Special Melbourne Derby awaits
The Melbourne Derby has rarely failed to disappoint in its short Hyundai A-League history but there's a special feeling heading into Saturday night's blockbuster.
The Melbourne Derby has rarely failed to disappoint in its short A-League history but there's a special feeling heading into Saturday night's blockbuster at AAMI Park.
It's hard to remember a time in the last four seasons when both clubs have headed into the fixture in such strong form domestically.
While Melbourne Victory will need to pick themselves up from Wednesday night's 4-2 Asian Champions League defeat to Guangzhou Evergrande in China, in the A-League they are most certainly on the up.
Kevin Muscat's side are up to third on the back of a three-game unbeaten run and are starting to find the back of the net more regularly.
But even that run of form pales into insignificance compared to their cross-town rivals.
Melbourne Heart may still be propping up the rest of the league at the bottom of the ladder but things are much healthier compared to this time six weeks ago.
Un-backable favourites for the dreaded wooden-spoon this time last month, John van 't Schip's troops are now the form team of the competition and a realistic chance for a finals berth.
Five wins and a draw since the Dutchman took over six weeks ago – as well as the takeover by Manchester City - has certainly lifted the mood around the Red and White side of Melbourne.
It's for that reason why - despite failing to win any of the last four derby matches – they head into this one as warm favourites.
And as the stats show, it's hard to argue with that.
Heading into the last derby in December, the Heart hadn't won in 15 games and there was a heap of pressure and uncertainty over the future of then-coach John Aloisi.
The feeling around the club and their side of the city was toxic.
But this time they are enjoying a four-game winning streak, including a superb 1-0 success over league-leaders Brisbane last weekend.
Confidence is high and their fans will head to AAMI Park on Saturday with expectation of victory and claiming another big scalp rather than just hoping for it.
It's not just the results that have been impressive but the way van 't Schip has got his side playing, with marquee man Orlando Engelaar, mercurial striker David Williams and a more resolute defence playing a huge part.
On the flipside, it will be interesting to see just how much the gruelling trip to China takes out of the Victory.
They will be playing their third game in a week and will arrive back in Melbourne late on Thursday, giving them less than two days to prepare for their in-form neighbours.
Muscat will not only need to find a way to freshen up his side but also rid them of the demons that would have arisen from a nightmare second half in the ACL.
Defensively the Victory still seem to have major problems.
Nathan Coe has no clean sheets in 2014 appears to be terribly out of sorts while they have conceded seven goals in the last few days against Adelaide and Guangzhou respectively.
But their attack is starting to bear it's teeth with Archie Thompson, James Troisi, Gui Finkler and injury-doubt Tom Rogic starting to build a tasty combination.
With the Victory still hoping to catch Western Sydney Wanderers for a crucial top-two spot and the Heart chasing a finals berth, this derby has the added lustre of having a significant say on the success of each club's season.
It all adds up to what promises to be a Melbourne Derby to remember.
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory Saturday, 1 March 2014 AAMI Park, Melbourne Kick-off: 7:45pm AEDT