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Herbert: Grand Final key battles

A-League
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 By Rob Brooks

Tim Cahill, Big Blue and in-form Adelaide loom large in A-League

ESPN FC's Jason Dasey and PJ Roberts preview all the action ahead in Round 21 of the A-League.

The clash of the two biggest clubs in the country -- Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC -- headlines the weekend's action in Australia's A-League.

Here are five thoughts on Round 21, with only seven points separating the top seven teams:

1. Big Blue preceded by differing fortunes

This week saw very different starts to the respective AFC Champions League campaigns of Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, as the two clubs prepare for this Saturday's Big Blue clash.

The Victory defeated the wealthy Shanghai SIPG 2-1 at home, giving them a strong start in a difficult group. Best of all for coach Kevin Muscat, his fringe players stood tall. With Gui Finkler and Fahid Ben Khalfallah not in the ACL squad, rookie Jai Ingham came through with the crucial, opening goal.

That level of depth was not on display for Sydney FC, however, as they crashed 2-0 away to J.League powerhouse Urawa Reds. It could indeed be a long tournament for the Sky Blues, who also face the might of Guangzhou Evergrande and Pohang Steelers in the group stage.

Following the midweek bruising, Sydney will need to bounce back quickly against the Victory. Another defeat could see them drop out of the top six, which would prove a difficult position to recover from given their increased workload on the continent.

Tim Cahill Hangzhou news conference
Australia's record goal-scorer Tim Cahill was unveiled as a Hangzhou Greentown player this week.

2. Cahill opens way for A-League move in future

After last week's clash with Football Federation Australia, Socceroos star Tim Cahill has left the door ajar to play in the A-League next season by signing a five-month deal with Chinese Super League outfit Hangzhou Greentown.

Though he may be of greater value to the game in the long-term by playing club football abroad and returning only for internationals, the prospect that he may yet ply his day-to-day trade in his homeland will generate interest for months to come. As the A-League finals loom, this interest can only be a good thing.

Perhaps more importantly, though, FFA chief David Gallop has recognised a need to mend a rift with Cahill. Regardless of whether the 36-year-old finishes his career in Australia, he should be kept involved in some capacity by the powers that be.

Investment, coaching, governance and punditry should all be on the table when the forward does decide to hang up the boots.

Guillermo Amor's Adelaide side will go up against Brisbane Roar this weekend.

3. Red-hot Adelaide eye top spot

Could even the biggest Reds fan have predict a shot at top spot on the table would be possible a few short months ago? Surely not. But, as Guillermo Amor's Adelaide side have bonded together, their run towards an unlikely title win has gathered tremendous momentum.

Next up for Amor and his men will be second-placed Brisbane Roar on Saturday. A win would see the South Australians leapfrog Brisbane and within touching distance of silverware with only six rounds remaining.

Their ability to close down Roar's deep-lying playmaker Corona will go a long way to determining the outcome of this one. However, given Brisbane's astonishing 6-3 defeat at the hands of Perth Glory last start, coach John Aloisi will have his charges ready for a battle.

At home, it's difficult to see the Adelaide juggernaut being halted. The opportunity to go clear at the top would then be reliant on the outcome of the Western Sydney Wanderers' fixture 24 hours earlier.

Western Sydney Wanders striker Dario Vidosic
Western Sydney are hoping for Dario Vidosic to score for a second consecutive game when they take on Perth Glory.

4. Wanderers wary of Glory

Having gone winless in their past three matches, top-of-the-table Western Sydney may have allowed a golden opportunity to place one hand on the Premiers Plate to slip. Tony Popovic will look to the likes of Dario Vidosic -- who scored in last week's 1-1 draw with rivals Sydney FC -- and Romeo Castelen to ignite his side for one final charge at silverware.

Standing in their way on Friday night will be Perth Glory, who are on a fine run of six games without defeat. The Glory's fortunes have been turned around by defenders Shane Lowry and Krisztian Vadocz, who were brought in during the January transfer window, and a revitalised Chris Harold, who is combing nicely with Diego Castro.

Motivation will be high for this contest, with top spot on the line for the Wanderers, and a place in the coveted top six at stake for Perth. Expect an intense occasion, made all the more potent by a raucous atmosphere in Sydney's west.

Andrew Durante
Australian-born Andrew Durante is due to make his 200th appearance for Wellington Phoenix.

5. Consistency and loyalty rewarded

Two of the A-League's most dependable servants will likely notch milestones this week, as former teammates Andrew Durante and Ben Kantarovski take to the pitch.

Kantarovski's Newcastle Jets take on Central Coast Mariners in a highly anticipated F3 Derby on Sunday and, should the utility enter the fray for his hometown side, he will become the club's second most capped player behind Tarek Elrich. It's been quite the ride for Kanatarovski, who started training with the Jets as a teenager before becoming one of their most consistent performers. No doubt a win over Newcastle's closest rivals would mark the occasion well for the 24-year-old.

Wellington skipper Durante, who played with Kantarovski at Newcastle from 2005 to 2008, will mark his 200th appearance for the Phoenix when they face Melbourne City on Friday night. Fresh from penning a new two-year deal, Sydney-born Durante will be hoping to keep Wellington's slim finals' hopes alive against a City side with silverware still on the agenda.

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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