melbourne Victory back in February.


Brisbane Roar 1 - 0 Adelaide United


FPF's Predicted A-League Semi-Final Lineup:


SF 1: Melbourne City vs Brisbane Roar


SF 2: Sydney FC vs Central Coast Mariners