Is Dani Sanchez the missing link for Phoenix?

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 12:38 11/12/2012
Sanchez
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
KEY PLAYER: Dani Sanchez is set to make his long-awaited return from injury for the Wellington Phoenix.

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OPINION: Remember Dani Sanchez?

Unsighted this A-League season because of a knee injury that required surgery, the Spanish midfielder should be quickly emerging as Ricki Herbert's go-to man as the Wellington Phoenix look ahead to a rather daunting trip to an in-form Adelaide United on Sunday.

Word is he will be considered for Sunday's match but might be eased back through the bench.

Either way, Sanchez must be figuring strongly in Herbert's plans for the remainder as the season, given he is the sort of player the Phoenix are crying out for right now - an attack-minded midfielder.

No disrespect to Manny Muscat, Alex Smith and Vince Lia, they are all good players, but that midfield trio is hardly going to strike fear into opposing defences.

Their strengths are defensive, and Herbert probably needed that a few weeks back when they were leaking goals and in the midst of a losing streak.

But it surely can't be a long-term solution. There's no Tim Brown among that trio, a player who can push into the box with regularity and contribute 10 goals a season to support the strikers.

Between them, the current midfield trio is probably capable of three or four goals a season, at best.

So not only are the Phoenix lacking an important link man, but the scoring responsibility essentially falls on the front three only - Jeremy Brockie, Paul Ifill and Stein Huysegems. Opposition defences will of course be aware of this.

A player such as Sanchez changes the dynamic.

In form, he is capable of feeding his strikers and linking in with them much more than the current trio of midfielders, and he also has an eye for goal. He scored some very good ones last season.

His injection into the starting XI - and we're talking if not when - could prompt a slight change in formation.

A 4-2-3-1 would seem to suit his return, with Muscat and Lia in front of the back four, Sanchez playing forward of them with Brockie and Ifill on the flanks and Huysegems up front.

There will be suggestions Brockie play that central role, so Louis Fenton can play wider and Huysegems, who hasn't been at his best lately, can drop to the bench.

But Brockie, like Ifill, is a wide player and has never looked that comfortable in the central role.

***

It's understood that while there will be a public vote to select the A-League All Stars team to face Manchester United next year, there will be at least one representative from each of the 10 A-League clubs.

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If the Phoenix are going to get more than one, they'll need to start lifting their game, but the best opportunity for New Zealand representation surely comes from Kiwis at Australian-based clubs - namely Marco Rojas, Michael McGlinchey and Shane Smeltz.

***

As expected, last week's column suggesting the Phoenix must look at taking more home games to other New Zealand centres was met with a rather, shall we say passionate, response from loyal Wellington supporters. Fair enough, too.

A lot of feedback suggested that simply poor weather had been to blame for flagging crowds, not other factors mentioned.

Well, Wellington turned on a rare stunner for Sunday's home date with Sydney - and the Phoenix were coming off two wins and a draw in their past three - and how many people turned up? Drum roll please ... 7375.

Sure, it was more than the 5405 figure of the previous week, but don't forget 10,000 is the magic break-even number, so Sunday's figure was still more than 25 per cent shy of what the owners need it to be. The weather is clearly not the answer.

- Fairfax Media

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