Sydney FC are likely to target converted right back Leo Bertos tonight but the Wellington Phoenix are confident he is the man for the job.
The Phoenix have struggled to settle on a specialist in the position during their six-year existence although Manny Muscat filled the role well last season.
But with Muscat shifted to his preferred position as a holding midfielder, Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has asked Bertos to join Tony Lochhead, Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund in the back four at Westpac Stadium tonight.
The season opener will be Bertos' first game there for the Phoenix.
"It's not too different for Leo, playing in the national team he plays a wide defensive role," Herbert said.
"Pace-wise I think he'll cope with it, the defensive side I think he'll grow into it."
Phoenix captain Durante admitted Bertos was "not a natural defender" but "he makes up for that in his pace".
"So if he does get beaten he can catch them and make the tackles," Durante said.
"They might be worried about him going forward because that's his natural strength, so I'm sure they'll be extra cautious about him."
Muscat, delighted to be back in midfield, also gave his seal of approval.
"There's always going to be times where he's got to learn how to play that position but he's been doing well and I wish him all the best," Muscat said.
Herbert won't name his team until this afternoon but he is unlikely to risk Paul Ifill, who is recovering from injury and is expected to be on the bench.
That means a completely new attacking quartet of Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems, Louis Fenton and Benjamin Totori.
Plenty has been written and said about the first three but Solomon Islander Totori has had a relatively quiet pre-season campaign after tormenting the All Whites at the Oceania Nations Cup.
Totori will start on the left wing and be given free rein to roam by Herbert.
"With Benji you're going to get a bit of up and down but for me he's a great creative player and we'll cut him a bit of slack and give him a bit of freedom to do what he's really good at," Herbert said.
"I think he'll torment a lot of fullbacks in the league."
The Phoenix have done their best to play down the "Del Piero factor" this week. And, like the fans, no-one quite knows what the Italian will be capable of given he hasn't played a serious game since May.
Del Piero will be handed a free attacking role and can expect an early introduction from Muscat.
"Manny will have most of the job on him and we know what Manny's like, he'll tackle anyone and win the ball," Durante said.
"I don't think anyone's going to be starstruck at all."
HOW THEY LINE UP
What: A-League, round one
Where: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
When: 7.30pm tonight
TV: Live on Sky Sport 2
Referee: Peter Green
TAB: Phoenix $2.30, Sydney $2.90, Draw $3.30
Phoenix (likely): Mark Paston, Tony Lochhead, Andrew Durante (c), Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos, Manny Muscat, Alex Smith, Benjamin Totori, Louis Fenton, Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems. Bench: Glen Moss, Michael Boxall, Paul Ifill, Ricardo Clarke, Cameron Lindsay, Tyler Boyd (two to be omitted)
Sydney FC (possible): Ivan Necevski, Fabio, Trent McClenahan, Adam Griffiths, Brett Emerton, Terry McFlynn (c), Terry Antonis, Mitch Mallia, Alessandro Del Piero, Joel Chianese, Kruno Lovrek. Bench: Vedran Janjetovic, Sebastian Ryall, Paul Reid, Yairo Yau, Ali Abbas (one to be omitted)
- © Fairfax NZ News
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