After eight rounds of W-League football, six points separate the top six teams. Round nine sees Western Sydney Wanderers and Newcastle Jets play a second game in four and three days respectively, before other sides get their turn in the new year. Short turnarounds aside, the last three games of 2016 will be important in a season that has proved anything but predictable.

Perhaps the second Sydney derby will prove the most important match of the round, with Wanderers chasing a third win in as many weeks, while Sydney lead the competition. Meanwhile, Adelaide United host Jets in what will be a desperate battle for points for teams on the fringe. To open the round, Melbourne Victory and Canberra United meet for the first time this season, in a second televised game in as many days. Good times.

Melbourne Victory v Canberra United

Melbourne Victory, though coming close to winning a few times, have only collected the three draws so far this season. Most recently it was one against the Newcastle Jets on the road. Canberra United put five goals past Brisbane Roar last round for a second win over them this season. They conceded late, like Victory did to Jets, but without it costing them the points.

What to watch for: The match will be an interesting test for Victory, who have to be frustrated with a lack of results, along with some costly injuries this season. The next few rounds particularly will be a test of their heart, as they play for pride, and potentially to spoil finals hopes of others. The pressure is largely on Canberra to build on the momentum they’ve created, and keep their position going into the back half of the season.

In Melbourne, Lisa De Vanna is a chance to suit up with the sixth W-League of her career, against one of her most recent clubs. The Matildas’ captain joins Canberra as a guest player, in a side already bursting at the attacking seams. Hayley Raso, Emma Checker and Ellie Brush are all looking to make returns from injury, so United coach Rae Dower will have quite a juggle naming a side.

Canberra United will be looking to add to their season-leading haul of 16 goals, while Victory will be desperate to stem the tide, after conceding 17 already this season. Both sides have struggled with defensive lapses, so it will definitely be a matter of maintaining composure and focus through 90 minutes for a good contest. If the Canberra United side that handed Roar their biggest loss in a few years turns up in Melbourne, Victory will have to play out of their skins to not face a similar result.

Player to watch: It seems unfair to single out a player for United, as results have been team efforts even on weeks where teenagers stood in for veteran players. Grace Maher now leads the league in assists, and the Young Matilda has been steadily impressive in the middle of the park this season.

Head to Head:  Played 16 | 6 wins (MVC) | 7 wins (CBR) | 3 Draws

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne

Kick-Off: 5:05PM (Local) (5:05PM (AEDT))

Referee: Rebecca Durcau

Assistant Referee 1: Laura Moya

Assistant Referee 2: Sarah Wikeley

Fourth Official: Joanna Charaktis

TV Broadcast: Live coverage on FOX SPORTS 505 from 5.00pm (AEDT) and ABC TV from 5.00pm (AEDT)

Melbourne VictoryCanberra United
Team FormD (NEW), D (WSW), L (PER), L (MCY), L (SYD)W (BRI), W (MCY), D (ADE), W (NEW), W (BRI)
InLia Privitelli (promoted), Ayesha Norrie (promoted), Rachel Alonso (promoted)Emma Checker (promoted), Ellie Brush (promoted), Hayley Raso (promoted)
OutAlex Cheal (omitted), Kirsty Yallop (unavailable)Laura Hughes (omitted)
UnavailableBianca Henninger (gk) (knee – 1 week), Melissa Taranto (knee – season), Selin Kuralay (knee – season)


Adelaide United v Newcastle Jets

Adelaide, coming off a bye will no doubt be eager for Round 9. They host Newcastle Jets, who dropped a close Boxing Day clash with the Western Sydney Wanderers, which no doubt will still be smarting. The fresh Adelaide legs, and chance for a first win of the season will make for an interesting clash between two sides effectively out of contention for finals.

What to watch for:

In their last match, United were in the match early but fell off against Perth Glory. They’ll need to tighten up, and keep enough in the tank to make this a competitive match.

They’ll be hoping to increase their passing accuracy in the final third, where Adriana Jones has shown a great capacity to find the back of the net. The game will most likely be a battle of heart, with the sides having different things to play for.

In season eight these sides drew before Adelaide thumped Jets in a pre-Christmas clash last year, but it’s hard to rely on previous results with so much change to the lineup.

Player to watch: Jen Hoy has been a standout so far for the Jets. She had a rough one against the Wanderers, hitting the post with a penalty, and falling short in the hunt for a late equaliser. It will be fascinating to watch how she bounces back from the disappointing result, with the short turnaround. Jets fans will hope the tough loss makes her hungrier for goals, as they now ponder finals maths and potentially being out of contention.

Head to Head:  Played 15 | 4 wins (ADE) | 7 wins (NEW) | 4 Draws

Adelaide UnitedNewcastle Jets
Team FormL (PER), L (BRI), D (CBR), L (SYD), L (WSW)L (WSW), D (MVC), L (SYD), L (CBR), W (PER)

Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC

Sydney FC was able to grind out a win against Brisbane Roar just before Christmas, finding themselves outright ladder leaders last week. They line up against a Western Sydney Wanderers side that –out of nowhere- are now two points outside the top four.

The Wanderers consolidated their upset win over Melbourne City in Round 7 bringing home the points from Newcastle. They now chase a third win in a row, which would be a first in club history.

It makes for a much-awaited second derby, after the first went Sydney’s way courtesy of a Leena Khamis double.

What to watch for: Of the top 5 players in terms of completed passes this season, 3 will suit up in this clash. Teresa Polias and Alanna Kennedy have over 800 between them, while Kendall Fletcher has over 350. The resulting possession battle feels stacked from the outset in this one, but Wanderers were able to beat City without winning that battle.

In their last clash, Sydney had almost double the chances of Wanderers, nearly twice as many on target. But then last week they also showed an ability to work through a match with fewer shots than their opposition, and still edge out Brisbane.

Both buoyed by hard fought wins, it will be Wanderers who come into the contest a little more travel and match time weary. But they’ve sent a warning in the last few weeks about those teams underestimating them. In the meantime, Sydney has added some firepower up top in Nigerian Francisca Ordega, and will be eager to take three points into January where they’ll host fellow top four teams in two consecutive rounds.

Player to watch: Kendall Fletcher has been an impact player throughout her W-League career, and it is the Wanderers have been benefiting from this. The big question, like in a number of contests this week, is has she got the legs for such a crucial Sydney derby?

For Sydney, Caitlin Foord should have her first start since being crowned AFC Player of the Year, and along with Ordega, chances on goal will no doubt rise.

Head to Head:  Played 9 | 1 win (WSW) | 7 wins (SYD) | 1 Draw

Western Sydney WanderersSydney FC
Team FormW (NEW), W (MCY), D (MVC), L (BRI), W (ADE)W (BRI), L (PER), W (NEW), W (ADE), W (MVC)

Bye: Perth Glory, Melbourne City FC, Brisbane Roar