Saturday's Melbourne Derby could signal a power shift between the two Victorian clubs. Jordan Lim explores the nature and history of one of the A-League's most anticipated clashes.
From the high-stakes drama of an Arsenal vs. Tottenham clash or the flair of the Madrid Derby, to the sheer passion and hatred on Merseyside, Saturday evening marks a colossal football feast, where our insatiable glutton for the sport gets an artery-clogging workout. But south of Singapore’s borders lies another, less heralded derby, as Australian A-League clubs Melbourne City and Melbourne do battle in the creatively (or not) named ‘Melbourne Derby’.
The rivalry is a young one, with City - née Heart - formed in the sixth edition of the A-League (which is now in it’s 10th instalment). But much like a set of misbehaved, juvenile siblings, there is plenty of hostility between the clubs, mixed in a strange way with its own form of respect. A brotherly love if you will.
Melbourne Victory are one of the powerhouse clubs of the A-League, with a proud history and the league’s biggest supporter base supplemented by what is, so far, an impressive campaign. Their main rivalries over the course of the competitions history have been with Sydney FC and Adelaide United, and it seemed an odd concept when their counterparts Heart joined the competition. The rivalry was built on the basis of sheer necessity – with the two Melbourne clubs the first A-League franchises to diverge a city - rather than the raw hatred that fuelled their past animosities. If you asked Victory supporters 12 months ago if City were their biggest rivals, the resounding answer would be no.
But the Melbourne Derby is slowly building legs of its own. Over it’s short history, there have been a number of memorable moments, which have included big wins for either side (including a massive 4-0 win for City) as well an even record between the clubs (five wins a piece with four draws). There’s also the common train of thought that City save their very best for the derby, with the contest a riveting one regardless of respective ladder positions. But it’s been within the last year that the derby has really taken off, as City made the first step towards not only catching up with the Victory, but also to surpass them.
With a rebranding, backed by the owners of English heavy-weights Manchester City, the Australian branch of the City Group saw the younger Melbourne side come into its own, as they signed big, luring EPL veterans Robi Koren and Damien Duff, as well as the marquee guest-signing of Spanish legend David Villa. The circumstances sparked a little green monster in eyes of Victory supporters who – whether they’d like to admit it or not – felt their monopoly on state dominance slip more that they’d like to admit.
Despite a slow start, City have come into their own in recent weeks, chasing finals football after an incredibly disappointing start to the season with their star-studded line-up. Their two derbies to date have marked their progression so far this year, with a drab, lifeless effort in Round Three’s 5-2 loss followed up by a steely, determined performance in Round 11’s 1-0 win. While they start outsiders for tonight’s game, they are a huge chance to steal a win, which would mean more than just three points, it could also signal the states first power change, ironically much akin to Manchester circa 2011.
In that sense, Melbourne Derby edition 15 looks set to be the very biggest played out to date, with the points and usual bragging rights on offer for the supporters only scratching the surface of its true importance. A win for City would signal authority, securing two wins in a season in the derby for the first time ever, while victory for Victory is seen merely as an expectation. A draw may simply leave the question unanswered for another season.
An interesting sub-plot to tonight’s clash is the potential debut for Singapore international Safuwan Baharudin, who failed to see minutes off the bench last week in Melbourne City’s win against Asian Champions Western Sydney Wanderers. He’ll most likely have to settle for a spot on the bench, due to a strong defensive outing last time out.
Catch Melbourne Victory vs Melbourne City live on SuperSports 2 (StarHub TV Channel 202) at 4.30pm, 7 February 2015.