For the second time in three weeks, Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers will renew their rivalry in what is one of the best contests the A-League has to offer.
Both will have the challenge to back up from the weekend’s games, and will have to do so in extremely warm conditions in Melbourne. Coming off a point on the road against Newcastle on Friday, Victory have a crucial game on their hands as they look to stay with the chasing pack. Failure to win could see them slump to seventh on the table, other results pending.
Western Sydney will travel to Melbourne with a derby win over Sydney FC in their pocket and can be reasonably confident of a win here. A win will seem them one point behind Brisbane Roar, thanks to their slip-up against Adelaide at the weekend. Talk surrounds Aaron Mooy and whether he will depart the club in this transfer window, after reportedly handing in a transfer request with Newcastle Jets his preferred destination.
The ins and outs
Kevin Muscat will have a task on his hands to get a fully fit XI on the park, with Mark Milligan and Mitch Nichols likely to miss. Pablo Contreras will miss through suspension, although his loss will be offset with the return of Adrian Leijer.
Tony Popovic often keeps his teams hard to predict, and may make changes to his side. Mateo Poljak and Iacapo La Rocca are in doubt to take their spots in the squad after a late withdrawal with a hamstring injury last week and not seeing out the full game respectively. Jerome Polenz may return, while there may be chances for Kwabena Appiah-Kubi and Labinot Haliti.
The 90 minutes
When these two meet, usually there’s a great contest and Victory have often found the Wanderers to be their ‘bogey team’. A smash and grab effort will be on the cards if the Wanderers get a lead early, they have proven to be masterful at absorbing opposition attacks with ease. However, their midfield shield in Poljak and La Rocca look as if they will miss, their roles and importance in the side can’t be understated. It may be worth pushing Matt Spiranovic into midfield, and recalling Michael Beauchamp to the side.
The Victory attack is still capable of leading the team to a win, first choice players in Kosta Barbarouses, James Troisi and Archie Thompson are all available for selection. They will need to avoid making mistakes around midfield, as the Wanderers are arguably the best in the league at punishing any loose pass and forcing the turnover.
Wanderers have enough to worry the Victory through their attacking impact players and depth in their squad, Victory can do the same through their movement off the ball when attacking. A concern will be their midfield and whether they will be able to launch those attacks.
The player to watch
James Troisi: He showed signs of a good understanding after linking up with fellow wingers/attackers in Barbarouses and Andrew Nabbout in a lightening-fast counter-attacking goal against Newcastle, so when it comes to breaking down the Wanderers, he’ll need to do the same.
Despite missing up to seven players of his squad this week, Muscat was looking at who he had available for tomorrow’s clash, “Players are fully aware of the numbers we’ve got available at the moment… but I’ve got confidence, we’ve got a good squad and a lot of the young boys came on the other day and did well for us.” While also revealing Nichols will struggle to come up for the match, “I’d suggest he’d struggle, to be honest, I’d suggest he’d struggle to play tomorrow night.”
“Rather than worry about players that aren’t here, I’ve gotta concentrate on the ones that are. They certainly done themselves proud and really had a go on Friday in Newcastle.”
“I’ve got the utmost confidence in the players that are available to go get a result tomorrow night. It’s about performing to our capabilities.”
Muscat paid tribute to the club’s last encounter with the Wanderers and rejected the notion of the supposed under-strength side Popovic fielded that night “That night, that football game was as good as we’ve seen in this competition, it was a great game of football to be involved in.”
“That night there, everyone tried to make like it was an under-strength side. Coming here with two big teams playing off in a full house, and you’re telling me that, with someone coming in, you’re not going to get the best out of him? I disagree.”