Who’s the fairest of them all?

If Kevin Muscat was true to his word after Melbourne Victory were rolled 3-0 by Brisbane last Saturday night, then his players have spent the past week looking in the mirror and asking themselves the kind of existential questions that come to us when we’re faced with our own reflections. Not just “What does my hair say about me?” and “Would I be more a more complete person if, ironically, I had that mole removed?” but stuff like “Do I want it badly enough?” and “Can I bring out the best in myself and my team-mates?” They’re in a funny place, Victory, but they’re not laughing. At times, including the first 30 minutes against the Roar, they’ve looked sharp, intelligent, incisive and, along with the Roar and the Wanderers, in a different league to the rest. But then they don’t. And the table, and their results, reflects this. Now their most creative player Mitch Nichols has had his head turned by the overtures of Japanese club Cerezo Osaka and it’s showing; he’s not eating, he spends all his time daydreaming and doodling Japanese symbols in his playbook, and he’s getting in tiffs with the old man. And just when Victory need to pick themselves back up they’ll have to face Newcastle on Friday night with a makeshift central defence what with Adrian Leijer suspended after dopily getting himself sent off against the Roar, Nick Ansell on duty with the Young Socceroos, and Pablo Contreras no certainty to return from injury. And what does Muscat see when he looks in the mirror? Does he see someone who can get his team to fulfil their potential?

Adelaide enter the lion’s den

Adelaide’s inability to close out last week’s game when leading 2-1 against Sydney FC’s 10 men looks even more costly in light of this weekend’s fixture: away to Brisbane, a team their coach Mike Mulvey says are “on a mission” (a rallying cry that’s motivated everyone from seventh-century Muslim armies to 11th-century Crusaders and, of course, the Blues Brothers.) By dropping those two points the pressure has increased on Josep Gombau’s Adelaide to keep in touch with the top six after good recent work gathering momentum with two wins and a draw from their previous three fixtures. And now they look likely to go to old Lang Park without half their squad; striker Bruce Djite (groin), influential midfielder Cirio (hamstring), winger Fabio Ferreria (groin), defender Osama Malik (suspended) and Jake Barker-Daish (Young Socceroos). Even with the return from suspension of Jeronimo Neumann and playmaker Marcelo Carrusca it’s hard to see Adelaide being able to go with Brisbane, whose biggest headache is how to find room in a winning team for the league’s best striker, Besart Berisha. 

In and out the transfer window*

Red Star Belgrade's Serbian midfielder Milos Dimitrijevic may soon be wearing Sky Blue after a free spot opened up in Sydney FC's squad. Until Wednesday the squad was full, after the club officially replaced the injured Rhyan Grant with veteran Matt Thompson. This also meant the club’s current players — particularly its midfielders — were on notice because, as the club’s chief executive, Tony Pignata, said this week: “We'll see what can be done about freeing up a position on our list.” That, of course, is a euphemism for giving someone the arse — someone, presumably, who doesn’t want to go. It’s easy to forget the human cost when it comes to horse-trading in professional sport, and there must have been some anxiety around the Blues' camp in wake of that line. And lo it came to pass. Two days ago the Panamanian Yairo Yau was cut due to a calf injury that was not healing as quickly as the club would like — particularly with Dimitrijevic waiting in the wings. Yau was quoted on the club's website saying, “This was the best decision for me and the club to allow me to recover from my injury." So when you think about it, Sydney have done him a favour. The Sky Blues face the Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday night down on first-choice troops now that Richard Garcia has joined Nicky Carle and Hagi Gligor on the absentee list. Thompson and Brett Emerton look likely to come in, which won't exactly strike fear into the Wanderers.

* This item has been amended to take account of Yau's departure

Pride and prejudice

On Saturday, 10 days after fortress Wanderland was sacked by the Wellington Phoenix, the Wanderers – who should be rested – host Sydney FC in the derby, a game for which they need no additional motivation (although that Phoenix loss will help). Three days later they return to Melbourne to face the Melbourne Victory where, due to the very public stupidity competition held by a small set of rival fans the last time they met (I call it a draw), there will be considerably more interest in the goings-on off the pitch. You can be sure the police presence in Melbourne will be ramped up but what’s less sure is how the FFA’s threat of points-stripping sanctions will affect the behaviour of the masked goons and their manufactured grievances. And should there be trouble (and what constitutes trouble of the points-stripping variety?) will the FFA see through on its threat? Interesting days ahead.

The run for home begins

You wouldn’t be confident calling the winner of the 3200m Melbourne Cup when the race leader noses the 1600m mark, but as the A-League reaches its halfway point the Brisbane Roar look as close to certainties to win the Premiers’ Plate* as any team could be (notwithstanding Benjamin Franklin’s cautionary note that life’s only sure things are death, taxes and getting stuck in a washing machine the one time you decide to strip off and hide in it to surprise your girlfriend). Having said that, it seems an even surer thing that the Melbourne Heart, so far off the pace you wonder if they’re a donkey in disguise, will miss the finals. Between these two likely occurrences, however, there’s much to ponder. Have the Wanderers got another gear? Are the sometimes brilliant Victory going to find consistency? How can the Mariners, who’ve been so lacklustre, and have a negative goal difference, be sitting in third? Will this second half of the season see them drop back through the field? Sydney could take a similar trajectory and, if so, who might move up? Newcastle? Perth, who, rumour has it, have signed Frenchman William Gallas? Eighth-placed Adelaide, perhaps, who, for all the negative column inches they’ve attracted, are just four points off the top six? Even Wellington, in ninth, could make the finals and a nuisance of themselves. Three wins in their past three games says Ernie Merrick is starting to dig in his heels. But there’s a long way to go yet, so don’t tear up your betting slips.

* Grammarians will, quite rightly, be outraged to hear that there appears to be no agreed style when it comes to the name of the A-League trophy awarded to the team first past the post after the A-League’s 27-round home-and-away-and-home-or-away-again season. Even the Football Federation of Australia sends mixed messages so who can be sure if it’s the Premiers Plate, Premier’s Plate or Premiers’ Plate?

Round 14 fixtures

Friday: Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory, Hunter Stadium, Newcastle

Perth Glory v Melbourne Heart, nib Stadium, Perth

Saturday: Brisbane Roar v Adelaide United, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC, Pirtek Stadium

Sunday: Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners, Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Round 19, yep Round 19, fixture

Tuesday: Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers, AAMI Park, Melbourne