‘It’s likely he’ll start: Honda ready for Melbourne Derby furnace
As if Melbourne City’s poor Hyundai A-League form wasn’t concerning enough, they are likely to come up against Melbourne Victory marquee man Keisuke Honda from the start in Saturday night’s derby at Marvel Stadium.
The Japanese playmaker has come off the bench in Victory’s last two matches following his long lay-off with a mystery hamstring injury.
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With those match minutes under his belt as well as a large chunk of training minutes over the last month, Honda is likely to be unleashed from the start against City.
"We've managed to get some good minutes into him in the last few weeks. He’s been training the whole week with the group for the last four weeks,” Victory boss Kevin Muscat told reporters on Friday.
“It's pretty likely that he'll start.
"He's at the point where he feels he can contribute more than he has been in terms of minutes.”
While Victory are nine points behind league-leaders Perth Glory, they head into this clash in good shape with the return of a few key players.
Among those is Swedish striker Ola Toivonen, who has missed the last three games with a cork.
While it’s unclear if he’ll come straight back into the starting XI, Muscat admits the return of some big-name stars has lifted the mood around the club.
"Everybody is available bar Carl Valeri who is very close...he's at the back end of his rehab," Muscat said.
"We've got a healthy list to choose from. Training this week has been a breath of fresh air, training with a larger group, the quality has lifted and the intensity lifts with competition for places."
Victory has yet to record a win against their City rivals, losing the Round 1 clash at Marvel Stadium 2-1, before the pre-Christmas derby ended all square.
But since then Warren Joyce’s men have endured a tumultuous period, managing just one win in their last six games to slip to fifth spot.
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The downturn in form has led to speculation of Joyce’s future and suggestions it could be a fired-up City that Muscat’s men could face on Saturday night.
"It's impossible for me to guess what they're thinking, what their mentality and attitude is like," the Victory boss said.
"If you go by history you've got a fair idea. It’s not something I focus on, our attitude is the most important thing to me.
"It's great to be involved in another [derby]. They've produced - not only over this campaign - over many campaigns a lot of excitement.
“It’s a reason why so many fans come out for this game. It’s special to them, it’s special to me and it’s special to this football club."