There have been some epic battles between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory over 10 seasons and Saturday night’s clash at Allianz Stadium promises more of the same from the two in-form powerhouses.
Both sides have designs on winning the championship and a win this weekend would be a crucial step in helping realise that.
We look at the crucial match-ups around the park that could determine who comes out on top in this battle between two of the competition’s fiercest rivals.
Seb Ryall v Besart Berisha
There is bound to be fireworks at some point between these two fiery characters.
Ryall often saves his best for games against his former club and he will need to have one of those trademark big games again on Saturday as the prolific Berisha comes to town.
Sydney FC’s defensive depth is about to be tested with both first-choice centre-backs Jacques Faty and Nikola Petkovic to miss this one through suspension.
Therefore the return of Ryall from injury comes at the perfect time for Sky Blues coach Graham Arnold.
Berisha has a great record against Sydney FC and has a big appetite for delivering in big games, scoring one and setting up another in the 3-0 demolition of neighbours Melbourne City last weekend.
Terry Antonis v Mark Milligan
Members of the Socceroos’ successful Asian Cup squad, these two will now play key roles to their sides hopes not only in this clash but for the rest of the campaign.
Milligan has missed Victory’s last six games (due to suspension and Asian Cup duty) and while Kevin Muscat’s side have still performed well, his return given them an even stronger dimension.
Ironically, Milligan’s last A-League game was against Sydney FC, copping a ban for a stray elbow on Antonis.
While Antonis didn’t get any game time during the Asian Cup, he would have benefitted from training in that environment every day with the likes of Mark Bresciano, Mile Jedinak, Massimo Luongo and – of course – Milligan.
Both players have different strengths but are the ones that make their side tick and set the tempo. Antonis will look to dominate with his smart runs and range of passing while Milligan’s work-rate, passing, communication and defensive strength is his greatest asset.
It will be an intriguing battle in the middle of the park.
Alex Gersbach v Kosta Barbarouses
While the likes of Berisha, Finkler, Thompson and Ben Khalfallah get most of the headlines out of the Victory attack, Barbarouses is just as vital to their chances of winning matches.
The Kiwi international winger has been back to his best since the return from the Asian Cup hiatus, scoring in Victory’s last two games.
His lightning speed is a threat to any defence but he’s also improving his quality in crossing and providing assists.
The challenge of stopping his impact on Saturday night falls on the young shoulders of Gersbach.
It’s hard to believe the Sydney FC left-back is still just 17-years-old given his string of impressive performances this season.
Gersbach has kept many a right-winger in check this season but this could be his biggest challenge yet in the hot-house atmosphere of this huge rivalry.
Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory at Allianz Stadium this Saturday 14th February kicking off at 7.30pm AEDT. Click here to purchase tickets.