Preview: Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC

Just when you think the relationship between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory couldn't get any more strained, Mark Milligan walks in and throws a spanner in the works.

Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC Date: Thursday 26 January, 2012 Kick-off: 4.00pm AEDT, 4.00pm local Venue: AAMI Park

Head-to-head Played: 22 Wins: Victory 7, Sydney 4, Draws: 11

Previous encounter Victory 0, Sydney 0, 8 October 2011

History: Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC opened the 2011/2012 campaign with one of the most highly-anticipated regular season clashes in Australian football history.

Brett Emerton and Harry Kewell, the competition's two new drawcards, squared off for the first time on home soil - but it was the goalkeepers who were the stars of this show.

Sydney's Liam Reddy was immense and Ante Covic proved why he was Victory's best signing of the off-season with a remarkable debut showing. Combined, their efforts meant the match finished in a 0-0 draw, which presents both sides with a neat little opportunity on Australia Day to get one over their bitter rivals for the first time this season.

Form: Past five matches: Victory: LLWDL Sydney: LLLDW

Summary of form:

You could comfortably say, based purely on the quality of the players in their front third, that Melbourne Victory have been the biggest disappointments of the season.

They head into the latest edition of the 'Big Blue' on the back of what has been labeled their worst performance in years, a 4-1 loss away to the kings of inconsistency, Perth Glory. That result leaves them four points out of the top six and only five points clear of bottom-placed Gold Coast United.

It also leaves new boss Jim Magilton with plenty of work to do to reverse their fortunes, and he knows it too - on Wednesday, he called Harry Kewell "naive" for diving and said Danny Allsopp would face internal discipline for his red card against the Glory.

Sydney come into this match still basking in the glow of their comeback win over Gold Coast at the SFS, but that fortunate 2-1 result masks how they're really going.

While their six-game winless run is no more and they have their "character" to thank for yet another come-from-behind win, the fact is the Sky Blues shouldn't be falling behind in the first place.

With a terrific centre-back pairing in Beauchamp and Bosschaart, one of the best playmakers in the competition in Carle, a right-sided midfielder in Emerton who could easily be playing EPL and an assortment of some of the nation's finest young talent, they should be right up there with the best. But they aren't.

Match Committee: Midfield maestro Carlos Hernandez should be fit to return to action on Thursday for Victory, and he'll be joined by Brazilian fullback Fabio (suspension expired) and perhaps even Mark Milligan, if his transfer papers go through in time. Danny Allsopp is suspended.

For Sydney, Brett Emerton should be right to go, having won his battle with an ankle injury to take the field against Gold Coast United - but Terry Antonis (hamstring) won't be.

Danger men: Harry Kewell - So, he dived against Perth. Maybe. Sort of, depending on your definition of diving. But the whole team is apparently "ashamed" after that shocking loss on the weekend, coach Jim Magilton says Kewell was "naive" for taking a tumble, and so the Melbourne Victory posterboy will have yet another point to prove on Australia Day.

He's looked OK in recent weeks but the "Big Blue" is one of the biggest stages the A-League has to offer, so it's time for him to turn it up and rescue Victory's season.

Mark Bridge - The 26-year-old has a history with Victory. He scored in the 2010 Grand Final against the Navy Blues, which Sydney of course went on to win on penalties. Last time he played Melbourne, he was red carded for elbowing Rodrigo Vargas in the throat and suspended for two games.

Most Sydney fans would have him down as their first name on the team sheet for the "Big Blue". This time, with both teams' seasons on the line, you can bet your bottom dollar on the fact that Bridge will once again be heavily involved.

At the end of the day… Just when you think the relationship between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory couldn't get any more strained, Mark Milligan walks in and throws a spanner in the works. Signed on loan to shore up Victory's leaky defence, if his papers come through he could play a big part on Australia Day.

But what sort of reception he gets, and how that affects his performance and the way the match unfolds, remains to be seen. Melbourne fans are hesitant to embrace a man who once wore the captain's armband for the Sky Blues. Sydney fans are fuming, saying Milligan will never be welcome again at the SFS for linking up with their bitter rivals.

Whatever the case, if he's cleared, he'll probably start - and that will add another intriguing dimension to a match that was already mouth-watering. Melbourne need a win to keep their finals hopes alive.

So do Sydney, but they're in a better position - victory over Victory will put them seven points clear of their most hated rivals and put them in the box seat for a top six spot.

With so much on the line, a capacity crowd at AAMI Park expected and the likelihood that Milligan will start, putting him right in the middle of all the passion and emotion - for all the build-up, don't be surprised if these two sides simply cancel each other out.