Hosting Sydney FC for the second time this season, Melbourne Victory are out to gain a measure of payback after suffering two losses to the old rival in the season.
Victory are still in position to finish second and secure a home semi-final, but last week’s last minute loss away to Brisbane now leaves Victory with little margin for error.
Payback should be on the mind, that 5-0 loss is a fresh wound and in a high-stakes match, they have the chance to prove that was an aberration.They will be better off for not having to negotiate an Asian Champions League fixture mid-week, but dealing with soreness and minor injuries still looks an issue, especially for the likes of Nick Ansell, Adama Traore and Tom Rogic.
Sydney is in a must-win position following their 3-1 loss to Adelaide at Hindmarsh last week, now leaving them contending with Newcastle for the final finals spot.
The same issues are there, as they struggle for consistency and need to be playing a more proactive style. Missing Ranko Despotovic has not been in their favour, as the attack looks without direction.
The ins and outs
Pablo Contreras has been included in the squad and Adama Traore is certain to return to the starting XI in place of Jason Geria. Kevin Muscat seems to be weighing his options at centre-back, with Contreras still in some doubt. At the final training session, both Contreras and Mark Milligan spent time at centre-back next to Adrian Leijer in a practice match.
Nick Ansell is still unavailable, and so is Leigh Broxham through suspension but Archie Thompson looks likely to return to the starting XI in place of Tom Rogic.
For Sydney, Peter Triantis and Milos Dimitrijevic have been included in the extended travelling squad, from which two will be omitted.
The 90 minutes
Much has changed since that Australia Day clash, but Frank Farina should go in with the same ideas that brought Muscat’s side down. While playing a listless Victory XI went in their favour, Sydney looked a more alert and fast unit that created pressure with a midfield that ran rings around their opposition.
These matches are usually end-to-end affairs, and while not always the most highest of quality skill-wise, are entertaining for the neutral and nerve-wracking for both sets of fans. The Cove have turned out in numbers in Melbourne, so hopefully the same occurs this time around as they do add colour and atmosphere to the occasion.
Benching Rogic seems the best option and may have Victory playing much quicker on the counter with James Troisi returning to a central position to feed off Gui Finkler and the wingers.
Victory’s best should be enough to get them a big win but Sydney FC won’t be a pushover, especially in defence. Led by Sasa Ognenovski and Nikola Petkovic, they will pick off anything indecisive or slow, even if the game is at a fast pace(i.e the Sydney derby) they have looked assured and the their team’s strongest point.
Kevin Muscat spoke of the club’s narrow loss last week and its aftermath, and gave an update on his side’s week.
“It was quite painful, to be honest. The mood after the game and even on the way home the next day (was painful), but that’s gone now. We’ve analysed the game and there was a lot to like about it. We were resilient and very threatening going the other way and it took a good goal from distance at to beat us on the night.”
“It’s been nice not to have a game during the week but there’s been a lot of focus on this game, and a lot of effort going into freshening the players up and making sure everyone’s 100% for tomorrow night”.
Focus then turned to tomorrow’s clash and the differences since the last meeting with the Sky Blues. The memories are still fresh for many fans and Muscat spoke of the need to repay the fans and send them home happy.
“We’ve come on leaps and bounds since then, in terms of the way we go about things, in terms of the way we defend. A real resilience not to concede is a far cry from that day six or seven weeks ago.”
“The one thing I can remember from the whole day, night leaving the stadium was feeling how bad we let the fans down. Having said that, our fans come here with an expectation every week, and this week is no different. It’s our last home game and it’s a game both teams are both desperate to take three points from for different reasons. “
Victory will have to face a tough trip to Yokohama next Wednesday night, and Muscat admitted to having some thought about what’s ahead.
“First and foremost you pick a team for tomorrow’s night game but at the same time like previous weeks, you have to have an eye on what’s going on forward. But this week’s clearly been about putting a performance together and giving the players the best opportunity to be successful tomorrow.”
Muscat shed light on playing Milligan and Contreras at centre-back at training, confirmed the return of Traore and the ongoing absence of Ansell, while strongly indicating that Rogic was being rested.
“Again I’m still looking at a few things and Pablo has been struggling a little bit, he obviously wasn’t available last week. So I wanted to make sure that we’ve got some options if he’s no good or if he does start and can’t end the game.”
“When we confirmed Tom was coming, we knew that a period would come where it would be difficult for him, in terms of his conditioning. So he’s probably at that period now.”
Following an SBS report yesterday, Muscat also insisted contract talks with Finkler are ongoing and healthy, and dismissed the report.
“They’re ongoing and they’re healthy. There’s certainly no issues, as was reported yesterday, falsely. That whole article was a joke, if we’re honest. The dates were wrong, the lack of research was staggering. But, obviously someone’s gotta put their name to it. From my perspective, I’ve got a very good relationship with Gui and discussions are ongoing.”