The sole Saturday A-League match this round is also likely to be the match of the round, as Melbourne Victory host Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park. What will happen?
Both have had similar runs of form throughout this season, Tony Popovic and Kevin Muscat’s sides have not quite rediscovered the form they had last season, despite changes and showing some glimpses. Western Sydney dispatched Central Coast with ease earlier in the week, while Victory are coming off an unforgettable derby win.
These clashes have become must-see fixtures on the calendar and it will be no different tonight. As Sydney FC and Melbourne Heart’s struggles have continued, Victory and Wanderers have become the two top teams in the two big cities.
The ins and outs
Victory has included James Jeggo and Rashid Mahazi in an extended squad, but will still be without Archie Thompson, who has been ruled out with a hamstring strain.
Aaron Mooy, Mark Bridge and Michael Beauchamp have all been included in the squad, with Jason Trifiro the only omission. Mooy and Bridge will need to prove their fitness over match eve and matchday. Brendan Santalab and Shannon Cole will still be on the sidelines through injury.
The 90 minutes
When there is a clear clash of styles, as we will see tonight, whoever has the match on their terms for the majority should be the winner. Victory have found the Wanderers a tough nut to crack in the past, losing three of the past four encounters.
Defence has been the key in each of the Wanderers’ wins, with the likes of Iacopo La Rocca, Jerome Polenz and Nikolai Topor-Stanley all riding roughshod over a Victory side that relies so heavily on its wingers for attacking power.
Having a focal point, a.k.a. a striker, may be the best option against a team like the Wanderers. If James Troisi drops a little deeper to press Topor-Stanley and Spiranovic it is possible that it will have the visitors on the back foot. The centre-back pairing rarely looked troubled throughout their match earlier in the week, Popovic’s side is the best in the league at defending as a team, not just as a back four or midfield three.
Western Sydney will take encouragement in the knowledge that if they attack often enough, they will score. Victory will need to place emphasis on moving the ball quickly to drag the Wanderers out of position, Mitch Nichols will be crucial to that. Melbourne were outstanding in the corresponding fixture early in the season, only to waste it in front of goal.
The players to watch
Tomi Juric: Who else? Juric made his presence felt immediately in his return game against the Mariners and showed no signs of the foot injury that had him on the sidelines for just over a month. Questions abound over whether he will start tonight, having pulled up sore, according to Popovic.
Gui Finkler: Still bizarrely left on the bench, Finkler has proven his quality every time he has taken the field this season, his assist pass for Nichols to put away Victory’s third last week just another exhibit of that.
Kevin Muscat confirmed Thompson will miss this week, as well as praise for Finkler and Connor Pain. Over the season, Muscat has maintained it is all about how Victory perform and this week was no different:
“I thought we did very well last week to get the result we did and we played some good stuff. It’s another test for us this week, they seem to be coming thick and fast.
“At the end of the day, we have to maintain and worry about ourselves and hopefully get close to our best. Once we do that, we’re a threat for any opposition.”
While taking confidence from his team’s performance last time around against Western Sydney, Muscat looked at the even shape of the A-League so far, “You can’t tell me that they’re (the Wanderers) harder to play against than any other team, it’s not easy to get results in this comp.”
The likely teams
Melbourne Victory: Nathan Coe (GK), Jason Geria, Adrian Leijer, Pablo Contreras, Adama Traore, Mark Milligan ©, Mitch Nichols, Leigh Broxham, Kosta Barbarouses, James Troisi, Connor Pain
Western Sydney Wanderers: Ante Covic (GK), Adam D’Apuzzo, Nikolai Topor-Stanley ©, Matthew Spiranovic, Jerome Polenz, Iacopo La Rocca, Mateo Poljak, Shinji Ono, Yousouff Hersi, Tomi Juric, Tahj Minniecon