Two sides level on 18 points at the halfway stage of the Australia A-League Men season meet at AAMI Park on Thursday (KO, 08:45), as Melbourne City host Adelaide United.
It's been a disappointing campaign for both thus far with the sides currently sitting outside the playoff places. Melbourne City stormed to the regular season title last year before capitulating in the Grand Final, losing 6-1 to Central Coast Mariners, and their poor start this term culminated in the sacking of head coach Rado Vidosic, who was subsequently replaced by Aurelio Vidmar.
But despite an upturn in results towards the end of the previous calendar year, the reigning champions have now lost their last two games.
Adelaide, meanwhile, have stuck with boss Carl Veart, who has overseen just five league wins this term. One of those victories was a 6-0 win over Melbourne City in October, a result which signalled the end for Vidosic, but United's current standing of seventh is still a fall from grace compared to last season, when they finished third.
Both sides remain without several key players for Thursday's clash in Melbourne. Australia's progress in the 2023 Asian Cup means City left-back Aziz Behich remains in Qatar, while Mathew Leckie and Marin Jakolis are injured.
The club also waved goodbye to Hamza Sakhi this week, with the Moroccan midfielder - who has played every league game this season - leaving for personal reasons.
Steven Ugarkovic could take Sakhi's place in the starting XI after scoring as a substitute against the Mariners last time out, while Andrew Nabbout is pushing to make his first start of the season after coming off the bench in the last two games following his return from an achilles injury.
Adelaide have found a bit of form recently, winning two and drawing two of their last five, and central to that has been Japanese striker Hiroshi Ibusuki, who struck a hat-trick in a 4-3 win over Sydney FC in their last match.
As such, Veart is unlikely to tinker too much with his starting XI, with the three behind Ibusuki - Zach Clough, Ben Halloran and Bayern Munich-bound teenager Nestory Irankunda - all chipping in with goals and assists.
Goalkeeper Joe Gauci remains on international duty with Australia, though, while Panashe Madanha, Musa Toure and Lachlan Barr are all doubtful after periods out of the side through injury.
Melbourne City are 8/11 to record a first regular season win over Adelaide United since May 2021, with the draw priced at 3/1 and a victory for the visitors at 5/2.
The last three meetings between these sides have been full of goals, with six scored in each of them. It's 4/11 for both teams to score on Thursday and 5/6 for over 3.5 goals.
Double chance and both teams to score - Draw or Adelaide United and Yes @ 6/4
This fixture has been draw-heavy in recent years, with five of the last eight - in normal time (City won in extra-time in the playoffs in May 2022) - finishing level.
The other three, though, have seen Adelaide pick up all three points, including the last two meetings between the sides.
The Reds haven't been great on the road this season, though, winning just one of their five away games, and they have lost their last three, including a 2-0 defeat at AAMI Park in late December to City's rivals Melbourne Victory.
That's why I'm reluctant to go all in on them this week, but I do believe they can at least avoid defeat, with the potential to nick a victory late on.
City are still missing several key players including Behich, Jakolis and Leckie, all of whom would expect to make the starting XI usually, while Vidmar must make adjustments in midfield to cope with the loss of Sakhi.
The home side have only won twice at AAMI Park in the league this term, drawing three times and losing the other two, while they couldn't even find pick up three points at home in their AFC Champions League group against Ventforet Kofu, Zheijang Professional and Buriram.
Adelaide on double chance looks good here, but City should still find the net - they've scored in six of their last eight, while Adelaide have only kept two clean sheets this season, both of which came in their first two fixtures back in October.
Nestory Irankunda to score anytime @ 21/10
The 17-year-old has struggled to reach the heights of last season so far this term, with opposition players and fan repeatedly targeting him and getting under his skin. A lack of discipline has seen him spend time as a substitute but he has started Adelaide's last three games, registering an assist against Wellington Phoenix and scoring last time out against Sydney.
Irankunda can also take confidence from the last two times he has played Melbourne City. He scored the opener in the Reds' 6-0 win in October and netted the final goal as a substitute in a 4-2 victory last March.
City are vulnerable in defence at the moment, and Irankunda's pace could prove difficult for them to handle.
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