Preview: Ufuk Talay prepares to face Wellington in New Zealand for first time

Sydney FC will travel to Auckland to play joint-points ladder leaders Wellington Phoenix, as Ufuk Talay returns to New Zealand for the first time since coaching the Nix in 2023.

A win for the Sky Blues would also see them jump as high as third with a game in hand as finals football edges ever closer.

With six points separating third and seventh, a win against Wellington would see Sydney FC not only rise towards the Premiership but continue their dominance against Wellington away, where the Nix have won just twice in the past eleven years.

The Sky Blues spent most of the last match against Brisbane Roar with ten men due to a Jake Girdwood-Reich red card in the 25th minute.

Luke Brattan going toe-to-toe with Benjamin Old

Despite this, Sydney FC were able to put in a solid defensive effort to deny Brisbane the three points, grabbing a point for themselves and extending their unbeaten streak to eight.

The Sky Blues gritty performance was possibly one of their best defensive displays all season, and they will have to replicate that against the Nix, who go into this game after suffering their first defeat in ten matches.

The last time Wellington lost to a team before City was against Ufuk Talay’s men in December.

The Nix have only lost once in New Zealand all season and sit tied with last year’s champions, Central Coast Mariners but six points clear of the rest.

Last week, Wellington were overwhelmed as Melbourne pressed high into their half, which saw a Samuel Souprayen score. Despite a Kosta Barbarouses chance in the final minutes, City walked away with the three points.

With Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners only weeks away, the Nix must pick up points to stay in touch with the defending Champions.

One’s Watch: Defender vs Robert Mak 

Robert Mak:

Robert Mak dazzled last week as he scored to send the Sky Blues 1-nil up against the Roar, and he’s been building momentum ever since coming off an injury in late January.

The Slovakian forward has scored three in his last four and found the crucial 2-1 goal against the Nix the previous time out.

With the international break approaching and the Euros coming up in June, Mak will undoubtedly be focusing on trying to impress the selectors, so this game may be crucial to whether he is chosen for the team.

Luke Brattan and Robert Mak vs Wellington last outing

Jordan Courtney-Perkins

Ufuk Talay said that Courtney-Perkins has been playing “fantastic football” for the club after the defender dug deep to deny Brisbane Roar but also created opportunities for Sydney FC last week.

The 21-year-old defender was also named in the U-23 Olyroos side, which will play in Saudi Arabia later this month.

Courtney Perkins embodies a Trent Alexander-Arnold role in the club, becoming one of the central playmakers, making 47.8 touches, 21.5 passes and recovering the ball 3.1 times per game.

Alex Paulsen: 

In his first entire season playing every game for Wellington Phoenix, 21-year goalkeeper Alex Paulsen has let in the least number of goals out of any keeper this season, contributing to eight clean sheets.

Paulsen has made 4.1 saves per game and against the Sky Blues when Robert Mak had a one-on-one with him in the six-yard box, he was able to stop the forward from scoring.

Last week against Melbourne City, the agile keeper was quick to stop City’s opening thirty minutes of domination, most notably, making a diving save after a Max Caputo header towards the bottom left corner.


11-7-3WEL – RECORD – SYD9-4-7
10.6SHOTS PG18.7
4.1SAVES PG3.1
9.2FOULS PG13.3

Team News:

The Sky Blues will be without Jake Girdwood-Reich after he saw red last week which means he will sit this match out. Jack Rodwell may return this week after being too ill to play last week and suffering a calf injury in January.

Jake Girdwood-Reich receiving a red card last week

Wellington will hope that their star striker, Oskar Zawada, is ready to play again after he came off injured against Perth Glory three weeks ago.

Last Time Out:

Ufuk Talay took on his former team for the first time in the last outing and his men defeated the men in yellow 3-1.

Sydney FC executed their high-risk, high-reward strategy perfectly, recording almost 60% of possession and having 21 more shots than their opponents.

Rhyan Grant scored in the opening ten minutes, although Wellington had promising chances to equalise, they didn’t until Oskar van Hattum broke through the Sydney defence and laid the ball off to Kosta Barbarouses.

But five minutes later, Fabio Gomes released the ball into Robert Mak’s feet, and a solo dribble effort, finished by a slick shot into the bottom corner, sent the Sky Blues back into the lead.

A late third goal by Gomes into the bottom right corner sealed the three points for Sydney FC, and since then, Sydney FC have only lost once.  

Match Details:
Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC
Isuzu UTE A-League Round 21
Saturday 16th March, 2024
Eden Park, Auckland, NZ
Kick off: 3:30pm AEDT
Broadcast Live: Paramount+
Join the Conversation: #SYDvWEL & #SydneyIsSkyBlue
Tickets: Click Here