A-League: Melbourne Heart v Sydney
Played: 11 Wins: Heart 3, Sydney 3, Draws: 5
Sydney 2-1 Heart, December 15, 2013
Past five matches:
Melbourne Heart will go into this clash with more confidence than they've had in months after picking up four points from a possible six. They backed up their drought-breaking 3-1 win over the Newcastle Jets with a respectable 2-2 draw away to in-form Adelaide United, and could well have emerged from their trip to Coopers Stadium with all three points.
Sydney meanwhile snapped their own winless streak in the most emphatic fashion imaginable, thumping arch-rivals Melbourne Victory 5-0 away from home. The Sky Blues are back in Victoria again just five days later, and will be hoping for a repeat of that bumper haul. But they're unlikely to have such an easy time of it against a Heart side that looks tighter at the back and sharper up front as returning head coach John van 't Schip begins to stamp his mark on the team.
The big issue:
Heart - Demonstrating a mental toughness which has been absent for much of 2013-14 is important for the Heart this week. They could perhaps be forgiven for being a little disappointed in not notching successive victories with a win away to Adelaide, but must not let the concession of that late Ryan Griffiths goal distract them from continuing the important progress they have made in recent weeks.
Sydney - The Sky Blues must prove that Sunday's heavy win at Etihad Stadium was not a one-off. Let's not forget the underwhelming form Frank Farina's team had been in during the weeks leading up to that game. Porous at the back and toothless in attack for much of January, was the Australia Day demolition job more a consequence of Victory's hapless display than Sydney's restored cohesion? The final score on Friday night will give us an indication.
The game breaker:
Ranko Despotovic terrorised the Victory defence on Sunday evening, opening the scoring with a well-taken goal before winning a penalty to send Sydney on their way. Too strong for youngsters Scott Galloway, Jason Geria and Nick Ansell, and too quick for Adrian Leijer to keep up with, the Serbian forward produced arguably his best performance since joining the Sky Blues, and will present a major challenge for Heart's defence this week.
Prediction: Melbourne Heart 2-2 Sydney FC
There are plenty of in-form attackers on both teams going into this game, with Harry Kewell and Iain Ramsay beginning to hit their peak in red and white. Alessandro Del Piero will of course have to be watched closely by the Heart defence, and it's the less-than-watertight rearguards which could be a determining factor on Friday night.
Goals are expected and there's little between the two sides. Orlando Engelaar has another 54 minutes of game-time under his belt and we can expect to see him dominating the midfield battle soon, but the veteran Dutchman may have a job on his hands keeping up with energetic Sydney duo Milos Dimitrijevic and Hagi Gligor. Whoever controls the ball will have the best chance of winning the match, and Farina may have found a winning combination with those two dynamos supplying Del Piero. The loss of Terry McFlynn to injury is a blow and may a prompt a reshuffle to the midfield diamond used to such excellent effect against Victory.