We’ve a beauty to kick off Round 10 as Sydney FC and Melbourne City reprise the Westfield FFA Cup Final from last week in Harvey Norman Friday Night Football from ANZ Stadium. We analyse where this first v second blockbuster could be won and lost.
Where it will be won?
City remains the only side to have toppled the Sky Blues this season with their 1-0 Westfield FFA Cup final triumph just last week.
In a high-octane, physical clash, John van ‘t Schip’s side got in the faces of Sydney and knocked them off their stride. And it had the desired effect.
While Graham Arnold’s men probably weren’t surprised by that approach - and they didn't keep possession the way they know they can - you can be sure they’ll be better prepared to handle the onslaught on Friday night.
There is so much to like about this match up, especially in an attacking sense. Both sides are oozing with attacking weapons.
The likes of Bobo, Alex Brosque, Tim Cahill, Bruno Fornaroli and Milos Ninkovic need no introduction. But add to that names like Filip Holosko, Nicolas Colazo, Bruce Kamau, Fernando Brandan, David Carney, Bernie Ibini and Matt Simon and you know why this should be a ripper.
City has a squad full of players with strong character and will have gained a lot of belief by winning the club’s first piece of silverware.
But with the exception of the Cup final, City has been a bit shaky at the back at times and this is one area the home side will try to exploit.
Given how evenly matched these sides are, it’s most likely to come down which outfit is better in the big moments.
Cahill produced the moment of magic when it counted in the Cup decider, who will step up this time?
The key battle: Josh Brillante v Luke Brattan
Both Brillante and Brattan have re-ignited their careers in the Hyundai A-League this season after a period in the wilderness during their time abroad. And while some of their big-name team-mates take much of the limelight, you can’t underestimate the influence of these midfield maestros have on their team.
Especially if we see a repeat of the frenetic, all-action encounter these sides delivered in the Westfield FFA Cup final just nine days earlier.
The side that is able to remain composed and keep the ball for longer periods in the white-hot furnace in midfield is likely to prevail.
And that’s where these two are so important.
Brillante and Brattan are excellent at controlling the tempo of the match for their side. Slowing things down when their defence needs time to regroup, or lifting the intensity when it calls to go forward quickly.
While the pair are both excellent in possession - composed and diligent on the ball - they have shown a real maturity without it which has been crucial to their side’s success.
Brillante leads the Sky Blues midfielders for interceptions (27) and ball recoveries (71), enabling them to win the ball back in good areas, while Brattan (16 tackles) hasn’t shirked a challenge in the middle of the park.
It was Brattan’s tackle on Michael Zullo which sparked a melee in the Westfield FFA Cup final and it would be no surprise if things are just as heated again between the league’s top-two sides.
Impact off the bench
If it’s as tight and tense as what these two dished up in last week’s Westfield FFA Cup final then this one is likely to go right down to the wire. And that’s when having substitutes who can make a difference off the bench becomes so important.
With both these sides having incredible depth, there’s no shortage of options at the disposal of coaches Arnold and van ‘t Schip if they need to make a change.
But it’s the Sky Blues who have got the most out of their subs so far in season 2016/17.
Brosque has scored two of his four goals as a second-half substitute, while Carney’s brace off the bench turned the game against Melbourne Victory last month. Ibini – who scored in the win over the Jets on Sunday – is a huge weapon to bring on, while Simon [two assists] is always a handful for tiring defences.
It will be interesting to see whether JVS opts to use all his attacking stars – Fornaroli, Cahill, Brandan, Kamau and Colazo – from the start.
He went that way in the derby demolition of Victory back in Round 2 but he might opt to keep at least one of them in reserve to possibly impact the contest late-on.
The X-Factors: Milos Ninkovic and Fernando Brandan
How good have these two been to watch this season?
Ninkovic has consistently shown the quality Arnold always knew he possessed, with his smooth touch and killer pass a real feature of his performances.
While we saw glimpses of his class last season, it’s come to the fore every week in 2016/17 so far. The Serbian has scored five goals – including his solo stunner against the Jets last time out – and provided three assists.
The only match he hasn’t stamped his quality on was the Westfield FFA Cup decider, where City was able to limit his time and space on the ball. Watch for Ninkovic to make amends in this one.
But City has their own version of "Ninko" in infectious Argentine, Brandan.
With his energy, speed and work-rate, the tiny attacker is a different type of player to Ninkovic but has been just as influential in City’s success.
Not only does he have two goals and three assists to his name but Brandan has the ability to win free-kicks in dangerous areas, having been fouled 30 times this season – the second most behind team-mate Bruno Fornaroli.
Watching these two go at it will be worth the price of admission alone and whoever can produce the goods on the day might just inspire their side to victory.