Preview: Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Played: 29 Wins: Victory 9, Sydney 8, Draws: 12
Sydney 3-2 Victory November 11, 2013
Past five matches:
Here are two teams badly in need of three points. Victory have only won once in their past five games, a convincing but somewhat anomalous 3-1 triumph over an under-strength Western Sydney Wanderers in oppressive heat early last week. Missing a host of key players through injury and international duty, they then suffered a disastrous 5-0 defeat away to Wellington Phoenix last week and will be keen to make amends for one of the worst losses in their proud history.
Sydney meanwhile are also winless in five, and four of those were defeats, including a nightmare 5-2 loss to Brisbane Roar in front of their own fans on Boxing Day. Narrow 1-0 reverses against local rivals Western Sydney and title-holders Central Coast followed. Frank Farina's side have shipped goals at the back and struggled to mount a threat up top, with pressure on the coach growing once again after a promising period leading up to Christmas.
The big issue:
Victory - Winning the midfield battle could be a challenge for Victory, who have lost Mitch Nichols to Japan, while Mark Milligan is out for at least a month following minor knee surgery. That leaves Rashid Mahazi and Jimmy Jeggo to start, although Leigh Broxham could return to midfield if Jason Geria is available at right-back after returning from the AFC Under-22 Championship.
Sydney - Where will the Sky Blues' goals come from? Alessandro Del Piero can't always do it all himself, and looked tired against the Mariners. Corey Gameiro was largely anonymous in that game, while Ranko Despotovic, pushed out to a wide role, struggled to make an impact. Richard Garcia could return from a bruised ankle, and will add some energy and drive if available.
The game breaker:
It's too soon to tip loan signing Tom Rogic to make a significant impact for Victory, with his role likely to be restricted to a cameo appearance off the bench. That means fellow loanee James Troisi and Brazilian Guilherme Finkler will shoulder the burden of creating and orchestrating Victory's attacks, provided the undermanned holding duo further back can win enough of the ball to release them in advanced positions.
Prediction: Melbourne Victory 3-1 Sydney FC
We expect the inconsistent Victory to turn it on in front of a big home crowd on Australia Day, with the club and their supporters doubtless buoyed by a double swoop for Rogic and Besart Berisha, who will join from Brisbane Roar at the end of the season. Sydney's hopes depend on former captain
Terry McFlynn - a strong performer in the defeat to Central Coast - and Nicky Carle dominating which combination of Mahazi, Jeggo and Broxham starts as the two pivots in front of the Victory backline. Del Piero dropped too deep in search of the ball against the Mariners, and needs to stay in the final third to enable him to play the killer ball for his attacking colleagues.