Grand Final Preview: Melbourne v Sydney

After 141 A-League games, the bragging rights for the 2009-10 season comes down to one final battle between Melbourne and Sydney.

Date: Saturday March 20 Kick-off: 7:00pm AEDT Venue: Etihad Stadium

Head-to-head Played 17: Melbourne Victory 6, Sydney FC 4, Draws 7

Previous Meeting Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 2, March 2010 (semi final (2nd leg) (2-1 after normal time)

Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: Round 25: Gold Coast United 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Skilled Park Round 26: Melbourne Victory 2, North Queensland Fury 0, Etihad Stadium Round 27: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney Football Stadium MSF - 1st Leg: Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney FC 1, Etihad Stadium MSF - 2nd leg: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney Football Stadium (Melbourne progresses 4-3 on aggregate)

Sydney FC: Round 25: Brisbane Roar 1, Sydney FC 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 26: Sydney FC 3, Perth Glory 2, Sydney Football Stadium Round 27: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney Football Stadium MSF - 1st Leg: Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney FC 1, Etihad Stadium MSF - 2nd leg: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney Football Stadium (Melbourne progresses 4-3 on aggregate) Preliminary Final: Sydney FC 4, Wellington Phoenix 2, Sydney Football Stadium


History After 141 Hyundai A-League games, the bragging rights for the 2009-10 season comes down to the sixth and final battle of the season between Melbourne and Sydney. Saturday's Grand Final is the culmination of five years of rivalry between the two biggest clubs in the competition.

Sydney has the edge in terms of achievements this season, having won the Premiers' Plate in dramatic fashion when it beat Melbourne 2-0 at the SFS in the final match of the regular season. But while the Sky Blues won the inaugural championship back in 2006, Melbourne holds the honour as the most successful club with Grand Final wins over Adelaide in 2007 and 2009.

The Victory are the first team to have the opportunity to defend their title, but know, having lost to Sydney twice this season, that it will be a major task. The Sky Blues dominated the regular season encounters between the two, winning 2-0 back in October at Etihad Stadium, before drawing 0-0 in December.

The 2-0 success in the final round looked to give Sydney a clear psychological edge ahead of the finals, but an under-strength Melbourne responded superbly by winning 2-1 in the first leg of the major semi-final. An epic second leg went to extra time after Sydney prevailed 2-1, where Archie Thompson struck to book Melbourne a home Grand Final.

In the five weeks since that final match of the season, things have turned about completely. While back then, Melbourne was missing key personnel through injury and was wondering how it would gain the momentum back from Sydney, ahead of this match it is FC which has an injury crisis and needs to turn around things from that semi-final defeat.

At the selection table Marquee striker John Aloisi tore a hamstring in the 4-2 Preliminary Final win over Wellington, while veteran skipper Steve Corica was forced into retirement ahead of the finals with the same problems. It means Sydney must win the title without its two leaders, leaving Terry McFlynn to captain the side in this match.

Sydney has included Shannon Cole, who has had hamstring problems of his own and he will battle with former Victory defender Sebastian Ryall for the spot in defence. Joe Gibbs has been included in an extended squad, but is likely to miss out.

Melbourne has included three youngsters in its extended squad with Mate Dugandzic, Aziz Behich and Nathan Elasi all in, while Tom Pondeljak will be given a last-minute fitness test on his hamstring.

Archie Thompson, fully recovered from a broken bone in his foot, is set to make his first start since January, leaving coach Ernie Merrick with some reshuffling to do. Pondeljak's fitness battle may mean he misses out, with Nick Ward preferred in a midfield role, while Surat Sukha is likely to win a starting spot at the expense of Evan Berger.

The final spot on the bench is likely to be between versatile defender Matthew Foschini and Mate Dugandzic.

Danger men Melbourne has several lethal attacking players, but Johnny Warren Medallist Carlos Hernandez is the man Sydney will want to stop. Hernandez is deadly from both the dead ball and from open play and can score great goals and create them. Stuart Musialik has been used to negate him this season, and apart from the opening leg of the major semi-final has done a very useful job. Hernandez's weakness is his lack of pace, but his strength over the ball means that he can operate in limited space and can take pressure so to release the likes of Robbie Kruse and Archie Thompson.

Sydney's main attacking weapon this season has been Alex Brosque, who like Hernandez, can both score goals and set them up. Brosque is super quick and brings other players into the game with his clever passing and fast movement. He will kill you on the counter attack and if you try to block him out of the game, then Mark Bridge and Chris Payne come into the contest.

Where the game will be won These two teams both play superb counter attacking football, with Sydney happy to push its wide defenders forward in order to create a more dynamic attack. Melbourne tries to boss the middle of the park from end to end, starting with Kevin Muscat at the heart of the defence, right forward to the Archie Thompson up front.

Melbourne will attempt to grab hold of the tempo of the game early and use the excellent distribution of Muscat and Grant Brebner as a launching pad. The options going forward will be either Nick Ward's pace or Hernandez's strength and skill. Regardless, the ball always moves quickly through this midfield region, with an emphasis on quality delivery to Kruse and Thompson.

Sydney's attacking drive comes more from midfield, where Karol Kisel and Stuart Musialik will look to give Payne, Brosque and Bridge good use of the ball in attacking areas. If they can't get the space on the ball, then the full backs will overlap to give more options going forward. It will be then a matter of using the skill and speed of Brosque and Bridge can create opportunities.

Sydney is committed to its brand of football and while that discipline has served it well on many occasions this season, there is no obvious Plan B, if Plan A doesn't work. Melbourne holds more aces in that department, with many attacking options as well a greater emphasis of its players being able to play in multiple positions.

The result of this match is likely to be determined by which team is able to impose its style on the contest. The first goal is crucial. If Melbourne scores first, then it will be difficult for Sydney to be able to change its game plan enough to turn the match around, while if Sydney gets the opener, then it has the defensive capabilities to shut down the game. It will likely come down to a handful of chances and which team takes them.

Melbourne Victory squad: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3.Mate DUGANDZIC, 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.Marvin ANGULO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19. Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 25.Aziz BEHICH *three to be omitted*

In: Aziz BEHICH (promoted from NYL), Mate DUGANDZIC (promoted), Nathan ELASI (promoted)

Out: Nil

Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee - season), Matthew KEMP (knee - season), Nik MRDJA (suspended - 1 match)

Sydney FC squad: 1. Clint BOLTON (gk), 2. Sebastian RYALL 3. Stephan KELLER, 4.Simon COLOSIMO, 5. Hayden FOXE, 6. Karol KISEL, 7. Brendan GAN, 8. Stuart MUSIALIK, 12. Shannon COLE, 13. Antony GOLEC, 14. Alex BROSQUE, 15. Terry MCFLYNN (c), 16. Chris PAYNE,19. Mark BRIDGE, 20. Ivan NECEVSKI, 22. Sung-Hwan BYUN, 31. Joe GIBBS *one to be omitted*

In: Shannon COLE (returns from injury), Joe GIBBS (promoted)

Out: John ALOISI (hamstring - season)

Unavailable: Kofi DANNING (knee - season), Matthew JURMAN (foot - season), Steve Corica (hamstring - season), Rhyan GRANT (ankle - season), Adam CASEY (hamstring - indefinite), John ALOISI (hamstring)