A-League Semi-Final preview: Melbourne Victory v Melbourne City

Does it get any better than Premiers' Plate winners Melbourne Victory and their cross-town rivals Melbourne City facing off at a packed Etihad Stadium for a place in the A-League Grand Final?

FIXTURE DETAILS 

Friday, 8 May 2015 

Etihad Stadium, Melbourne 

Kick-Off: 7:30 PM local (7:30 PM AEST) 

SQUADS 

Melbourne Victory squad: 2.Jason GERIA, 4.Nick ANSELL, 5.Mark MILLIGAN (C), 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Gui FINKLER, 8.Besart BERISHA, 9.Kosta BARBAROUSES, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.Connor PAIN, 14.Fahid BEN KHALFALLAH, 15.Daniel GEORGIEVSKI, 16.Rashid MAHAZI, 17.Matthieu DELPIERRE, 20.Lawrence THOMAS (GK), 21.Carl VALERI, 22.Jesse MAKAROUNAS, 24.Scott GALLOWAY, 40.Michael TURNBULL (GK) ***two to be omitted*** 

Unavailable: 1.Nathan COE (injured), 26.Jordan BROWN (injured)
  

Melbourne City FC squad: 1. Andrew REDMAYNE (GK), 4. Connor CHAPMAN, 5. Erik PAARTALU, 6. Aaron MOOY, 8. Massimo MURDOCCA, 9. Harry NOVILLO, 10. Robert KOREN, 13. Jonatan GERMANO, 15. David WILLIAMS, 16. Joshua KENNEDY, 18. Paulo RETRE, 20. Tando VELAPHI (GK), 21. Stefan MAUK, 23. Mate DUGANDZIC, 24. Patrick KISNORBO (C), 26. Marc MARINO, 27. Kew JALIENS, 28. Nick SYMEOY ***Two to be omitted** 

Unavailable: 3.Robbie WIELAERT (ankle – 1-2 weeks), 11.Damien DUFF (ankle/calf – indefinite), 14.James BROWN (foot – 6 weeks), 19. Ben GARUCCIO (ankle – 5-6 weeks), 22. Jack CLISBY (ankle – 1 week), 25. Jacob MELLING (knee – indefinite) 

BROADCAST DETAILS 

TV Broadcast: Live coverage on FOX SPORTS 505 from 7.00pm (AEST).  Delayed coverage on SBS HD & SBS One from 8.00pm (AEST) 

Radio Broadcast: 774 ABC Melbourne Digital, online/ABC Radio Mobile phone app.
  

Hashtag #ALeagueFinals 

Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones 

BLUFFER'S GUIDE 

They're calling it the biggest match in A-League history and not without good cause. It's fitting that in the 10th season of the competition we're rewarded with a huge semi-final between powerhouse Melbourne Victory and what could the coming force in Melbourne City. 

Traditional heavyweights Victory have re-established themselves as the country's dominant force by taking out the Premiers' Plate in the 2014-15 regular season. 

Having been made somewhat improbable championship favourites by bookmakers last year, City have struggled with the weight of expectation brought up about by their transformation from the old Melbourne Heart guise. 

The hype wasn't helped by the short-lived arrival of David Villa as a guest player and John van 't Schip has struggled throughout the campaign to achieve a consistent level of performance from his squad. 

They delivered when it mattered last Sunday though, surprising Wellington Phoenix 2-0 away from home to book a showdown with Victory. 

Kevin Muscat's men will start the game as favourites but we all know what happens to the form book in derbies. The Big V faithful will be praying their title hopes don't follow it out the window.   

OPTA DATA KEY STATS 

- City have kept a clean sheet in three of their last six against Victory. However, they’ve conceded at least three goals in each of the other three matches.

- Besart Berisha has scored four goals in three games against City this season. 

- Victory have lost at this stage in the play-offs in each of the last two seasons, to Central Coast Mariners in 2013 and Brisbane Roar last season. 

- City’s win over Wellington was their first victory in the play-offs, having lost their only previous appearance to Perth Glory in 2012. 

- Victory enter this game on the back of three straight wins. They’ve not won four in a row since December 2010. 

ROUTE TO GOAL 

Victory are the proud owners of the most dangerous attack in the A-League, having scored 56 goals throughout the regular season, four more than Sydney FC and a whopping 20 more than City. 

The capture of Besart Berisha from Brisbane Roar was a statement of Victory's intent after two seasons without a recognisable centre-forward, while Fahid Ben Khalfallah, lured to Australia from France, is arguably the find of the season.  

Those two newcomers have slotted in seamlessly alongside Guilherme Finkler, Kosta Barbarouses and Archie Thomspon, with the latter likely to start on the bench on Friday. 

City's attacking structure has been greatly improved by the introduction of mid-season recruits Josh Kennedy and Harry Novillo.  

Veteran striker Kennedy offers a focal point previously missed by what was often an ineffectual and inconsistent frontline, while Novillo - brought in at short notice to replace long-term injury victim Damien Duff - has supplied physicality and directness, not a quality that always been associated with the likes of Iain Ramsay and Mate Dugandzic.  

David Williams is likely to take play alongside them, with Robert Koren and Aaron Mooy pulling the strings. 

WHO'S BEEN IN THE SPOTLIGHT THIS WEEK 

He's not necessarily been under the microscope this week, but Lawrence Thomas could yet prove to be the difference between success and relative failure for Victory this season.  

The goalkeeping understudy has been thrust into the firing line following Nathan Coe's nerve problem, which required surgery late last month, putting him out of action for three months.  

Thomas hasn't done anything wrong in his handful of appearance to date, but is he good enough to pluck Victory from the jaws of defeat if called upon to do so?  

FORM LINES 

Melbourne Victory: WWWLW 

Victory signed off on the regular season and wrapped up the Premiers' Plate by beating the Central Coast Mariners 3-1 at home on April 26 in their most recent outing. Prior to that they recorded consecutive wins away to Brisbane Roar, having surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to Newcastle Jets earlier last month. That upset is their only defeat in the last nine games. 

Melbourne City: WLLDD 

Josh Kennedy's strike and a Glen Moss own-goal helped City to oust favourites Wellington in front of their own fans last weekend. It was a first win in five games for Van 't Schip's men, who had slumped to a 4-1 defeat away to Adelaide and a 3-1 loss to Perth Glory in their previous two fixtures. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

City have failed to score a first-half goal in their last four fixtures. Indeed, they’ve scored only four goals in the opening 45 minutes in their last 14. 

PREDICTION

Melbourne Victory 3-2 Melbourne City 

You often don't know which City side will turn up in these games - they're either fired up and tough to stop, or barely even bothering to get off the bus.  

It was the latter in their most recent meeting back in February, when Victory cruised to a 3-0 win. Surely they'll bring their best in this one, but even then, we don't expect them to be able to halt the Big V's charge to the championship.