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Herbert: Grand Final key battles

A-League
Read
 By Rob Brooks

From Jets to Sydney for Carney as Garcia looks for more A-League goals

ESPN FC's Jason Dasey and John Wilkinson preview Round 18 in the Australia A-League, and discuss David Carney's move to Sydney FC.

January saw a flurry of player movement between A-League clubs.

As the teams prepare for round 18 to kick-off, here are five thoughts on the winners and losers of the transfer window:

1. Jets and City lighten the load

The two clubs, who saw last-minute action during the transfer window, will face-off in the final match of the round on Sunday. Newcastle Jets released David Carney to join Sydney FC, hours before the window closed, as Melbourne City did the same for midfielder Erik Paartalu.

Jets players will not be disappointed over Carney's exit after he had told certain teammates they should hand back their contracts. He also threatened to feign injury for the remainder of the season if Newcastle did not release him. Bizarrely, the former Socceroo has a clause inserted into his Sydney contract stating that he will pay the Jets out of his own pocket if the Sky Blues receive a transfer fee for him.

Newcastle had already signed his replacement in former Denmark international Morten Nordstrand who, along with fellow newcomer Steven Ugarkovic, looked tidy on debut last weekend in a 1-0 loss to Adelaide.

City also had their replacement for Paartalu lined up when they brought in Anthony Caceres from the Central Coast Mariners, a move which allows Jacob Melling to play as a holding midfielder. They are now likely to sign Socceroo defender and free agent Alex Wilkinson, making them a solid proposition across the park leading into the A-League finals series -- despite the loss of Robert Koren, David Williams, Hernan Espindola and Tando Velaphi.

Sydney FC lost fullback Alex Gersbach to Norway but brought in David Carney ahead of the trip to Adelaide.

2. Adelaide set to continue their rapid rise

Twenty four hours before bringing in Carney, Sydney FC transferred promising left-back Alex Gersbach to Norwegian outfit Rosenborg BK. This week, they will travel to Adelaide, to play the most in-form team in the competition.

The Reds themselves brought back striker Sergio van Dijk, but the 33-year-old will only take part in the club's AFC Champions League campaign, which commences on Tuesday in a playoff against Chinese side, Shandong Luneng.

Adelaide also recruited Stefan Mauk from City as a like-for-like replacement for central midfielder James Jeggo, who has departed for Austrian side Sturm Graz. If Guillermo Amor's defensive unit can cover the loss of Osama Malik to City, there is no reason their ascent toward the finals won't continue.

3. Wanderers and Victory remain steady

Two of the least active clubs in the January transfer window will collide on Saturday night when Melbourne Victory host Western Sydney Wanderers.

With both clubs faring well of late -- Wanderers top the table, while Victory are fourth -- there was little need for mid-season disruption. However, the Wanderers did add some left-sided depth in the form of former Central Coast utility Matt Sim before the window closed.

Regardless of the quiet period these sides have had off the pitch, it will be a very different story on field this weekend. In what promises to be the most intense match of the round, the Victory cannot afford another slip-up if they still have ambitions to retain the Premier's Plate.

Central Coast Mariner's Luis Garcia
Former Liverpool and Barcelona winger will play his third A-League match for Central Coast as they travel to Brisbane.

4. Mariners make waves while Roar stay silent

Saturday's other match-up is between the supremely active Central Coast Mariners, and Brisbane Roar, who were whisper-quiet in January.

The bottom-placed Mariners have brought in former Liverpool star Luis Garcia, as well as Francesco Stella, Alistair Bray, Brad McDonald and Matt Fletcher -- none of whom were playing professional football this season before getting the call from coach Tony Walmsley. Moving out has been Anthony Caceres and Nick Fitzgerald to City, Anthony Kalik to Hajduk Split, and Sim to the Wanderers.

Credit must go to Walmsley and his team for shaking things up mid-season. It certainly worked in their 3-1 win away to Wellington Phoenix last weekend, but whether they can topple the second-placed Roar is another matter. John Aloisi once again has his side playing an attractive brand of football with Olyroos Jamie Maclaren and Brandon Borrello back in the fray.

Free agent Andy Keogh (left) is back at Perth Glory who need to keep winning to stay in the hunt for Finals' football.

5. Perth favourites in Distance Derby

The Distance Derby will involve a new-look attack for Wellington, after the club parted ways with ex-Ajax attacker Jeffrey Sarpong, replacing him with Birmingham City forward Alex Jones, who joins on loan.

Their opponents this Sunday afternoon, Perth Glory, similarly changed their line-up in January. Free agent striker Andy Keogh has returned to the club, Shane Lowry comes in from Birmingham City, while fellow returning West Australian Adam Taggart will not be available for selection until next season.

Critically ahead of this week's game, though, these sides are at very different ends of the spectrum in terms of form. The Phoenix are currently in free-fall, failing to win any of their past eight matches.

Seventh placed Perth, however, will be hoping their new stars shine in order to keep pace with those sides currently occupying finals positions.

Glory are seven points outside the top six after two wins and a draw in their last three matches, scoring 11 goals in the process.

Rob Brooks is a former Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners media officer who joined the ESPN FC team in 2011. Twitter: @RobNJBrooks

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