Preview: Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
Sydney and Melbourne renew acquaintances and face off for the third time in as many matches on Sunday in a clash which will determine who hosts the Hyundai A-League Grand Final.
Date: Sunday March 7 Kick-off: 5:00pm AEDT Venue: Sydney Football Stadium
Head-to-head Played 16: Melbourne Victory 6, Sydney FC 4, Draws 6
Previous Meeting Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney FC 1,February 2010, Etihad Stadium
Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: Round 19: Melbourne Victory 4, Wellington Phoenix 0, Etihad Stadium Round 25: Gold Coast United 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Skilled Park Round 26: Melbourne Victory 2, North Queensland Fury 0, Etihad Stadium Round 27: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney Football Stadium MSF - 1st Leg: Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney FC 1, Etihad Stadium
Sydney FC: Round 24: Newcastle Jets 1, Sydney FC 3, Energy Australia Stadium Round 25: Brisbane Roar 1, Sydney FC 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 26: Sydney FC 3, Perth Glory 2, Sydney Football Stadium Round 27: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney Football Stadium MSF - 1st Leg: Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney FC 1, Etihad Stadium
Analysis: Sydney and Melbourne renew acquaintances and face off for the third time in as many matches on Sunday in a clash which will determine who hosts the Hyundai A-League Grand Final.
Melbourne holds a 2-1 advantage from the first leg, but a 1-0 win or any two-goal margin for Sydney and it will be the Sky Blues hosting their first Grand Final since 2006. Any other result is good enough for Etihad Stadium to feature as Grand Final host for the third time in four seasons.
The opening leg was dominated by Melbourne, which benefitted greatly from the return of skipper Kevin Muscat. With his direction from the back, Victory looked a more stable unit and were able to press forward with confidence. Carlos Hernandez was highly influential, scoring the second goal, while Nik Mrdja used his strength to create and score the first goal. Mrdja won't feature this time around with his elbow on Shannon Cole earning him a two-week suspension.
John Aloisi's away goal late in the first half could prove crucial for Sydney. While there was an element of fortune about the deflected shot, it has given Sydney a lifeline in the tie. The two-week break since the last game has allowed Mark Bridge to recover from torn ligaments which have sidelined him since January, while Sebastian Ryall is also back in.
In a match where Sydney must score goals, Alex Brosque is also available after withdrawing from Socceroos duties during the week because his wife was about to give birth. The arrival of Brosque's daughter means that Bridge is likely to be played off the bench.
Cole is in some doubt after tweaking a hamstring when making his Socceroos debut during the week, while Iain Ramsey and Sam Munro have made way for Bridge and Ryall.
Sydney will take confidence from its performance against Melbourne at the SFS in the final game of the season, where the Premiers' Plate was decided.
In that match, the Sky Blues dominated the midfield, cut Hernandez completely out of the game and scored two great goals from Karol Kisel and Aloisi. The performances of Kisel and Stuart Musialik will be key to Sydney's success. Without the injured Steve Corica, Sydney needs a midfield boss and that pair will be responsible for stepping up in his absence.
Melbourne's biggest concern remains its lack of fit strikers. Archie Thompson and Robbie Kruse have been named in an extended squad but they face a race against time to be fit after both missing the first leg with foot and ankle injuries respectively. Nathan Elasi and Mate Dugandzic have been included as well and if neither of the senior strikers plays, one will most likely start the game.
The euphoria of the win over Sydney was tempered somewhat by an underwhelming and uncharacteristic Melbourne performance in the opening match of its Asian Champions League campaign last Tuesday. Melbourne lost 1-0 to Beijing Guoan and only a couple of players had strong games.
Evan Berger picked up an ankle injury in that match and is touch-and-go for this encounter, while Surat Sukha will be monitored after returning from his international duties with Thailand during the week.
Also looming large is the ACL match against Korean side Seongnam Ilhwa just two days after this match. Melbourne has already flagged it will use less-experienced players in that encounter with its immediate focus on securing a home Grand Final and the spot in the 2011 ACL that goes with it.
Melbourne has also insisted it won't alter its attacking style of play in order to play for a draw in this match. While that result would be good enough to get the defending champions straight through, coach Ernie Merrick views it as playing with fire.
It will be a fascinating match and yet another preview to what most people believe will be the eventual Grand Final match-up.
Sydney FC squad: 1. Clint BOLTON (gk), 2. Sebastian RYALL 3. Stephan KELLER, 4.Simon COLOSIMO, 5. Hayden FOXE, 6. Karol KISEL, 7. Brendan GAN, 8. Stuart MUSIALIK, 9. John ALOISI (c), 12. Shannon COLE, 13. Antony GOLEC,14. Alex BROSQUE, 15. Terry MCFLYNN, 16. Chris PAYNE,19. Mark BRIDGE, 20. Ivan NECEVSKI, 22. Sung-Hwan BYUN *one to be omitted*
In: Mark BRIDGE, Sebastian RYALL
Out: Sam MUNRO, Iain RAMSAY
Unavailable: Kofi DANNING (knee - season), Matthew JURMAN (foot - season), Steve Corica (hamstring - season), Ryhan GRANT (Ankle - season), Adam CASEY (Hamstring - indefinite)
Melbourne Victory squad: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3.Mate DUGANDZIC, 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.Marvin ANGULO, 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, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 25.Aziz BEHICH *Three to be omitted*
In: Mate DUGANDZIC (promoted), Nathan ELASI (promoted), Robbie KRUSE (returns from injury), Archie THOMPSON (returns from injury)
Out: Nik MRDJA (suspended, 2 matches)
Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Matthew KEMP (knee, season)