Merrick v Muscat: the Hyundai A-League 2018 Grand Final coaching battle
It's Merrick v Muscat, again.
Saturday night's mouth-watering Hyundai A-League 2018 Grand Final not only pits two evenly matched sides against one another, it's also the latest incarnation of a bubbling coaching rivalry between Ernie Merrick and Kevin Muscat.
With Merrick as coach and Muscat captain, Melbourne Victory won the Hyundai A-League Premiership / Championship double in 2006/07 and again in 2008/09 as well as reaching a third Grand Final together in 2009/10.
After serving as Victory assistant under Merrick and three other coaches, Muscat took charge at the start of the Hyundai A-League 2013/14 season with the club making the top six in each of his five seasons in charge, while this is Victory's third trip to the Grand Final in the last four years.
Merrick took the reins at Wellington in 2013/14, and returned them to the Hyundai A-League finals series in 2014/15.
After resigning from his role at the Phoenix after eight games of last season, Merrick took charge at Newcastle this season, guiding them to finals football for the first time in seven years and a first ever home Grand Final.
Merrick has coached more Hyundai A-League games (269) than anyone else, while Muscat will move to fifth on the all-time list during the Grand Final with 143 matches in charge.
HEAD TO HEAD
The pair have coached against each other 13 times, with Muscat overseeing eight wins and Merrick five.
In those games, Muscat's Victory sides have scored 30 goals while Merrick's charges have netted 22 times.
Merrick's teams have been kept scoreless three times while Muscat's sides have also failed to score on three occasions.
Both have enjoyed one big win over the other; Phoenix beat Victory 5-0 in January 2013, while Victory handed Wellington a 6-1 hiding on Halloween night in 2016.
The duo have never before faced off in a Hyundai A-League finals match.
Muscat's Victory love to press their opponents, looking to force mistakes high up the pitch and then punishing those mistakes with lightning-quick counter-attacks.
The Victory mentor favours a 4-2-3-1 system with Carl Valeri and Terry Antonis anchoring midfield and pacy attackers Leroy George and Kosta Barbarouses supporting Besart Berisha at the point of the side's attack with James Troisi sitting just in behind.
Merrick has always been an attack-minded coach, giving his players license to get forward quickly and often, even if they hold a comfortable lead.
His preferred system is 4-3-3 which asks a lot of his midfielder holder (this season Steven Ugarkovic), but allows dangerous five-man attacks when the opportunity presents itself, featuring the likes of Ronald Vargas, Dimi Petratos, Riley McGree and Roy O'Donovan.
It would be hard to imagine two more diametrically opposed sideline coaching styles than those employed by these two.
Muscat is a vociferous presence, passionately pleading his side's case when refereeing calls go against them and not afraid of directing expletive-laden outbursts at his own (and opposition) players when the situation requires it.
Merrick on the other hand could well be sitting on a park bench watching a local league game such is his calmness, best evidenced by his almost total non-reaction to Riley McGree's sensational equaliser in last weekend’s semi-final.