Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory: Who will win?

Traditional rivals Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory meet at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, so let the banter and analysis begin with our two experts Iain Strachan and John Greco.

VIDEO: Round 16 goals blitz

The two teams couldn't be separated in their first two meetings this season, drawing 0-0 in the Harbour City and 3-3 in the return bout.

They both go into this game on the back of convincing wins at home to Melbourne City FC and away to Glory respectively, although Graham Arnold's men will be hurt by suspensions after going down to nine men at nib Stadium.

Ahead of the big clash, our experts pick their likely winner and argue the case for one side to bag three, potentially vital, points.

Melbourne based Goal.com editor Iain Strachan and Sydney-based  www.a-league.com.au  chief reporter John Greco discuss the finer points of this huge Round 17 clash.

Melbourne Victory - Iain Strachan

RESULT: Melbourne Victory 3-0 Melbourne City

Strengths

Victory's attacking talent naturally draws a lot of attention. They are the league's leading scorers and represent a threat to every defence in the competition, with centre-forward Besart Berisha deadly in front of goal.

Guilherme Finkler is a genuine rival to Marcelo Carrusca and Thomas Broich for the title of the league's best playmaker and in Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Kosta Barbarouses they have two of the most consistent and threatening wide attackers.

Veteran marksman Archie Thompson is handy to have in reserve, too.

With so much focus on the forward line, it's easy to forget just how good Victory's midfield is. Mark Milligan and Carl Valeri are likely to be reunited for this clash, which is harsh on Leigh Broxham, who has proven himself to be a more than capable understudy to either of the two Australia internationals.

The battle for possession with Milos Dimitrijevic and Terry Antonis, should the latter start for the Sky Blues, promises to be gripping.

Weaknesses

You don't need to be a professional scout or tactical genius to realise Victory's biggest problem is at the back. They're second on the table and only one point behind league leaders Perth Glory, but have only the third tightest defence in the competition.

That's still not bad, but it could be better and may need to be if they are to claim silverware this season.

Jason Geria, Scott Galloway and Daniel Georgievski are all good attacking fullbacks that can sometimes we found wanting defensively, while the absence of experienced centre-back Matthieu Delpierre since the Westfield FFA Cup quarter-final loss away to Glory in October has been felt. 

The Frenchman's impressive early form looked like going some way to solving the Big V's lapses at the back, particularly at set-pieces, but mistakes continue to be made by Adrian Leijer and Nick Ansell, as evidenced in the late capitulation to draw 3-3 in Perth last month.

What has to go right 

The recipe for a Victory win in Sydney is simple - control possession, create and take chances while staying switched on at the back. They got the first bit wrong and the second part right in Round 6 and vice versa in December. 

Prediction

A reinforced Sydney showed what they can do by thumping Central Coast and following it up with a unexpected victory away to Glory last time out.

But they'll be weakened by suspensions and possibly at a physical disadvantage after making the long trip to Western Australia.

I’m going for Victory to shade it in a tight, entertaining encounter.

Sydney FC - John Greco

RESULT: Perth Glory 1-3 Sydney FC

Strengths

As you’d know, Stracho, games aren’t played on paper. 

But the Sky Blues are in red-hot form with eight goals on the road in two great away wins (5-1 over Central Coast and 3-1 over Glory).

Given their lack of troops at the back, Sydney’s best form of defence could be to attack the visitors and use the experience and class of their key players in the attacking third of the pitch.

In Marc Janko, Bernie Ibini, Alex Brosque, Shane Smeltz and Chris Naumoff they have the type of firepower which has the firepower to not only rival Victory’s star-studded attack but put their – at times – vulnerable defence under pressure.

Struggling for goals prior to the Asian Cup break, the Sky Blues have broken the shackles over the last fortnight with all their key attacking stars contributing.

Weaknesses

The suspensions of first-choice centre-backs Jacques Faty and Nikola Petkovic leaves a chasm-like hole in the Sydney FC defence.

Coach Graham Arnold will have to call on a new-look partnership for this one, with the returning Sebastian Ryall likely to partner Matt Jurman in the heart of defence. Ryall loves playing Victory – his former club – evidenced by his impressive goal-scoring record against the Big V.

Youngster Aaron Calver – who has done well at right-back over the last fortnight – is another option but it would be a big call to ask him to mark-up on Besart Berisha in such a big game.

While Ryall and Jurman have won Hyundai A-League titles and plenty of experience, they have rarely played in recent weeks and could be underdone and lack match-fitness and awareness, not ideal preparation against a rampant Victory attack.

What has to go right 

While both sides are blessed with some exceptional attacking talent, it’s the midfield battle which looms as the key to victory in this one.

Victory are boosted by the return of skipper and Socceroo Mark Milligan in the engine-room. It makes Graham Arnold’s decision on what he does with his midfield even more important. With Terry Antonis back on deck after the Asian Cup, it will be interesting to see how Arnold fits the youngster in with Milos Dimitrijevic and Mickael Tavares.

Arnold might look to keep one on the bench and stick with skipper Alex Brosque in the “no.10” or play all three in the middle of the park and shift Brosque to the left wing at the expense of youngster Chris Naumoff.

The Sky Blues boss must get the balance right in the midfield or the home side might find themselves on the back foot for much of the contest, which would spell disaster against the free-scoring Victory.

Prediction

The long winless run that hurt the Sky Blues before the Asian Cup is now a distant memory, with a much more positive atmosphere around the Moore Park club since the Hyundai A-League’s resumption.

Graham Arnold’s side are over their slump and heading towards the finals in a confident mood. While their home form has been poor recently, I can see the Sky Blues doing enough to get at least a draw against their fierce rivals from down south, with Janko to continue his good goal-scoring form with a trademark header in a 1-1 or 2-2 draw.