Sydney FC coach Frank Farina expects Melbourne Heart to target Alessandro Del Piero in Sunday’s A-League clash.
Del Piero was the recipient of a number of brutal challenges from Heart players in the sides’ 0-0 draw in Sydney last month in Farina’s first game in charge of the Sky Blues.
The Italian star failed to finish the match and subsequently missed the club’s next clash away to the Wellington Phoenix.
Farina has been vocal in recent weeks in calling for more protection for the 38-year-old, who has become a target of opposition bullies since his scintillating start to the season.
“And that’s up to the referee’s to interpret that and handle that,” Farina told reporters on Friday.
“I don’t think teams actually go out and say ‘we’re going to kick the living crap out of someone’.
“But they will muscle up on key players and Alessandro is certainly a key player for us.
“They (Heart) will most probably be looking at nullifying him again as best as they can.”
After missing the New Year’s Eve loss to Adelaide with a calf and Achilles problem, Del Piero said he is over any injury concerns heading into a vital period for the Sky Blues.
Asked about the possibility of another torrid affair against the Heart, Del Piero joked: “I’ll call (Heart coach) John Aloisi before the game and say something.
“But every game is a hard game, like the last one against Heart.
“I’ll just do my best and think only about my team-mates … what happens on the field stays on the field.
“I don’t know (If I’m being targeted), sometimes my legs say that.
“It happens … all my career is like that so it’s not a problem for me.”
What is a problem for Del Piero and Sydney is that they sit on the bottom of the A-League ladder with 12 games left to save their season.
Starting with the Heart on Sunday, the Sky Blues face two season-defining home games, with fellow struggles the Phoenix to come on January 19.
“We are on the bottom and we need to use our two home games, with our fans, to create a win and then everything can help us to start for more wins,” Del Piero said.
“But to do that we can only think about Sunday at the moment.
“It’s a very important game, we haven’t had much luck against the Heart (in the past), hopefully we can start now.
“This is a new challenge for me … usually I don’t lose much during the season but it’s happened.
“But we have a chance to do something and go to the playoffs. We have to use all our energy for this and hope it will happen.”
Farina said his side had taken a lot of confidence from the way they were able to fight back twice in the 2-2 draw away to Perth last weekend.
While denying a loss to the Heart would end their finals chances, Farina conceded it would make life extremely difficult.
Nut the former Australia coach insists the pressure-cooker situation was having no effect on morale.
“It’s still very positive. I’ve seen some dressing rooms have been down and there’s been some dissent or disappointment,” Farina said.
“But it’s a really good group. They’ve had a roller coaster ride this year but the attitude’s always positive and you can tell that by what’s happening here on the training field.
“It’s always positive and they are always giving me 100 percent.
“We would like to get some sort of roll going and with two home games hopefully we can do that.”
Defender Fabio and striker Yairo Yau are both in contention for a re-call after missing the clash with the Glory through injury.