A-Leagues Weekend Preview: Coach’s ‘dangerous’ Irankunda warning, FOUR Matildas stars set to return

A-Leagues All Access presents the first episode of season two featuring Liberty A-League and Matildas stars Cortnee Vine, Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams fresh from their Women’s World Cup experience.

Round One of the Isuzu UTE A-League is upon us while the Liberty A-League season enters its second week! Ahead of the action getting underway, here is a preview all 12 games across both competitions.

Isuzu UTE A-League Round 1

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READ MORE: 13 of the biggest storylines to follow this Isuzu UTE A-League season
INS AND OUTS: Star signings named for blockbuster Round 1
NEXT GEN: Every Isuzu UTE A-League club’s young stars to watch in 2023-24
SILVERWARE? Why your Isuzu UTE A-League team can win the Championship
HURDLES? Your Isuzu UTE A-League team’s biggest challenge this season
PREDICTED HIGH SCORERS: 10 players tipped to explode in round 1 of A-League Men’s Fantasy

Friday, 7:45pm AEDT: Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners

Adelaide United head coach Carl Veart has fired an early warning shot to the rest of the competition after warning that teenage sensation Nestory Irankunda will pose even more of a threat in 2023-24.

Irankunda is yet to start a match in the A-League Men, yet the 17-year-old talent has already scored eight goals before his 18th birthday – a record in the competition.

Named among The Guardian’s Next Generation 2023, a prestigious annual list of 60 of the best young talents in world football, he has also been linked with a move to German powerhouse Bayern Munich.

Ahead of Friday night’s opener against defending champions Central Coast Mariners, Veart acknowledged the Reds are weighing up whether to start Irankunda as they adapt to life without Craig Goodwin after his move to Al Wehda in Saudi Arabia.

“Nestor has worked extremely hard in the preseason,” said Veart, who is sticking to his philosophy of giving young players opportunities. “I think this has been his third pre-season with the elite squad so in that time, he’s developed more physically.

“You’ll see that this year, he will be a lot more dangerous this year than what he was last year released.

“He’ll definitely be in the mix to start (games). It’s a question whether we go that way, or we ease him back in and playing off the bench.”

With captain and reigning Johnny Warren Medallist Goodwin no longer at Coopers Stadium, this will be a new-look Adelaide, both on paper and how they play on the field.

“The key things that we’ve spoken about since day one of pre-season is the changes that we’ve made to our playing style,” Veart said. “I’m sure you’ll pick them out (on Friday).

“You know, we’re very reliant on playing through Craig (Goodwin) last year, and from preseason, we started trying to find other solutions for that. And, just as well, because Craig moved on. So we’re excited with the way that we’re going to play.

“We’ve been working on our defence for a long time, because you know, there’s no secret that we conceded far too many goals (last season). And so we’ve been trying to make it more collectively as a team to defend a lot better and I think we’ve succeeded on that so far pre-season.”

There is a new manager at the helm of the Mariners – Englishman Mark Jackson after title-winning boss Nick Montgomery’s move to Scottish Premiership side Hibernian.

Having lost the likes of Sam Silvera, Nectarios Triantis and Jason Cummings in the off-season, Jackson has taken over a squad which looks remarkably different to that which won last season’s Championship.

However the Englishman believes the additions of Alou Kuol, Angel Torres and others made by the club will undoubtedly suit the way he likes to work.

“I think we’ll be one of the youngest teams in the league so that’s good for me. As a manager I like that, that’s kind of my experience and my background working with young players,” he said.

“I’m excited. It’s a young team, we know that, we know there will be mistakes with young players but what I’ve seen so far is the willingness to learn from the group has been at a really high level.”

Opta stat: Central Coast Mariners have won their last four consecutive A-League Men games against Adelaide United by a combined score of 12-2, including a 2-0 win in their most recent encounter (20 May 2023).

MATCH DETAILS

Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners
Friday, October 20 2023
Coopers Stadium
Kick-off: 7:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+
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Saturday, 3:30pm AEDT: Macarthur FC v Brisbane Roar

Brisbane Roar have the chance to achieve a seven-year first when they visit Macarthur FC on Saturday afternoon.

The Roar have impressed in pre-season under new coach Ross Aloisi, who has implemented a more attacking style of play, while giving opportunities to local young talent.

