A-League: Melbourne Victory v Sydney
Played: 30, Wins: Victory 9, Sydney 9, Draws: 12
Victory 0-5 Sydney, January 26, 2014
Past five matches (in all competitions):
A win is marginally more important for Frank Farina's team in this one. Sydney's loss away to Adelaide last Friday night, coupled with Newcastle's victory at home to Wellington Phoenix, saw the Sky Blues drop to seventh spot, level on points with the Jets but outside the finals places.
It's likely to come down to a straight fight between Clayton Zane's Hunter Stadium outfit and Farina's men, who have a tough assignment this weekend at the home of their fierce rivals. Victory will not be short of motivation either, given their agonising late defeat away to the Roar last weekend, and the importance of trying to finishing second.
The big issue:
Victory – Yet another defensive reshuffle is on the cards. Kevin Muscat's team, stretched to the limit by the AFC Champions League in recent months, have enjoyed the luxury of a week off between matches following their defeat away to Brisbane. They will get Adama Traore, Pablo Contreras and Nick Ansell back after none of that key defensive trio featured in Queensland last weekend. Leigh Broxham deputised at centre-back in the 1-0 loss, but will be suspended for this game after picking up his eighth yellow card of the season.
Sydney – The Sky Blues have struggled for goals in the last couple of weeks, away to Adelaide and at home to 10-man Brisbane Roar. They managed three in the derby win over Western Sydney, but that was something of an anomaly, with one of those a penalty and the other the result of a dreadful defensive mistake. The first goal in that game came via a set piece.
With or without Alessandro Del Piero in the side, Sydney have struggled to create chances in open play. They didn't have any problem doing so in that thumping 5-0 win over Melbourne Victory on Australia Day, but are unlikely to have such an easy time of it again this weekend.
The game breaker:
Unavailable for the ACL game away to Yokohama F Marinos next Wednesday, Guilherme Finkler is likely to start for Victory on Saturday and will act as the focal point for the home team's attacks. The Brazilian is in talks to extend his stay in Melbourne, but, with Besart Berisha already locked in as international marquee, there is no guarantee the club will be willing to match the wage demands of a sought-after talent. For that reason alone, Victory fans should enjoy 'Gui' while they can during the final rounds of the campaign.
Prediction: Victory 2-1 Sydney
We expect Victory, who were unfortunate to lose in injury time away to the Roar, to gain revenge for their thumping at the hands of the Sky Blues earlier this season. A narrow win for the home side will keep Muscat's men in the race for a top-two finish regardless of what happens between the Mariners and Wanderers in Gosford. It will also leave Farina's side looking over their shoulder and nervously awaiting the result of the Newcastle Jets' game away to Perth Glory on Sunday.