A-League: Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Victory
Played 27: Wins: Roar 9, Victory 12, Draws: 6
Victory 0-3 Roar, January 1 2014
Past five matches (in all competitions):
There's no denying that this game is more important for Melbourne Victory than Brisbane Roar. With a nine-point lead at the top and just four rounds of the regular season remaining, it's a question of when Mike Mulvey's team wrap up the Premiers' Plate, not if.
Victory moved into second place courtesy of a 2-1 win away to Perth Glory last time out, as Western Sydney were held to a 0-0 draw at home against Adelaide United. If Kevin Muscat's men can secure a top-two finish, it guarantees them a week off, a home final and a berth in next season's AFC Champions League.
The big issue:
Roar – Despite that healthy gap between first and second, Mulvey will want to secure top spot as soon as possible, in order to begin resting key players ahead of the finals. With that in mind, perhaps the Roar will go all out in a bid to get the job done this weekend. The Queensland side could get Ivan Franjic, Jade North and Jean Carlos Solorzano back from injury, although they will be without Corey Brown after the young defender had his appendix removed this week. Besart Berisha is suspended after being sent off in the 1-1 draw away to Sydney last Friday.
Victory – Many observers expected Victory, already stretched thin by injury and suspension, to suffer when the ACL arrived, but Muscat's team have coped admirably with the additional burden, recording wins over Central Coast and Perth, as well as picking up points in Asia. Now they have to keep it up during a tough run-in to the end of the regular season. After the Roar clash, there's a last home game of the A-League season against fierce rivals Sydney FC, followed by away matches against the Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix, both of whom may still have a slim chance of getting into the top six. So they can't expect an easy ride.
The game breaker(s):
In the absence of Berisha, Dimitri Petratos and Henrique will be called upon to supply the attacking threat for the home side. Victory have begun to look a little more solid in defence in recent games, getting Adrian Leijer back from injury against Yokohama F Marinos on Tuesday. Pablo Contreras hasn't committed any cringe-worthy errors of late, while Lawrence Thomas is beginning to settle between the posts after taking over from Nathan Coe. So will the Roar have enough fire power to trouble the visitors?
Prediction: Roar 1-1 Victory
We're going to tip a draw in this one, which wouldn't be a particularly helpful result for either team. Roar need a win to seal top spot, and the Victory need maximum points to tighten their grip on second. But the visitors are sure to be fatigued after successive weeks of mid-week ACL and a long flight to Perth, while the Roar are missing their danger man and could even be a little nervous as the culmination of a promising campaign approaches. So expect a stalemate in this one and a few more twists and turns in the 2013-14 season narrative.