It coincided with a run to the Australia Cup final but as they enter the new league campaign, Brisbane have not started a season with a win since a 3-1 victory over Western Sydney Wanderers in 2015-16. The Roar are winless in their seven such fixtures since then (D4 L3) and have not scored a goal across the first halves in that span.

In contrast, Macarthur have not lost their first match in each of their previous three seasons (W1 D2). This will be the first time the Bulls begin a campaign at Campbelltown Stadium.

They will be hoping it results in a win as Mile Sterjovski’s Macarthur aim to bounce back from their bottom-placed finish in 2022-23.

Opta stat: Macarthur FC are unbeaten in their last three A-League Men games against Brisbane Roar (W2 D1), including wins in each of their last two games against the Roar at Campbelltown Stadium.

MATCH DETAILS

Macarthur FC v Brisbane Roar
Saturday, October 21 2023
Campbelltown Stadium
Kick-off: 3:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+
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Saturday, 5:30pm AEDT: Melbourne City v Western United

This is not only a battle between two Victorian rivals, but a battle between two new-look teams.

Three-time reigning premiers Melbourne City have overhauled their squad with 12 new signings after losing last season’s Grand Final 6-1, while Western United have also been busy in the off-season.

John Aloisi’s side has gone through a revamp, having missed out on the top six in 2022-23. They are younger and quicker thanks to a mix of youth and experience.

Matthew Grimaldi and Oliver Lavale have been promoted to the senior squad, while Kane Vidmar and Angus Thurgate have also arrived after Aleksandar Prijovic, Leo Lacroix and Jamie Young left. Then throw Brazilian star Daniel Penha into the mix, with 21-time Socceroos forward Nikita Rukavytsya to complement Olyroos sensation Noah Botic, and Japanese attacker Riku Danzaki.

Aloisi said Western will be a different prospect in 2023-24.

“We have more legs and we will use that,” he told reporters. “Sometimes you get given players because you have signed for a club and they’re already there, and you have to adjust to what your playing style will be.

“Now that we have players with legs, we will be very dynamic. We’re exciting going forward, we can press for longer periods and put the opposition under pressure.

“We have really good quality going forward. We have a number of new players who give us energy in the team.”

Opta stat: Melbourne City have not begun an A-League Men season with a loss since a 3-2 defeat against Newcastle Jets in the 2011-12 campaign; they are undefeated in their 11 such fixtures since then (W7 D4) and have won each of their last three season opening games in that span.

MATCH DETAILS

Melbourne City v Western United
Saturday, October 21 2023
AAMI Park
Kick-off: 5:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+
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Saturday, 7:45pm AEDT: Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory

Sydney FC have already “ticked off” a couple of boxes in pre-season but they know the A-League is a different ball game ahead of their season-opening ‘Big Blue’ against rivals Melbourne Victory.

The Sky Blues captured their second Australia Cup trophy after overpowering Brisbane Roar in the decider a fortnight ago.

Sydney are now assured of an AFC Cup berth, but Steve Corica and the five-time A-Leagues champions are focused on domestic matters and ending a drought dating back to 2020.

“It’s fantastic that we’ve won a cup competition. It gets us into Asia,” he told reporters. “There’s a couple of boxes we’ve ticked off already in pre-season.

“Once the A-League starts, it’s a different ball game. We have to come back down to earth and start focusing on that.

“We know how difficult the A-League is and we have to be consistent over 27 rounds this season.”

Sydney reached the Semi Finals last season, while Victory finished second from bottom in a difficult campaign in Melbourne.

Tony Popovic’s new-look Victory – boasting the likes of Daniel Arzani and Ryan Teague are on a mission to make amends in 2023-24 and Corica is relishing the big fixture at Allianz Stadium.

“It’s massive. For me as well. When I was a player, it was the big derby,” said Corica.

“This was the game you looked forward to and most of the time, it was the first game of the season too.

“I remember the very first year we played against Melbourne Victory in the first game of the season when Yorkey scored.

“It started that day the rivalry. Two big clubs and that hasn’t changed for me. It’s the Big Blue. It’s an amazing game to play in and be involved in.

“We want everyone to turn up and support the boys because they’re doing really well.”

Opta stat: Sydney FC have won 10 of their last 13 A-League Men games against Melbourne Victory (D1 L2) including each of their two games thus far in 2023; although, they’ve lost two of their last three meetings with Victory in Sydney (W1), conceding three-plus goals in both of those losses.

