Preview: Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Melbourne Victory stands on the verge of history ahead of Saturday's Grand Final against Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium as it looks to become the first team ever to defend a Hyundai A-League championship.
Date: Saturday March 20 Kick-off: 7:00pm AEDT Venue: Etihad Stadium
Head-to-head Played 17: Melbourne Victory 6, Sydney FC 4, Draws 7
Previous Meeting Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 2, March 2010 (semi final (2nd leg) (2-1 after normal time)
Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: Round 25: Gold Coast United 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Skilled Park Round 26: Melbourne Victory 2, North Queensland Fury 0, Etihad Stadium Round 27: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney Football Stadium MSF - 1st Leg: Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney FC 1, Etihad Stadium MSF - 2nd leg: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney Football Stadium (Melbourne progresses 4-3 on aggregate)
Sydney FC: Round 25: Brisbane Roar 1, Sydney FC 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 26: Sydney FC 3, Perth Glory 2, Sydney Football Stadium Round 27: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney Football Stadium MSF - 1st Leg: Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney FC 1, Etihad Stadium MSF - 2nd leg: Sydney FC 2, Melbourne Victory 2, Sydney Football Stadium (Melbourne progresses 4-3 on aggregate) Preliminary Final: Sydney FC 4, Wellington Phoenix 2, Sydney Football Stadium
Analysis: Melbourne Victory stands on the verge of history ahead of Saturday's Grand Final against Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium as it looks to become the first team ever to defend a Hyundai A-League championship.
Melbourne has already become the first team to make successive Grand Finals, qualifying via a dramatic major semi-final win over Sydney over two legs and gets its chance to stamp itself once again as the Hyundai A-League's dominant team.
The path to the Grand Final Melbourne defender Adrian Leijer said ahead of this weekend's match that this is the Grand Final that the Hyundai A-League has been waiting five years for. The two biggest clubs in the competition finally get a chance to put their reputations on the line in the biggest match of the year.
The build up to this clash could not have been more exciting. Sydney won the Premiers' Plate by one point by defeating Melbourne in the final round. Then Melbourne turned things around in the space of four days, winning the first leg of the major semi-final 2-1.
The second leg in Sydney has been described as the greatest Hyundai A-League final of all time, with Melbourne taking an early lead through a magnificent goal from Robbie Kruse before Karol Kisel and Mark Bridge forced the tie into extra time.
It was then that Melbourne's superior finals experience came to the fore as Kevin Muscat took a quick free kick and Archie Thompson scored the goal which booked Melbourne a home Grand Final.
Sydney was forced to go through a cut-throat Preliminary Final against Wellington, which it eased through 4-2, setting up a decider between the two dominant teams of the season.
Walking Wounded Both teams have had injury issues to key players over the past month, but Melbourne goes into this Grand Final in better shape after Kruse and Thompson made returns to football over the past fortnight.
Tom Pondeljak has a niggly hamstring, but that is unlikely to keep him out meaning the only players unavailable for this match are knee victims Billy Celeski and Matthew Kemp and the suspended Nik Mrdja. Melbourne has included Mate Dugandzic, Aziz Behich and Nathan Elasi in an extended squad.
Sydney, on the other hand, is without two of its most experienced players. Steve Corica was forced into retirement after injuring himself on the eve of the finals, while marquee striker John Aloisi tore a hamstring last week ruling him out of the biggest match of the year.
Youngster Chris Payne stepped in for Aloisi to score two goals last week and will likely get a start in this match alongside in-form attacking pair Mark Bridge and Alex Brosque, who both scored goals against the Phoenix.
Queries remain over Shannon Cole, who is returning from a hamstring injury of his own, but he has been named along with Joe Gibbs in an extended squad. Cole is likely to battle with former Victory defender Seb Ryall for the final spot in the Sky Blues defence.
Key men While Archie Thompson and Carlos Hernandez are likely to have a major say in the outcome of the match, the performance of Melbourne skipper Kevin Muscat will be crucial. He is a leader by example who will attempt to put Melbourne's stamp on the match from the back. Should Melbourne's defence get on top, then he will look to release himself into the midfield, where he can use his marvellous distribution to push his side forward
For Sydney, the performance of midfielder Stuart Musialik will be vital to its hopes. Musialik is the link man between defence and attack and uses his clever passing to give his side momentum going forward. He will also be given the role of clamping down on Carlos Hernandez, preventing Melbourne attacking with confidence.
Who wins? Melbourne of course. But you'd expect this to be a real arm-wrestle, with both sides possessing so many talented players. In the context of a tight game, Melbourne seems to have more firepower up front and more players capable of producing the special type of football which the team has been famous for over recent years. Grand Final experience will also be crucial and in the end that should give Melbourne the edge.
Melbourne Victory squad: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3.Mate DUGANDZIC, 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.Marvin ANGULO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19. Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 25.Aziz BEHICH *three to be omitted*
In: Aziz BEHICH (promoted from NYL), Mate DUGANDZIC (promoted), Nathan ELASI (promoted)
Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee - season), Matthew KEMP (knee - season), Nik MRDJA (suspended - 1 match)
Sydney FC squad: 1. Clint BOLTON (gk), 2. Sebastian RYALL 3. Stephan KELLER, 4.Simon COLOSIMO, 5. Hayden FOXE, 6. Karol KISEL, 7. Brendan GAN, 8. Stuart MUSIALIK, 12. Shannon COLE, 13. Antony GOLEC, 14. Alex BROSQUE, 15. Terry MCFLYNN (c), 16. Chris PAYNE,19. Mark BRIDGE, 20. Ivan NECEVSKI, 22. Sung-Hwan BYUN, 31. Joe GIBBS *one to be omitted*
In: Shannon COLE (returns from injury), Joe GIBBS (promoted)
Out: John ALOISI (hamstring - season)
Unavailable: Kofi DANNING (knee - season), Matthew JURMAN (foot - season), Steve Corica (hamstring - season), Rhyan GRANT (ankle - season), Adam CASEY (hamstring - indefinite), John ALOISI (hamstring)