In front of a projected 30-40,000 crowd, the two Melbourne clubs will meet in what promises to be a passionate encounter.
Date: Saturday February 2, 2013 Kick-off: 7.45pm AEST, 7.45 local Venue: Etihad Stadium Head-to-head Played: 8 Wins: Melbourne Victory 2, Melbourne Heart 3, Draws: 3
Previous encounter Melbourne Heart 1-2 Melbourne Victory, 22 December 2012
Form: Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: WWDWL Melbourne Heart: LWLWW
The Game In front of a projected 30-40,000 crowd, the two Melbourne clubs will meet in what promises to be a passionate encounter. The blue side of Melbourne has been in good form of late and is second in the standings, five points behind leaders Central Coast. Heart have lost two of their past three and are in sixth position with bottom-of-the-table Wellington only four points behind.
Victory could play an unchanged line-up after their comfortable 3-1 win over Sydney FC on Australia Day. New signing Francesco Stella appeared in the final 14 minutes of that game and now it could be the turn of fellow signing Jesse Makarounas, who impressed in the Youth League last weekend.
With the departures of Vince Grella (retirement) and Aziz Behich (Bursaspor), the Melbourne Heart squad will become even more stretched, particularly with the absences of captain Fred (quad) and Simon Colosimo (calf). Young full-back Sam Mitchinson could replace Behich while 17-year-old Ben Garuccio is an option to play. Returning striker Eli Babalj played 31 minutes against the Wanderers and may be ready to start the derby.
The big issue
Victory - Can Ange Postecoglou's men overcome Heart's stifling forward press? The past two derbies, which saw each side register a win, have been notable for the excellent press initiated by John Aloisi that attempts to put pressure on the Victory defenders playing out from the back. This tactic dominated the first derby in Round 1 and while a late Archie Thompson goal clinched the last clash in December, Heart's tactic again restricted the effectiveness of Victory's game plan. If Victory can navigate their way through the opening exchanges, space should eventually open up for Marco Rojas, Marcos Flores and Thompson.
Heart - Will Heart lift again for Melbourne's biggest football clash? Since their Hyundai A-League debut, Heart have always acquitted themselves well in the derbies and their season could ride on another big performance. They will have significant amounts of experience missing from their side with Fred, Colosimo, Behich and Grella all unavailable. Aloisi will be hoping the injection of youth into the team, with players such as Mitchinson, Garuccio, Jeremy Walker and David Vrankovic all in selection reckoning, will spur the side on to a good performance.
Gamebreaker Marco Rojas - Arguably the in-form player of the competition this season, the young Kiwi attacker has hit 12 goals- an extraordinary return considering he went goalless last year. Young right-back Walker will have his hands full with the talented 21-year-old and if Rojas can get on top of the inexperienced defender, we may see a match-winning performance.
Prediction: Melbourne Victory 3-1 Melbourne Heart
A full-strength Heart line-up is capable of beating any team in the competition but the inexperienced squad may struggle to rise to the big occasion. Aloisi-s side will be boosted by the likely start of Eli Babalj and the powerful striker will cause the Victory defence problems if they are not on their game. Heart will try and exploit 18-year-old central defender Nick Ansell, but the youngster has acquitted himself well in his seven appearances this season. Marcos Flores will endure a tough time in advanced midfield with tough-tackling pair Matt Thompson and Jonathan Germano snapping at his heels. It will be a good test of Flores' credentials as he has endured a mixed season, but his class should shine through in a Victory win.