MATCH DETAILS

Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
Saturday, October 21 2023
Allianz Stadium
Kick-off: 7:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 BOLD & Paramount+
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Sunday, 3:00pm AEDT: Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix

Giancarlo ‘Chiefy’ Italiano is ushering in a new era at Wellington Phoenix after the departure of Ufuk Talay and he has high hopes for the ‘Nix.

In three of Talay’s four seasons, Wellington qualified for the finals and played an attractive brand of football.

Italiano is looking to build on that with his own twist, starting away to Western Sydney Wanderers.

“I have a certain expectation of how I want the team to play,” he told KEEPUP. “I’m excited for the fans because once we get it fully working, it’s going to excite everyone I think.

“As much as it’s been really good for the last four years, I want to have my own twist on how we play. The setup is going to be completely different, the ideas completely different. I want the fans excited coming to the game.”

“I just want everyone, when they watch a Phoenix game, to be really happy watching, whether they are a Phoenix fan or not. I want people just to watch to see what happens with us,” he added.

“I’m not interested in turning over results and shutting up shop. For me, football is about enriching people’s lives. We have a great opportunity, we want all Kiwis to be proud.”

There have been a lot of personnel changes at Wanderland, where Western Sydney played finals football for the first time since 2016-17.

With Morgan Schneiderlin, Romain Amalfitano, Kusini Yengi, Calem Nieuwenhof, Amor Layouni, Yeni Ngbakoto and Tomislav Mrcela among the key departures, Olyroos star Lachlan Brook, ex-Victory skipper Joshua Brillante, former Wolves youngster Dylan Scicluna and ex-Leeds United forward Marcus Antonsson have come in.

“We have a very good group of boys this year, I think it’s the same, if not better (than last season) to be honest,” Alex Bonetig told the club’s official website.

“All the boys are getting along really well, we’ve got the old guys mixing in with the younger boys, there’s no egos, everyone’s having a laugh in a change room, and then it’s all business out on the pitch.”

Opta stat: Western Sydney Wanderers defeated Wellington Phoenix 4-0 in their most recent A-League Men clash (April 2023), equalling their biggest win in the history of this fixture; they’ll now be hunting for back-to-back wins against the Phoenix for the first time since November 2018.

MATCH DETAILS

Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix
Sunday, October 22 2023
CommBank Stadium
Kick-off: 3:00pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 BOLD & Paramount+
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Sunday, 7:45pm AEDT: Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets

There will be new coaches in each dugout for Sunday night’s showdown in Western Australia.

Perth Glory have turned to Alen Stajcic after he made history with the Philippines women’s national team at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, while former Sydney FC youth coach and assistant Rob Stanton is at the helm of Newcastle Jets.

Both clubs are eyeing an end to their respective finals droughts in 2023-24.

The Glory have not qualified for the finals since a Semi Final berth in 2019-20, having finished ninth last season but their recruitment shows they mean business.

Not since 2017-18, when they lost to Melbourne Victory in the Grand Final, have Newcastle finished in the top six.

Newcastle could make history if they win on Sunday. The Jets – 2-1 winners over the Glory in Round 1 last term – have not started consecutive seasons with a win in the history of the competition.

Opta stat: Newcastle Jets are undefeated in their last seven A-League Men games against Perth Glory (W2 D5) including 2-all draws in each of their last two encounters; the last time these teams met at HBF Park ended in a nil-all draw (March 2022).

MATCH DETAILS

Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets
Sunday, October 22 2023
HBF Park
Kick-off: 7:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+
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Liberty A-League Round 2

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Saturday, 4pm (AEDT): Brisbane Roar v Sydney FC

Brisbane Roar welcome defending champions Sydney FC to Ballymore Stadium in Round 2 of the Liberty A-League and it could be the first time we see returning Matilda Tameka Yallop in action.

The 32-year-old missed the Roar’s impressive 2-1 season-opening win away against Melbourne Victory at the ‘Home of the Matildas’, but has been named in the squad for Saturday’s clash.

Yallop’s return to fitness certainly gives head coach Garrath McPherson a good selection headache, although he’ll be monitoring the situation of 16-year-old sensation Grace Kuilamu due to academic commitments.

“She has to miss training on Friday because she’s got her English assessment. We just play it by ear with her,” said McPherson of his teenage talent after her goal-scoring performance against Victory.

