Road to the Grand Final: City and Sydney FC meet after vastly different journeys
Sydney FC and Melbourne City arrived at the same destination having taken very different routes to book their respective places in Sunday evening's Hyundai A-League Grand Final.
The Sky Blues approach the season decider having coasted to the Premiers Plate after a simply sublime opening to the campaign, in which they lost just one of their first 16 games.
City, meanwhile, relied on a four-game winning streak early in the campaign to survive a 13-game mid-season spell without recording back-to-back wins. Erick Mombaerts' side then staved off a raft of challengers to secure a second-placed finish, the club's best ever end to a campaign and a club-record points tally of 47.
Finally, the two best teams of the 2019/20 campaign survived stern Semi-Final tests to set up a blockbuster Grand Final at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday.
Read on to see how both Sydney FC and Melbourne City made their way to the Hyundai A-League's biggest game!
Sydney FC: End-of-season fade a minor blip on a supreme campaign
Sky Blues head coach Steve Corica won the Hyundai A-League Championship in his first season as a senior manager when Sydney FC edged Perth Glory to the 2018/19 title.
He backed up that performance by recruiting some of the best talent in the league, signalling his intent to go even better in 2019/20.
Alex Baumjohann arrived from Western Sydney Wanderers, Kosta Barbarouses made a stunning switch from Melbourne Victory and Josh Brillante traded places with Luke Brattan to join Corica's squad from Melbourne City.
Ryan McGowan's signing meant Alex Wilkinson had his Socceroos defensive partner from the 2014 FIFA World Cup by his side, and suddenly the Sky Blues had a squad seemingly more frightening than their Championship-winning side from the season before.
But early in the campaign Corica's side were handed a wake-up call by their bitter rivals.
In front of more than 28,000 fans, Western Sydney Wanderers dealt the Sky Blues a 1-0 defeat thanks to a Mitch Duke header which took them to the top of the table and pushed the Sky Blues to third.
From that loss, however, the Sky Blues came out firing and never looked back.
A pair of six-game winning streaks bookended a 2-2 draw with Wellington Phoenix in Round 11 as Sydney notched 12 wins out of 13 games to launch clear of the pack by mid-February.
The Harbour City outfit recorded two convincing wins over Melbourne Victory in that time and registered a 5-1 thrashing of Brisbane Roar in Round 9 when star marksman Adam Le Fondre netted three of his 21 goals of the season.
After the extended mid-season break due to the covid-19 pandemic, however, the Sky Blues emerged a sluggish outfit.
Just one regular season win over Wellington Phoenix was to accompany three losses and two draws as they limped toward the finishing line. Corica's side lost 2-1 to Newcastle Jets on July 21 but were handed the Premiers' Plate four days later when the Phoenix drew with Adelaide United, making it impossible for anyone to catch the league-leaders with four games to play.
But any concerns of a shock Finals Series exit were swept away when Sydney faced Perth Glory in the Semi-Final. First-half goals to Le Fondre and Milos Ninkovic wrapped up a comfortable 2-0 win which sent the Sky Blues through to the Grand Final.
After winning a record-breaking fourth Hyundai A-League Premiers' Plate, Sydney FC an now make more history when they play in their sixth Grand Final on Sunday – the equal most of any side in the competition's history – with the chance to become just the second side to win back-to-back Championships and grasp sole ownership of the total Championships record of five titles.
READ: ‘It's not enough to reach the final’ – history-maker Mombaerts demands more from City
Melbourne City: A breakout season in a bold new era
Melbourne City have copped criticism aplenty throughout their existence in the Hyundai A-League for living off of the promise of an enormous potential which has never been fulfilled.
But under new head coach Erick Mombaerts, City have managed to turn that potential into a prolonged spell of convincing on-field performances, leading to a club-best points tally and table position by the season's end.
City began the new campaign with a draw against Melbourne Victory before stringing four consecutive wins together to take top spot on the Hyundai A-League ladder.
Jamie Maclaren – who joined the club ahead of the 2019/20 campaign – won the Golden Boot with 22 goals for the regular season, largely thanks to his form to begin the campaign. In his first four games of the season, Maclaren scored three braces and a hat-trick to take his tally to nine goals by Round 7.
His treble came in the first half of City's Round 6 clash with Brisbane Roar, which they led 3-0 at half-time before Roy O'Donovan hit back with a hat-trick of his own in the second half, and an Aaron Amadi-Holloway strike gave the Roar an unlikely 4-3 win in one of the more manic and memorable games of the season.
A superb 4-0 win over Newcastle Jets in Round 10 made the league take notice of City's progress but their inconsistency continued to show until they strung two consecutive wins together against Perth and Brisbane in Rounds 21 and 22.
Then, while the Sky Blues faltered after the restart, City excelled.
City have won three times and drawn just once since their move to the Sydney hub, including a 2-0 win over the Sky Blues on August 1 and an impressive victory over Western United by the same scoreline in the Semi-Final.
Against any other opponent from the top six, Corica's Sydney FC outfit would be supremely confident of their ability to claim their fifth Hyundai A-League Championship. But with a trophy-hungry City standing in their way, there's truly no knowing how the highly-anticipated Grand Final is going to play out.
Hyundai A-League Grand Final 2020
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