"The fans will be crucial" - Merrick sees City faithful playing key role on Grand Final day
In the eyes of experienced former A-League head coach Ernie Merrick, the old cliché still rings true today: Melbourne City's passionate supporter base will act as the 12th player for their side in Sunday evening's A-League Grand Final.
That is if their side manage to play the attractive, attacking football they displayed under Patrick Kisnorbo to get this far, says the two-time A-League Champion/Premier/Coach of the Year.
City will welcome Sydney FC to AAMI Park on Sunday, June 27 for the 2020/21 Grand Final. As announced by the Victorian Government, AAMI Park will operate at 50% capacity under COVID-19 restrictions, allowing for a crowd of up to 15,000 to attend.
The City faithful watched on in frustration as their team played a home Semi Final away from home, facing the 'visiting' Macarthur FC in their home state of New South Wales. The Premiers overcame adversity to book their place in the Grand Final where they'll meet the Sky Blues in the title decider for the second consecutive season.
Merrick, who took Melbourne Victory to a pair of Grand Final wins in 2007 and 2009 in front of a passionate home supporter base, says the City fans can make their mark when their side set off in search of a maiden A-League title.
"I think the fans, the cliché is they’re the 12th man, and they certainly are," Merrick said.
"It’s about playing the style of football all year that’s brought the fans in, and making sure you don’t change the game plan too much. It’s about entertainment, and these are entertaining sides.
"I remember playing Adelaide in (Victory's) first Grand Final in 2007 I think it was. I asked for the roof of Docklands Stadium to be closed.
"I thought we’d shut the roof, we already sold out the stadium and it was 55,000 people there, it was really noisy and they were going to be predominantly our fans, and it worked a treat.
At AAMI Park you can’t shut the roof, but it’s a great stadium and I think the fans will be crucial.
The style of play that City stick to, and I think they will, it will give them a bit of an advantage."
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As the City fans look contribute to the cause off the field on Sunday afternoon, Merrick predicts an intriguing tussle will develop in the middle of the park as the two sides face off utilising different formations. City, Merrick says, will adopt a 4-3-3 as opposed to the Sky Blues' 4-4-2, which gives Steve Corica's travelling side the ascendancy in midfield numbers.
Merrick says containing the quality in Sydney's engine room could be the key to City's success on Sunday - as might be the fitness of the injury-hampered Miloš Ninković - and level heads will help the cause, as they always do on the biggest occasions.
"I think the game will be won and lost in midfield," Merrick said.
"What it’s going to come down to is really, not the players that are off with the national team, but the players that are injured. If City have (Andrew) Nabbout and (Craig) Noone in the squad from the starting 11 they’ve got a good chance, if Ninković is in the squad then the Sydney team is looking very powerful.
"But the midfield are what control the attacking opportunities and often they protect the backline. I would think the midfield would be an important aspect for (Sunday’s) game.
"It’s interesting, the strategy they play, Sydney have always... since Graham Arnold’s been at Sydney, played a 4-4-2 system where the two wide players become number 10’s. Their midfield is really loaded up. I think they’ll be up against a side that’s playing a 4-3-3 in Melbourne City.
"It will be four against three in the midfield, so (Kisnorbo) has got to sort out how he’s going to deal with that.
"Once (Luke) Brattan, (Anthony) Caceres, Ninković and now (Kosta) Barbarouses in midfield get a hold of the ball there’ll be lots of problems.
"(Florin) Berenguer, (Adrián) Luna I suspect and Aiden O’Neill will be the ones that have to make sure that they shut that midfield down. "
Merrick continued: "I think that the whole game is based on mental aptitude, resilience and ability to sustain what they’re doing without chopping and changing their game, panicking and shooting from distance and defending too deep, that type of thing.
"It all comes down to the mental aptitude, that’s why I said earlier the senior players are a big benefit in these type of games.
"However, youngsters who have got talent, who are just dying to perform on the big stage, especially if they’re up front, they can surprise everyone. That sort of showed itself with Marco Tilio and Colakovski scoring goals in the Semi Finals.
"The youngsters can show what they can do, and it’s very exciting for them. They’ll be carried away with the energy."
A-League Grand Final - Match Details
Melbourne City v Sydney FC
Sunday, June 27 2021
Venue: AAMI Park
Kick-off: 5.05pm AEST
Ways to watch
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