“She just keeps going up another gear and a well taken finish and she defends… She’s just in the rooms, eating a sandwich at the moment, thinking about school tomorrow!’

As for Sydney, the big absentee will be club captain Natalie Tobin, who was ruled out for the remainder of the season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in Round 1.

“It’s a big blow for Natalie and for us as she is a fantastic leader and we will need to adapt on the field without her now,” said head coach Ante Juric following confirmation of the injury on Tuesday.

Tobin’s injury means Juric will now have to reshuffle his backline with full-back Tori Tumeth the most likely candidate to stand-in for the injury skipper.

One piece of good news for the reigning champions though is that American forward Shea Connors is now available to play and has been named in the travelling squad, as has 16-year-old Indianna Dos Santos.

Opta Stat: Sydney FC have lost only one of their last eight Liberty A-League matches against Brisbane Roar FC (W6, D1) – a 4-1 defeat in February 2021.

Brisbane Roar v Sydney FC
Saturday, October 21 2023
Ballymore Stadium
Kick-off: 4:00PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+, 10 Play
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Friday, 5pm (AEDT): Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners

Coopers Stadium plays host to TWO A-Leagues contests on Friday night as the Liberty A-League clash between Adelaide United and Central Coast Mariners kicks off an exciting double-header.

Head Coach Adrian Stenta admits he’s unsure what to expect heading into the game with the Mariners given the opposition are something of an unknown quantity.

The Mariners are back in the competition following a 14-year absence and their return ended in a 1-0 loss to F3 rivals Newcastle Jets last week.

“We saw them play last week, but it was a derby game as well. Sometimes they can be a little bit different,” said Stenta.

“But look this competition is only 12 teams, right? So every team in this competition is going to provide a challenge and be difficult and we need to be at our best to beat them.”

Unknown quantity or not, though, Stenta will certainly be looking for a much tighter defensive display from his side given they conceded four at home in their thrilling 4-4 draw with Canberra United.

“There were some real positives to take out of the game and we liked a lot of what we were able to produce,” he said. “But obviously, we’re not going to be a team that is going to be happy with conceding four goals every week. Obviously, we have some things to work on as well.”

As for the Mariners, Head Coach Emily Husband believes her side’s second half performance in the F3 Derby defeat to Newcastle is reason to be optimistic heading into the second week of the season.

“In the second half we were a lot braver,” said Husband. “A lot braver in our press, a lot braver in the way we went forward with the ball, so that was really pleasing to see and that’s what we want to build off going forward.”

The Mariners will be without defender Faye Bryson, who is suspended following her red card against the Jets while Adelaide goalkeeper Annalee Grove is suffering delayed concussion and has been ruled out of the round two matchup.

Opta Stat: Adelaide United had 21 shots in Round 1 of the 2023-24 Liberty A-League season, more than any other team in the competition; Central Coast Mariners (7) are ranked last in this category.

Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners
Friday, October 20 2023
Coopers Stadium
Kick-off: 5:00 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+, 10 Play
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Saturday, 2:45pm (AEDT): Melbourne City v Canberra United

Melbourne City coach Dario Vidosic will be looking for more of the same from his side when they host Canberra United in what is the second of two A-League Women/Men double-headers this weekend.

City returned home from a blustery Wellington with all three points in Round 1 care of Hannah Wilkinson’s close-range finish, leaving Vidosic proud of the way his team played, especially when it came to adapting to a new tactical framework.

“We’d lost seven girls away with the national teams for nearly two weeks so it’s only been like three weeks as a team,” said Vidosic. “To put on a performance like that against a good Wellington team was very pleasing.”

As for their opponents, Canberra head to Melbourne knowing it was a case of what could have been last week.

Njegosh Popovich’s side held the lead three times during their opening round game at Coopers Stadium but walked away with just a point after drawing 4-4 with Adelaide.

No doubt a positive for Popovich though will be what was another stunning performance from Vesna Milivojevic, with the 21 year old adding two more to her goal tally taking it to seven goals in her last five Liberty A-League matches.

New Melbourne City signing Karly Roestbakken remains unavailable for selection due to an ankle injury.

Opta Stat: Melbourne City have lost only one of their last seven Liberty A-League matches against Canberra United (W5 D1).

