Preview: Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
As was the case 12 months ago, Melbourne hopes of winning the Premiers' Plate will come down to the final match with a draw against Sydney at the SFS on Sunday enough for Victory to retain the trophy it won thanks to a late Archie Thompson goal against Wellington last year.
Date: Sunday February 14 Kick-off: 5:00pm AEDT Venue: Sydney Football Stadium
Head-to-head Played 14: Melbourne Victory 5, Sydney FC 3, Draws 6
Previous Meeting Melbourne Victory, Sydney FC 0, Etihad Stadium, December 2009
Past five matches: Sydney FC: Round 22: Perth Glory 0, Sydney FC 0, Members Equity Stadium Round 23: Sydney FC 0, Gold Coast United 1, Sydney Football Stadium Round 24: Newcastle Jets 1, Sydney FC 3, Energy Australia Stadium Round 25: Brisbane Roar 1, Sydney FC 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 26: Sydney FC 3, Perth Glory 2, Sydney Football Stadium
Melbourne Victory: Round 23: Melbourne Victory 6, Perth Glory 2, Etihad Stadium Round 24: Melbourne Victory 2, Adelaide United 0, Etihad Stadium Round 19: Melbourne Victory 4, Wellington Phoenix 0, Etihad Stadium Round 25: Gold Coast United 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Skilled Park Round 26: Melbourne Victory 2, North Queensland Fury 0, Etihad Stadium
Analysis: As was the case 12 months ago, Melbourne hopes of winning the Premiers' Plate will come down to the final match with a draw against Sydney at the SFS on Sunday enough for Victory to retain the trophy it won thanks to a late Archie Thompson goal against Wellington last year.
But as opposed to that situation, where Adelaide had the chance to get past Melbourne on goal difference later in the round, this time around, Melbourne knows that the title is in its hands. It will be the final of the 135 games played in the regular season and arguably none have been more important.
Sydney and Melbourne have met on two previous occasions this season, both at Etihad Stadium. In the first contest, Melbourne was stunned by Sydney 3-0, while in the second one, in December, Melbourne dominated but had to settle for a frustrating 0-0 draw.
That means that Sydney is the only team Melbourne hasn-t scored against this season with the Sky Blues having lost just one of their past seven against Victory. Of the six matches the teams have played at the SFS, Melbourne has managed just one success, and that was back in 2006.
Melbourne has been in good form in the past month, winning four its past five matches to sit two points clear of Sydney heading into the final match. The win against North Queensland last week was significant in that it was achieved without the injured Archie Thompson and the suspended Kevin Muscat.
Matthew Kemp's season-ending knee injury was a major blow last week and it means Melbourne goes into this match without three very important players. Muscat only has one week to serve of his ban, while Thompson is expected to play some part in the finals.
Surat Sukha and Matthew Foschini come into the squad along with Nathan Elasi, while Evan Berger is set to start in the place of Kemp. The other selection dilemma is up front, with Nik Mrdja a chance to make his starting debut after impressing off the bench last week.
Melbourne will need to try and forge a partnership between Mrdja and the in-form Carlos Hernandez ahead of the finals and may look to use this match to aid that process. It would then by a matter of whether Marvin Angulo starts or is used as an impact player off the bench.
Given Sydney needs to win this match to finish top two, the pressure will be on Melbourne's defence, but the manner in which stand-in skipper Adrian Leijer and Rody Vargas handled things last week, aided by the use of Grant Brebner in a more defensive role, you would have confidence they can repel a Sydney attack led by John Aloisi, who scored his second Hyundai A-League brace for the Sky Blues in the 3-2 win over Perth last week.
Mark Bridge, who knocked two past Victory earlier in the season, misses this match with a toe injury, with Brendan Gan called into the squad to replace him.
Sydney's consistency this season has been built on the performance of its experienced players, such as Steve Corica and Karol Kisel, as well of its disciplined structure. It has clearly the best defence in the competition, but the pressure will be on it to score goals, not just prevent them from going in.
A disciplined performance from Melbourne, which will look for a win, but should be happy to settle for a draw, will be enough for it to claim a third Premiers' Plate and maintain its favouritism for the Hyundai A-League championship.
Sydney FC squad: 1.Clint BOLTON (gk), 3.Stephan KELLER, 4.Simon COLOSIMO, 6.Karol KISEL, 7.Brendan GAN, 8.Stuart MUSIALIK, 9.John ALOISI, 10.Steve CORICA (c), 12.Shannon COLE, 14.Alex BROSQUE, 15.Terry MCFLYNN, 16.Chris PAYNE, 20.Ivan NECEVSKI (gk), 22.Sung-Hwan BYUN, 23. Rhyan GRANT, 26 Hayden FOXE *one to be omitted*
In: Brendan GAN (promoted)
Out: Mark BRIDGE (Toe - 2 weeks)
Unavailable: Kofi DANNING (knee - season), Matthew JURMAN (foot - season), Sebastian RYALL (knee - 1 week)
Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 8.Grant BREBNER, 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 (c), 25.Aziz BEHICH, 29.Nik MRDJA *Two to be omitted
In: Nathan ELASI (promoted), Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted), Surat SUHKA (return from injury)
Out: Matthew KEMP (knee, season)
Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Mate DUGANDZIC (knee, 1 week), Kevin MUSCAT (suspended, 1 week), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite), Archie THOMPSON (foot, 3 weeks)