Preview: The Big Blue – We Hate Melbourne

The electricity is surging through Sydney as the biggest game of our calendar has arrived. Many will argue that the Sydney Derby is our biggest fixture but for the purists and longstanding fans, Melbourne Victory is our biggest and oldest rivalry.

Melbourne Victory travel interstate to take on our lads at the Sydney Football Stadium. To some, it’s just another game to win. But to me it’s so much more. Not only is this game about bragging rights for the winner of the game, but it’s also bragging rights for which city is better. This is just another battle in a longstanding war, a battle between two of the foundation clubs and between the biggest cities in the country.

As it currently stands this particular game, against our fiercest enemy, has the makings of being another classic. I am expecting the game to deliver in entertainment, action and goals and deliver those in spades.

Thoughts

Right off the bat, I would like to again point out that this game could be potentially missing stars as Football Federation Australia does not accommodate FIFA’s International Calendar.

Terry Antonis and Mark Milligan were both selected for the Socceroos. Both are key players for their respective sides. In Antonis’ case, he has been withdrawn from the Socceroos squad due to a car accident on the way to Sydney Airport (More Info Here). Both the Socceroos and Sydney FC medical staff have ruled him out as a precaution and Sydney will monitor him as per FFA Concussion Policy guidelines. Antonis will potentially feature on Saturday night, pending fitness.

We head into this game in some great form. Three wins and two draws is a fantastic start to the season and see us share equal second with this week’s opponents Melbourne Victory and last week’s opponents Adelaide United. Continued improvement each week indicates that Graham Arnold is lining the club up for a potentially special season.

The aforementioned improvement each round has seen what kind of structure and philosophy Arnold wants to implement. He has continuously used 4-4-2 as a base formation but has changed it in the middle of games to a 4-2-3-1 to great effect. In turn, the work done in training is visible to see during games and it is impressive to see the hard work and dedication the lads have shown to adjust and raise the club to the high standards we as fans hold it in.

Of course, that is not to say the season will be perfect for all 27 rounds. There will be dips here and there, as we saw in some players last week against Adelaide. Part of the preparation for this week’s game will be to make sure that those players return to form. The other part of preparation will be stopping Melbourne Victory’s attacking quartet of Besart Berisha, Gui Finkler, Archie Thompson and Kosta Barbarouses.

Arnold will need to find a way to minimise this attacking threat. Victory’s attacking quartet has been linking well and we definitely know Berisha’s capabilities as he leads their line. Ideally, if Arnold can find a way to nullify Berisha and Finkler, then I believe half the job is done for us. Thompson and Barbarouses aren’t exactly the greatest of threats despite the former’s goal scoring record and the latter’s speed.

Defensively, the Victory still remain a question mark. They have no doubt improved in defence but they still show signs of vulnerability in leaking goals. It is a unique ability they have developed over the course of the past few seasons.

If Alex Brosque is fit for the game and Corey Gameiro and Bernie Ibini are also selected, the three of them can cause Victory’s backline a multitude of problems during the high press. Along with Marc Janko, we’ve seen how well Arnold’s high press has worked in the games against Brisbane and Adelaide. If they can continue to use it effectively, than we have every hope that Victory’s backline may gift us a goal. And that’s on top of Nathan Coe being an average goalkeeper.

Pending fitness, Antonis will be one of the keys for Sydney. His ability to roam and provide a deeper attacking outlet gives the team a well-rounded attack. Add Milos Dimitrijevic to that equation and what you have arguably the league’s best defensive midfield combination.

Dimitrijevic quietly asserts himself on the game with his vision and distribution and can also provide a connection in attack. Moreover, we have seen some of Dimitrijevic’s class against Central Coast, where he tore players apart with simple runs with the ball on more than one occasion.

Our central defenders will be hoping that Seb Ryall is back to his best this week. Against Adelaide Ryall was extremely poor. He provided little impact in attack while proving to be a liability at the back. At his best he is a quality defender but an even better option as an attacking wing back.

In a game as big as this, I would ideally keep Ali Abbas at left back. He has grown as a player in that position over the course of a year and provides experience and stability in attack. His energy, as Ryall does on the right, allows him to maraud up and down the left flank and be a constant threat. As much as young Alex Gersbach looks to be a quality player, I think experience is the better option and there’ll be plenty of other games for Gersbach to play in.

One definite thing that will be in our favour is the fact that Mark Milligan will out for Melbourne Victory. He, along with Thompson and Berisha, are hated among the Sydney faithful. His absence increases the pressure on Carl Valeri to shoulder much of Victory’s defensive midfield duties. In this, there is definitely something Arnold can use to exploit.

Sydney FC Squad and Probable Formation

Sydney’s Ins and Outs are as follows:

1.Ivan NECEVSKI (GK), 2.Sebastian RYALL, 3.Sasa OGNENOVSKI, 4.Pedj BOJIC, 6.Nikola PETKOVIC, 8.Milos DIMITRIJEVIC, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 11.Bernie IBINI, 12.Hagi GLIGOR, 13.Christopher NAUMOFF, 14.Alex BROSQUE (c), 16.Alex GERSBACH, 18.Peter TRIANTIS, 19.Nick CARLE, 20.Vedran JANJETOVIC (GK), 22.Ali ABBAS, 25.George TIMOTHEOU.

One player will be omitted.

With the squad selected, I would actually mirror Melbourne’s 4-2-3-1 formation and set our lads up in the same formation. But I think Arnold will go for a 4-4-1-1:

Result

As with last week, this is another tough game to pick.

Both sides are in form but will be missing key players. Sydney and Melbourne have shown vast improvement in comparison to last season with both coaches identifying deficiencies and building from there. The result has seen both clubs at the top of the table early on.

When it’s all said and done, however, I can’t see anything but a Sydney FC victory. We’re the home team and may also be at full strength if Antonis is fit. It will definitely be a tight game, with the result to be 2:1.

“Seb Ryall. He hates Melbourne.”

You can find me on Facebook by searching Moore Park Stories and on Twitter @MPStories.