5 burning questions for Round 17 of the A-League

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Last weekend’s A-League action was strung out over five days to take advantage of the long long weekend that many in Australia, only too happy to fulfill the Department of Tourism’s request to chuck a sickie on Monday, enjoyed.

This round we’re back to an action packed weekend of football. Here’s what you need to know.

Can Popovic nullify City slickers to cement championship favouritism?

Friday night sees one of the more avant-garde top of the table clashes in recent memory as the two newest A-League clubs in the Wanderers and Melbourne City match up for top spot. But as unlikely as it would have seemed before the season began, it’s these two who lead the way in the premiership race and boast the strongest argument for a maiden championship.

It’s been a watershed campaign to date for the Citizens who are beginning to behave like an elite club should. As well as claiming two huge scalps in the Wanderers and rivals Victory, they’ve generally taken considerable strides towards consistency.

But if the prevailing attribute of a trophy winning side is both their mental aptitude and collective discipline without the ball, City are at some stage going to be exposed for a criminal weakness in their approach. No other side concedes more shots on target (6.4) per game (yes, not even Newcastle or Central Coast) and whilst a move to 3-5-2 has injected a modicum of steadiness through the foundations of the side it feels this was achieved by accident rather than design.

Yet, there’s something irresistible about City’s kamikaze approach and the breathtaking combination between Harry Novillo, Bruno Fornaroli and Aaron Mooy. The impetus and pressure is firmly on Popovic to counteract, if not navigate the table-topping Red and Black through one of their toughest tests of the season.

Will the Garcia effect bring more misery for Wellington?

The Mariners might have lost their best player and replaced him with an injury-prone 37-year-old who last played professionally in India over a year ago, but it has undeniably and somewhat inexplicably improved the mood around the beleaguered Central Coast club. If anything, Garcia’s arrival really does reflect how dire the situation is at the Mariners.

But it’s also testament to the effect a signing like Garcia’s can have on a side’s morale – despite the Mariners languishing on nine points at the foot of the table, they head into the encounter against Ernie Merrick’s men with a faint breeze in their sail. For now at least, Tony Walmsey’s men can see a flickering candlelight at the end of what has long appeared a particularly grim tunnel.

Which is certainly more than can be said for the hapless Nix, who are simply unable to get their season going. Roly Bonevacia cuts a frustrated figure most weekends and the injury to Roy Krishna was one they simply could not afford. Things could get bad for Wellington sooner rather than later, starting this weekend.

Can Aloisi get his stuttering Brisbane Roar back on track?

When he’s not watching everyone around him choke on humble pie, the Roar custodian has done an admirable job on his return to the managerial sphere. But Brisbane have hit their first speedbump of the season in recent weeks.

The losses of Jamie Maclaren and Brendon Borrello have seen the Roar concede eight and score just one in their last three. It doesn’t get any easier for Aloisi and his men who face the steeliest defence in the league in Sydney FC on Saturday.

It’s a match that both sides need to win given the closeness of the top four, but one suspects the match might fall under the “must not lose” rather than “must win” category, especially for Aloisi. Brisbane have a good chance to steady the ship here.

Can a re-bolstered Perth keep the momentum going against the Champions?

Perth’s mini-revival continues. Having reclaimed Andy Keogh weeks before, Kenny Lowe’s men have now added an Australian duo out of favour at their Championship homes in Shane Lowry and Adam Taggart. The mood around the Glory camp is heightening by the day and a positive result against Melbourne Victory will give them genuine reason to believe they can make a run for the finals. They certainly look the most likely of the bottom four to do so.

Following some truly abject performances midway through the season, Victory have both turned a corner and changed their attitude according to Kevin Muscat. The Champions are by no means out of their rut and face a huge test of their title credentials in Saturday’s match, where they’ve scored just the solitary goal against Perth in 180 league minutes this season. This is a season defining fixture for Muscat’s men.

Can the Jets keep the scoreline respectable against red-hot Adelaide?

After being dismantled 6-1 on their own turf, a trip to Coopers Stadium to face the league’s in form side isn’t the most ideal situation for the Jets. Newcastle were hammered 7-0 on their last venture to the City of Churches and you wouldn’t put off a repeat of the same humiliation on show last season.

It’s already looking like a case of how many for Adelaide. Fortunately for the Jets, they’ve signed Australian U-23 Steven Ugarkovic, who witnessed the 6-1 demolition from the stands last weekend.

“The Perth result didn’t change my mind about the club, the team, or the direction of the club”, he told the press.

We have a feeling Ugarkovic has already booked his one-way flight back to Velika Gorica.

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