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A-League Grand Final Preview: Melbourne Victory - Sydney FC

Intercity bragging rights and the fifth A-League title are both on the line as Melbourne Victory host the A-League Grand Final at Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening, where Premiers’ Plate winners Sydney FC will be their challengers.

After dominating their rivals for virtually an entire season, it took a split-second of combined ingenuity from Archie Thompson and Kevin Muscat to swing momentum and confidence away from Sydney. The former’s decisive strike in the second leg of the Major Semi Final highlighted a type of intelligence that perhaps not even Alex Brosque can gloat despite the consistency of his performances this season.

Thompson remains the one player more experienced and proven at deciding this competition’s biggest matches, famously having scored five times when Melbourne lifted their first title in a 6-0 mauling of Adelaide United in the 2006/07 Grand Final. He also remains one player who Sydney have failed to properly provide an answer for in the embryonic stages of the A-League and indeed he might be the deciding factor on Saturday.

Similarly, Melbourne’s ability to secure for themselves a home Grand Final against the odds is but another advantage that could prove telling in a match that will likely be decided by fine margins. It will be a source of frustration for Vitezslav Lavicka’s men, who allowed their relative lack of depth to be exposed as Ernie Merrick out-thought his counterpart.

Sydney should take heart from the fact that they went undefeated against Melbourne during the regular season, which included an impressive 3-0 victory at Etihad in a display that typified the counter-attacking style that has brought Lavicka success in his first season in Australia.

That Melbourne have lived by a similar philosophy under their foundation manager Errick should make for more intriguing viewing, clashes between the two teams this season having rested on individual brilliance. Aside from providing entertainment in a football capacity these are matches never short on talking points off the ball, with the politically correct mid-week musings from either outfit about respect but a mask for what is undoubtedly ill feeling between certain individuals – and fans.

Bragging rights for the respective followers of sides have never so conspicuously been on the line, with a win for Sydney bringing them level with their fierce inter-city rivals in terms of titles won, Melbourne meanwhile looking for their third championship in five seasons.

FORM GUIDE

Melbourne Victory


Jan 29.  Gold Coast United 1-0 Melbourne Victory  (Regular Season)
Feb 5.  Melbourne Victory 2-0 North Queensland Fury  (Regular Season)
Feb 14.  Sydney FC 2-0 Melbourne Victory  (Regular Season)
Feb 18.  Melbourne Victory 2-1 Sydney FC  (Major Semi Final)
Mar 7.  Sydney FC 2-2 Melbourne Victory  (Major Semi Final)

Sydney FC

Feb 7.  Sydney FC 3-2 Perth Glory  (Regular Season)
Feb 14.  Sydney FC 2-0 Melbourne Victory  (Regular Season)
Feb 18.  Melbourne Victory 2-1 Sydney FC (Major Semi Final)
Mar 7.  Sydney FC 2-2 Melbourne Victory  (Major Semi Final)
Mar 13.  Sydney FC 4-2 Wellington Phoenix  (Preliminary Final)

Head-to-Head:
Melbourne Victory wins 6, Sydney FC wins 4 (7 draws)

TEAM NEWS

Melbourne Victory


In: Aziz Behich (promoted from NYL), Mate Dugandzic (promoted), Nathan Elasi (promoted)

Out: Nil

Unavailable: Billy Celeski (knee - season), Matthew Kemp (knee - season), Nik Mrdja (suspended - 1 match)

Possible Starting XI: (3-4-3) Langerak, Vargas, Muscat, Leijer, Berger, Pondeljak, Brebner, Sukha, Hernandez, Kruse, Thompson


Sydney FC


In: Shannon Cole (returns from injury), Joe Gibbs (promoted)

Out: John Aloisi (hamstring - season)

Unavailable: Kofi Danning (knee – season), Matthew Jurman (foot – season), Steve Corica (hamstring – season), Rhyan Grant (ankle – season), Adam Casey (hamstring – indefinite), John Aloisi (hamstring)

Possible Starting XI: (4-3-1-2) Bolton, Ryall, Colosimo, Keller, Byun, Musialik, McFlynn, Kisel, Bridge, Payne, Brosque


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Archie Thompson (Melbourne Victory)


Sydney proved their inability to get a grip on the World Cup hopeful in the second leg of the Major Semi Final at the Sydney Football Stadium, where the former PSV Eindhoven striker came off the bench to cause Lavicka’s men no end of problems. His ability to operate off the shoulder of the last man and the general intelligence of his movement turned the tie irreversibly in the favour of the Victory and indeed might have already played a decisive role in the outcome of the Grand Final.

Alex Brosque (Sydney FC)

Just as Thompson will be tasked with leading the line for Melbourne, Brosque will carry the weight of Sydney’s attacking responsibilities. Both in terms of goals (7) and assists (9) the Socceroo has contributed consistently for the Sky Blues this season, the creative hub of Lavicka’s side. His importance has been heightened in the absence of the injured John Aloisi and the forced retirement of captain Steve Corica. His ability to isolate individual defenders and beat them, as well as a cultured finish, mean Sydney’s chances largely depend on his performance.

WHAT THEY SAID

"It's unfortunate for him he's going to miss and obviously Steve Corica. I certainly know what they're going through because I've missed an FA Cup final through injury. I know it's not easy to take,” A rare display of sympathy from Kevin Muscat, who reflects on John Aloisi’s recent injury.

"He welcomed me and said a few things like, `I'm gonna get you'. Then I copped an elbow to the head, but you have to expect those sort of things. It's part of the game,” Sydney striker Chris Payne on a memorable introduction by Kevin Muscat last time he took to the pitch, his direct opponent at the weekend.

PREDICTION


Two advantages will swing this incredibly tight contest the way of the Victory: Etihad Stadium and Archie Thompson.

Melbourne Victory 2-1 Sydney FC

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