Melbourne City v Canberra United
Saturday, October 21 2023
AAMI Park
Kick-off: 2:45 PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+, 10 Play
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Sunday, 4pm (AEDT): Western United v Melbourne Victory

Western United will be hoping the return of the influential Chloe Logarzo will be enough to kick-start their campaign when they host Melbourne Victory.

Last season’s beaten Grand Finalists succumbed to a 2-0 loss away to Perth Glory in Round 1 with both goals coming in the second half.

Mark Torcaso’s side created plenty of chances during the game at Macedonia Park but failed to convert any of their eight shots on target as Perth secured the three points.

As for Melbourne Victory, they will undoubtedly be boosted by the news both Emily Gielnik and Elise Kellond-Knight have been included in their squad for this weekend’s local clash.

Forward Gielnik missed Victory’s opening-round loss to Brisbane Roar due to an ongoing ankle issue but the 54-time Matilda insists her condition is improving.

“I feel good to be honest, I do feel like I’m flying,” said Gielnik of the injury which kept her out of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“I have to now accept that this ankle is my new normal unfortunately but lucky for me I have a high pain-tolerance. I’m just going to have to continue this season as normal.”

Jeff Hopkins’ side were beaten 2-1 in the opening game of the season by Brisbane in what was the club’s first competitive fixture at the Home of the Matildas.

Opta Stat: Melbourne Victory have lost their last two A-League Women matches; the last time they recorded a longer losing run in the competition was a four-match span from November to December in 2016.

Western United v Melbourne Victory
Sunday, October 22 2023
City Vista Recreation Reserve
Kick-off: 4:00PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+, 10 Play
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Sunday, 5pm (AEDT): Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets

Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis is eyeing two wins from two to start the season – and is expecting to take a fully-fit squad into a Round 2 clash with Newcastle Jets at HBF Park.

Epakis was without New Zealand international Liz Anton in Round 1, as well as Philippines international striker Quinley Quezada, star off-season recruit Isobel Dalton and Tia Stonehill.

All four players are predicted to fight for a spot in Epakis’ matchday squad on Sunday evening against a Jets side seeking back-to-back wins to begin 2023-24.

“I think we might be in a position to have a full squad available,” said Epakis.

“The reality is that our strength is in our depth and having internal competition is important as it pushes the group and come game-day, the players are so primed because of that.

“Anyone who comes into the squad or off the bench, we know they’re going to make an impact.”

Opta stat: Newcastle Jets will be aiming for back-to-back wins to begin an A-League Women season for just the third time in the history of the competition (W2 – 2011-2012 and W2 – 2017-2018), following their 1-0 win against Central Coast Mariners in their first game of the 2023-24 campaign.

Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets
Sunday, October 22 2023
HBF Park
Kick-off: 5:00PM (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+, 10 Play
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Sunday, 5.45pm (AEDT): Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix

Wellington Phoenix defender Mackenzie Barry admitted she’s disappointed not to be coming up against former teammate and fellow New Zealand international Milly Clegg when the ‘Nix visit Western Sydney Wanderers at CommBank Stadium on Sunday evening.

Clegg joined the Wanderers from Wellington in the off-season – but ironically, having played in the Liberty A-League last season, is now unable to feature in the league until November 1 due to moving overseas prior to her 18th birthday.

“Yeah a little bit (disappointed)!” Barry said in the lead-up to the game.

“I think she’s feeling a little bit hard done by, too. But I’ll come up against her again, so that’s alright.

“It should be a really close game; I think the Wanderers have always played well (against us).”

This Sunday’s double-header at CommBank Stadium between the Wanderers and Phoenix sees a near-40-year story of connectivity between Blacktown City and Porirua Wellington celebrated with the Sister Cities Shield.

The two clubs first battled for the Sister Cities Shield in 2018 and five years later it’s a celebration across both the Liberty A-League and Isuzu UTE A-League with the result of both the men’s fixture (3pm AEDT) and women’s fixture (5.45pm AEDT) combining to decide this season’s winner of the shield.

Opta stat: Wellington Phoenix have won two of their last three A-League Women matches away from Sky Stadium (L1), including a 3-1 victory in their most recent such fixture (28 March 2023 v Adelaide United); the Phoenix will be aiming for back-to-back wins away from their home venue for the first time in the history of the competition.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix
Sunday, October 22 2023
CommBank Stadium
Kick-off: 5:45 (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+, 10 Play
MATCH CENTRE | BUY TICKETS | HOW TO WATCH