Grand Final rematch: what's changed since for Glory and Sky Blues?
It's been some time since Sydney FC travelled to Perth as underdogs ahead of the 2018/19 Grand Final and returned home as Champions.
The stakes were high on that night in May, 2019 when they faced the fancied Perth Glory, and it will be no different when the two teams meet in a Semi-Final on Wednesday night to decide who progresses to face either Melbourne City or Western United in Sunday afternoon's Grand Final.
Ahead of the do-or-die Semi-Final clash, we've taken a look back to the the lay of the land when these sides met in the 2018/19 Hyundai A-League Grand Final to answer the question: what's changed since for Glory and the Sky Blues?
Perth Glory: once the hunted, now the hunter
The Tony Popovic revolution took hold immediately after his instalment as Head Coach ahead of the 2018/19 campaign as Perth took the Hyundai A-League by storm.
Glory claimed top spot in Round 4 and held it until the end of the season, securing the Premiers' Plate in convincing fashion.
A shootout win over Adelaide United in a dramatic Semi-Final sent Popovic's side into the Grand Final to meet the Sky Blues, led by Steve Corica in his first season as Head Coach.
The hallmark of Popovic's side all season long was the performance of his star-studded defensive unit, which was reflected in a Grand Final starting line-up oozing with class.
Socceroos Ivan Franjic, Matthew Spiranovic and Jason Davidson joined veteran Dino Djulbic and Shane Lowry in a back five which featured three centre halves and two attacking full-backs who would bombard down the flanks into attacking areas for 90 minutes week-in, week-out.
The familiar duo of Neil Kilkenny and Juande anchored the middle of the park but one player's name surprised all on the team sheet that night: Joel Chianese, who scored the winning penalty in the Semi-Finals, started ahead of Andy Keogh alongside Diego Castro and Chris Ikonomidis up front.
Keogh replaced the goalless Chianese after 73 minutes and went on to miss his penalty in the shootout as the Sky Blues ran out 0-0 (4-1) victors and win their fourth Hyundai A-League Championship.
Perth approach the 2019/20 Semi-Finals with a lot of fresh faces who didn't experience Grand Final heartbreak last season.
In Keogh's place sits Bruno Fornaroli, Perth's shining light in the notable absence of Castro and Ikonomidis in the front third.
Franjic is a familiar face from Popovic's fabled defensive line in 2018/19; Tomislav Mrcela, Alex Grant, the experienced Tarek Elrich, Jacob Tratt, Osama Malik and James Meredith have all rotated through the defensive line in front of Reddy with Dane Ingham displaying exciting form down the left flank.
Kristian Popovic has made himself a regular in the starting line-up of late and is likely to link up with Jake Brimmer and Kilkenny against the Sky Blues, with Juande playing a deeper role between midfield and defence.
It's a new-look Glory squad approaching the Semi-Finals in very different circumstances to last season: from sixth place instead of first, chasing the Sky Blues down instead of fending them off, and relying on the impact of new faces in an era largely dominated by the individual brilliance of the absent Castro.
Grand Final starting XI: Liam Reddy (GK), Dino Djulbic, Matthew Spiranovic, Shane Lowry, Ivan Franjic, Jason Davidson, Neil Kilkenny, Juande, Joel Chianese, Chris Ikonomidis, Diego Castro.
Predicted Semi-Final XI: Liam Reddy (GK), Ivan Franjic, Tomislav Mrcela, Tarek Elrich, Dane Ingham, Juande, Jake Brimmer, Neil Kilkenny, Kristian Popovic, Joel Chianese, Bruno Fornaroli.
Sydney FC: back to the top for trophy-hungry Sky Blues
Corica made his intentions clear in his off-season recruitment drive: he wasn't willing to let last season's Championship affect his hunger for success as the Sky Blues boss.
Sydney were ruthless in plucking Kosta Barbarouses from Melbourne Victory, Alexander Baumjohann from Western Sydney Wanderers and Luke Brattan from Melbourne City.
Throw in Socceroos defender Ryan McGowan and Corica had more than enough firepower at his disposal to deal with some key departures including club legend Alex Brosque, midfielders Brandon O'Neill and Josh Brillante and international stars Siem de Jong and Reza Ghoochannejhad - who scored the winning penalty against Perth in the 2018/19 Grand Final.
The two-pronged attack of Barbarouses and Adam le Fondre has garnered 28 goals for the season to date (le Fondre 20, Barbarouses 8) and will pose a challenge to Popovic's defence to contain on Wednesday night.
Both le Fondre and Barbarouses joined Ninkovic on the scoresheet in a 3-1 win over Perth in November.
Last season the Sky Blues laid their ambitions bare when they wreaked havoc on Melbourne Victory in a Semi-Final showdown, running rampant in a 6-1 win which issued a warning to Perth of their desire to reach and ultimately win the Grand Final.
They approached that contest with just one loss in five games but this season Corica's side head into their bout with Perth without a win in five - their shaky form offers Perth a glimmer of hope but in a contest between first and sixth Sydney will have every confidence they can prove to be Perth's demise once again.
Grand Final starting XI: Andrew Redmayne (GK), Michael Zullo, Aaron Calver, Alex Wilkinson, Rhyan Grant, Joshua Brillante, Brandon O'Neill, Milos Ninkovic, Siem de Jong, Adam le Fondre, Alex Brosque (C).
Predicted Semi-Final XI: Andrew Redmayne (GK), Michael Zullo, Alex Wilkinson, Ryan McGowan, Rhyan Grant, Alexander Baumjohann, Milos Ninkovic, Antony Caceres, Luke Brattan, Adam le Fondre, Kosta Barbarouses.
Sydney FC v Perth Glory
When: Wednesday, August 26
Kick-off: 8.10pm AEST
Venue: Bankwest Stadium
Broadcast: FOX Sports 507
Stream: MyFootball Live App, Kayo Sports
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