Newcastle Jets host title holders Melbourne Victory in the opening match of Matchweek 3 on Friday night.
Melbourne Victory head into this match buoyed by their last-gasp match winning effort against derby rivals Melbourne City last weekend, in what was described as an early season contender for game of the season.
Kevin Muscat’s men were seemingly in control of the game until two quick-fire goals after half time turned the game on its head.
While the result was ideal, the reigning champions will be looking to send a statement to the competition with a more dominant display, after having to grind out two results in their opening two matches.
The Newcastle Jets may only be three weeks into the campaign, but the honeymoon period could already be over for coach Scott Miller, coming up against last year’s finalists in consecutive weeks.
Although the Newcastle Jets have been one of the early surprise packets beating Wellington Phoenix away and pushing Sydney FC within minutes of a result, before a last-minute Alex Brosque header broke the hearts of the Hunter Stadium.
The Newcastle Jets seem to have a new resolve after their off-season clean out and Victory present the ultimate test to gauge the side’s potential.
Key Battle – Jason Hoffman v Fahid Ben Khalfallah
Victory have a lethal attack, with playmaker Fahid Ben Khalfallah at heart of his team’s creativity. Against City last week the Tunisian was in red-hot form scoring a goal and providing an assist. Undoubtedly, he will be one man that the Jets must try to contain.
His direct opponent could be ex-Melbourne City player Jason Hoffman, who has transitioned nicely since his move north. He kept Michael McGlinchey at bay in the opening round and was again one of his side’s best in the heartbreaking loss last weekend to Sydney FC.
Ben Khalfallah has the ability to open up any defence on his day, so Hoffman will have to put in a very disciplined 90-minute performance if they want to nullify the Victory’s left wing.
It will be intriguing to see how high up the pitch Hoffman will look to go, with the looming threat of Ben Khalfallah in open space during transition. The Jets’ back four sat deeper as the second half wore on last week against Sydney FC and were punished for it late. Will Hoffman and his teammates learn their lesson this week if they find themselves in a similar situation?
Jets welcome back captain, Nigel Boogaard from suspension after his red card on matchday 1.
Themba Muata-Marlow, Radovan Pavicevic, Lachlan Jackson and Blake Tuxford all join the squad, while Mark Birighitti who suffered a horrific facial injury is out and off-season Labinot Haliti will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
Newcastle Jets Expected XI (4-3-2-1): Kennedy (GK); Hoffman, Mullen, Boogaard (c), Carney; Watson, Poljak, Alivodic; Leonardo, Lundy; Trifunovic
Melbourne Victory will be at full strength for the first time this season, with the return of Leigh Broxham, who returns after a red card suspension. Jason Geria and Scott Galloway also join the extended squad for the trip to Newcastle.
Muscat is expected to select Broxham in the heart of defence, despite 18-year-old Thomas Deng’s wonderful display against City.
Melbourne Victory Expected XI (4-3-3): Vukovic (GK); Georgievski, Delpierre, Broxham, Murnane; Valeri (c), Bozanic, Finkler; Barbarouses, Berisha, Ben Khalfallah
These teams have met 34 times, with the Jets having the upper hand, 14 wins to the Victory’s 12. Amazingly, Victory have not beaten the Jets in Newcastle since October 2009.
These teams last met on matchday 25 last season, after the Jets pulled off a big shock to record a 1-0 win at AAMI Park – only their third of the season.
The Jets holding midfield has been the highlight of their season so far – Mateo Poljak and Cameron Watson worked like horses to break down Sydney FC between the lines last weekend, while Enver Alivodic was outstanding on the counter-attack and arguably the Jets’ best player.
Expect the visitors to have most of the possession and territory in the early stages, but if the Jets holding midfielders can give a similar effort to last weekend then it will likely be a cagey affair.
Denying players like Gui Finkler and Oliver Bozanic will be key to Jets’ chances.
Victory have had a slightly underwhelming start to the season, while Newcastle are showing signs of promise again.
It will be tight and Jets’ fine record against Victory may continue.
Newcastle Jets 1 Melbourne Victory 1
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