Preview: Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC

The top two teams on the table face off in a Friday night thriller at Etihad Stadium in an evening to celebrate the cultural diversity of the two cities they represent.

Date: Friday October 9 Kick-off: 8:00pm AEDT Venue: Etihad Stadium TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 1 HD and Sky Sport 2. Hyundai A-League club broadcast partner is 774 ABC Melbourne. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketmaster.com

Head-to-head Played: 12. Wins: Melbourne 5, Sydney 2. Draws: 5

Previous meeting Melbourne Victory 3, Sydney FC 2, Etihad Stadium, Round 17, December 2008

Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: Round 5: Melbourne Victory 1, Newcastle Jets 1, Etihad Stadium Round 6: Melbourne Victory 1, Wellington Phoenix 1, Etihad Stadium Round 7: Adelaide United 0, Melbourne Victory 2, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 8: Gold Coast United 2, Melbourne Victory 3, Skilled Park Round 9: Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney FC 1, Etihad Stadium

Sydney FC: Round 5: Gold Coast United 2, Sydney FC 1, Skilled Park Round 6: Sydney FC 0, North Queensland 1, Sydney Football Stadium Round 7: Sydney FC 2, Newcastle Jets 1, Sydney Football Stadium Round 8: Brisbane Roar 1, Sydney FC 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 9: Sydney FC 1, Central Coast Mariners 0, Sydney Football Stadium

Analysis: The top two teams on the table face off in a Friday night thriller at Etihad Stadium in an evening to celebrate the cultural diversity of the two cities they represent. The U-NITE concept is designed to bring all cultures together under the banner of football and given the diversity of backgrounds of the players from both sides, it should represent the positive influence that multiculturalism has had on the game and visa versa.

But the pre-match festivities aside, there will be little room for the warm-fuzzy feelings when these two rivals battle it out for top spot on the table. Melbourne has quite a few major rivals, but Sydney ranks right up there, with the two teams having fought out some epic battles over the years.

Arguably the best of them was their most recent clash in December last year when Sydney took a 2-0 lead inside the first three minutes only for Melbourne to rally back and win 3-2. From that point, the Victory never looked back, charging to their second championship success, while Sydney missed the finals.

But a lot has changed since that day, with Sydney appointing a new coach, Vitezslav Lavicka, who has given the side more defensive accountability. As a result, Sydney is now top of the table having conceded just seven goals in nine games. The three games the Sky Blues have lost have all been by just the one goal, while only one of their five wins has been by more than a one-goal margin.

What Lavicka has achieved is ironing out the inconsistencies that plagued the Sydney team over the past couple of years. While there are those who may criticise the fact that Sydney is not playing the most free-flowing football, the Czech coach has had to do without his marquee man, John Aloisi, for the past couple of weeks, while Kofi Danning, who set the Sky Blues alight earlier in the season, has been on national duty. Both of those players are set to return for this match, while the extended squad also contains Rhyan Grant, Matthew Jurman and Brendan Gan. Chris Payne misses out.

Terry McFlynn returned to the side last week after a few weeks off and he scored the winning goal against the Mariners, again proving a lucky charm for his side. Sydney has not lost a game this year when the Northern Irishman has been in the side.

Melbourne has recovered from its worst start over the first six rounds in its history to post three consecutive wins over Adelaide and Gold Coast away and Brisbane at home. The win over the Roar's was significant in that it broke a run of four consecutive home games without a victory. It was a hard fought success which demonstrated that Melbourne is more than just an attacking side. Adrian Leijer bobbed up with the goal, becoming the seventh different goalscorer for the club in the past three games. That's a good sign for a club which has be criticised for relying on its strikers too much.

The big boost for Melbourne in this match is having Carlos Hernandez available after he was overlooked for selection for Costa Rica. While it may be a set-back for his World Cup ambitions, he will be much-needed to break down the stubborn Sydney defence.

Melbourne has brought back Evan Berger into the squad and he is likely to take Mate Dugandzic's spot on the bench, while Nathan Elasi returns from Egypt to take a spot in the extended squad along with Matthew Foschini. The club's injury list sees fringe players Steven Pace and Mathew Theodore out for the next couple of weeks, Nick Ward out indefinitely with an infection, and Billy Celeski's season finished.

This will be a fascinating clash of styles, with Melbourne looking to break down Sydney's stubborn defence and put together four successive wins in a regular season for the first time since early in the 2006-07 season.

Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3.Mate DUGANDZIC, 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.NEY FABIANO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19.Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 23.Adrian LEIJER *three to be omitted*

In: Evan BERGER (promoted), Nathan ELASI (return from international duty), Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted) Out: Nil Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee - indefinite), Steven PACE (calf - 3 weeks), Mathew THEODORE (glute - 2 weeks), Nick WARD (infection - indefinite)

Sydney FC squad: 1. Clint BOLTON (gk), 2. Sebastian RYALL, 3. Stephan KELLER, 4. Simon COLOSIMO, 6. Karol KISEL, 7. Brendan GAN, 8. Stuart MUSIALIK, 9. John ALOISI, 10. Steve CORICA (c), 11. Kofi DANNING, 12. Shannon COLE, 13. Antony GOLEC, 14. Alex BROSQUE, 15. Terry MCFLYNN, 17. Matthew JURMAN, 19. Mark BRIDGE, 20. Ivan NECEVSKI (gk), 22. Sung Hwan BYUN, 23. Rhyan GRANT. *four to be omitted*

In: Brendan GAN (returns from illness), John ALOISI (returns from injury), Kofi DANNING (returns from international duty), Matthew JURMAN (returns from international duty), Rhyan GRANT (returns from international duty) Out: Chris PAYNE (not selected)