All roads lead to Coopers this weekend as the Reds host state rivals and fellow finals aspirants Victory in #EraseRacism Round 22. Iain Strachan and John Greco assess who’ll come out on top in this finals six pointer.
Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory Saturday 21st Match, 7.00pm (local) Coopers Stadium.
ADELAIDE UNITED: Iain Strachan: Goal.com editor
The Reds under Josep Gombau know how to keep the ball and move it well, helping them to protect their own goal and threaten at the other end.
That possession-based approach - coupled with outstanding performances this season from the likes of Nigel Boogaard, Osama Malik and Tarek Elrich - sees them boast the equal best defence in the competition going into #EraseRacism Round 22, level with league leaders Wellington Phoenix on 24 goals conceded, one fewer than Melbourne Victory.
Adelaide's prominent Latin forwards - and the Catalan in the dugout - have seen them rightly characterised as a free-flowing, attacking outfit.
And while they remain dangerous going forward, three teams - Victory, Sydney FC and Wellington - have all scored more this season.
Marcelo Carrusca is crucial to making the Reds tick. If the Argentine playmaker is on form, the hosts are more than capable of breaking down the Big V.
A possible lack of concentration or focus appear to be a concern for Adelaide in recent weeks.
They made a slow start at home to Central Coast last Thursday and found themselves on the back foot against a team they were expected to account for with relative ease.
The Mariners' high press and energetic approach succeeded in disrupting Gombau's men, who can expect a similarly intensive effort from Victory this weekend.
A mistake by holding midfielder Isaias and centre-back Nigel Boogaard contributed to the Mariners' opportunistic goal at Coopers Stadium.
Any more lapses in decision-making or skill execution are sure to be punished by Victory, who were ruthless in their 3-0 win away to the Western Sydney Wanderers last Friday.
What has to go right
Adelaide lack an equivalent to Sydney FC's Marc Janko or Victory's Besart Berisha, who are first and third on the Golden Boot charts with 16 and 11 strikes respectively.
The Reds have a more even spread of attacking contributors, with Carrusca, Sergio Cirio and Bruce Djite all having netted six times this season, while Pablo Sanchez has five.
At least one or two of those danger men will need to turn it on to break down a Victory defence reinforced by the recent return to fitness of veteran centre-back Mathieu Delpierre.
At the other end, the likes of Isaias and Michael Marrone will need to win their individual battles with Guilherme Finkler and Fahid Ben Khalfallah to prevent Kevin Muscat's men from doing too much damage at Hindmarsh.
Adelaide United 2-2 Melbourne Victory
Most of the recent encounters between these two talented, attacking sides have been evenly matched, entertaining contests.
There's plenty at stake in this next instalment and there's no denying the Reds haven't looked quite themselves in recent weeks.
Having said that, Victory had failed to win in three matches before demolishing the Wanderers, so we know they're fallible.
Perhaps a scoring draw is the most likely outcome on Saturday night? Over to you, Grecs...
It’s no secret Victory’s attacking game has been a major part of their success so far this season.
To many observers they have the most lethal “front-four” in the Hyundai A-League in Besart Berisha, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Gui Finkler and Kosta Barbarouses.
And that’s before you mention the likes of Archie Thompson, Connor Pain and Andrew Nabbout off the bench.
It’s that attacking depth and quality that has Kevin Muscat’s side as highest scorers in the competition, despite playing a game less than most of their main rivals.
Victory is lethal in transition and the way Adelaide play might just play into the visitor’s hands.
The Reds like to go all-out in attack, especially on their home soil and if they are slightly off their game or Victory’s midfield and pressing can cause turnovers, can then Victory are likely to make them pay.
Skipper Mark Milligan and fellow Socceroo Carl Valeri deserve a lot of credit for that, not only protecting the defence but starting attacks with their pressure and crisp passing.
That midfield battle, against the likes of Marcelo Carrusca, Isaias and James Jeggo, should be compulsive viewing.
Whenever Victory have found themselves in trouble this season, most of the time it’s stemmed from the defence.
It’s an area they have seemed to tighten up of late but it must improve further if they want to go on and win some silverware this season.
A lengthy injury to key import Matthieu Delpierre didn’t help and it’s probably no surprise things have looked better in recent weeks since his return.
But he’s still not at full fitness which makes it imperative for them that youngster Nick Ansell is at the top of his game.
Young fullbacks Jason Geria and Scott Galloway have been superb going forward but need to sharpen up on their defensive decision and reading of the game.
The Reds will attack them on the flanks through the likes of Craig Goodwin, Sergio Cirio and Miguel Palanca and one of that duo, along with Daniel Georgievski could be found wanting.
What has to go right?
Victory must not allow too much space between their midfield and defence, with Marcelo Carrusca likely to exploit it.
If they can limit his time on the ball it will prevent him linking up with his wide players, where Adelaide get most of their joy.
Do that well – and for the full 90 minutes – they have the firepower at the other end to get goals.
Adelaide United 3-3 Melbourne Victory
Victory looked back to their best against the Wanderers last weekend, not only deadly in attack but also quite solid at the back.
They’ll need something similar and probably a bit more to come away from Adelaide with all three points. I’m going for the visitors to come away with at least a score draw in what should be another entertaining – and potentially high-scoring - clash between these two traditional rivals.