The A-League Grand Final is the game that every A-League club strives to get to. Sydney FC qualified for the Grand Final with an emphatic 4:1 win over Adelaide United and will now take on Premiers Melbourne Victory for the right to be called Champions.
Melbourne Victory earned the right to host the Grand Final by way of comfortably beating a poor Melbourne City side. Victory head into the game having lost just once in their last five games. To add some context to that one loss, they have lost three games this season at AAMI Park and that most recent loss was to Newcastle Jets…at AAMI Park. They have scored nine and conceded three; not the greatest statistics for a five game stretch but all that matters is winning, which they did in 80% of those five games.
Like the Victory, our Sky Blues come into the Grand Final on the back of four wins and one loss in their last five games. The bonus for Sydney is that they come into the final on a four game winning streak, scoring 13 goals but conceding six. Defensively, we are worse off than Victory but have more than made up for it with an attacking front line that has been scintillating in recent weeks.
Both sides lay equal claim to having the best attack in the league. Victory have scored 56 goals in 27 games while Sydney scored 52. There’s not much difference there. Individually is where it gets interesting.
Besart Berisha spearheads the Victory attack where is flanked by Kosta Barbarouses and Fahid Ben Khalfallah. Arguably, Khalfallah has been the most impressive of the three, followed by Berisha then Barbarouses.
Khalfallah has provided an attacking impetus down the left hand flank, using his pace and smarts to get into good crossing positions or to cut in and play a short pass or take the shot. Berisha, whilst being a touch goal-shy this season has been effective for the Victory in other ways, chasing down opposition defenders or dragging them out of position to open space for Khalfallah and Barbarouses and even Gui Finkler.
Barbarouses is the weakest of the three. While it is undeniable that he is a talent, he often lacks the consistency to play well week in, week out. In games he has played well, he’s played well and in the games he’s played bad in, he often looks to be out of his depth.
For Sydney, Marco Janko has led the line admirably. He is the Golden Boot Winner in 2014/15 and while he’s not scored in the past few games, his presence up front has allowed others to come into play and make up for his recent drought. That said, Janko is still valuable in attack because like Berisha, he is able to draw the attention of defenders and still get into scoring positions.
On the right flank, Bernie Ibini has most impressive. His speed and ability to whip in a good cross and cut in to shoot with either foot has often caused opposition defenders plenty of issues. His ability to interchange with the left flank’s Chris Naumoff often throws defenders off, likewise for Chris Naumoff when he switches to the right flank.
Speaking of Chris Naumoff, he’s come on in leaps and bounds this season. He has become confident in attack and does plenty of work defensively. Another asset he provides is his ability to come in and support Alex Brosque centrally or switch flanks with Ibini – his goal against Adelaide last week is a prime example of this. His crossing is another asset and along with Ibini, they provide Janko with quality deliveries that more often than not make Janko’s life easier.
It is hard to separate the midfield of either side. Victory’s trio contains Finkler, Mark Milligan and Carl Valeri.
Finkler provides the classical attacking plays for the Victory. He is a great number 10, always looking for a slide pass or a defence splitting through ball to any of Victory’s front three. He is also great from a dead ball position also.
Milligan and Valeri provide the defensive cover in midfield. Milligan in particular is known to be bend the rules. His elbow on Terry Antonis and subsequent suspension is evidence of this. When Victory break on the counter quickly, Milligan plays the long ball to either Khalfallah or Barbarouses.
Valeri is a quiet achiever. He rarely gets any plaudits but that may be the way he likes it. He has been able to slot in next to Milligan and just do his job with little to no fuss.
Meanwhile Sydney’s midfield is equal to, if not better, than the Victory midfield.
Alex Brosque plays the role of the number 10. He has been able to blur himself between the lines, pick up passes as well as distribute the ball effectively. At times he has provided himself as an option in attacking phases, making bursting runs on either flank to support either Ibini or Naumoff. He consistently gets himself into good positions when a cross comes in, and this was visible with his fantastic backheel goal against Adelaide.
Mickael Tavares is the perfect foil for Milos Dimitrijevic. As witnessed on Saturday night, Tavares is a steady and calming influence as a defensive midfielder. He does the hard work, which is, tackling opposition players. Tavares is also good and bringing the ball out from defence, which limits the chance of a long ball coming out from defence. Tavares has been a real find this season.
Milos Dimitrijevic has been outstanding this season. His efficient distribution of the ball, irrespective of whether it is a short or long pass, has been phenomenal. Dimitrijevic has been the cornerstone of our midfield with his effective vision and link play with defence and attack showing what we have been missing since 2010.
Ministry of Defence
As with many things between the two sides, defence is also an evenly matched area. Melbourne have conceded 31 goals and Sydney 35. In the grand scheme of things, for the top two sides to be conceding more goals than there is games is concerning. However, both defences have also evolved throughout the season.
Matthieu Delpierre has been a good addition to the Victory backline. His experience has solidified them but they are still susceptible to losing concentration.
Lawrence Thomas is still a relative rookie. He has only played a handful of games in the A-League and he’s still at a point where he’s learning on his feet.
For the Sky Blues, defence has been a work in progress all season. It has only been in recent weeks where Graham Arnold has discovered his preferred back four.
Although only coming in mid-season, Jacques Faty has formed a brilliant understanding with Matt Jurman. The two have been outstanding in recent times and along with Nikola Petkovic and Seb Ryall, arguably produced Sydney’s best defensive display in years last Saturday night.
Ryall and Petkovic have had up and down seasons. Neither has performed to level fans know they’re capable of. A switch to left back has done wonders for Petkovic. This is his preferred position and it shows. Whilst not as attacking as young Alex Gersbach, his experience and defensive tendencies allows for a more stable backline.
On the Day
This is no doubt a heavyweight clash between the league’s two best sides.
Melbourne Victory should come into the game unchanged, while Seb Ryall’s position could be under threat given his inconsistency and temperamental issues this season.
For our lads to win, it comes down to two things: stopping Finkler’s and Delpierre’s influence on the game and their side. Disrupting Finkler’s influence minimises Victory’s attacking options who should be then reduced to long balls from deep. With regard to Delpierre, he is Victory’s defensive pillar and reducing his influence defensively should lead to exposing their goalkeeper. Therefore it will allow our attackers to really test Thomas and hope he is not up to the task.
When it comes to other match-ups or pointers across the rest of the pitch, I feel that form-wise, as a unit Sydney is in a much better position than Victory. As I mentioned earlier, Barbarouses is prone to inconsistency and Berisha is also prone to losing his rag. Sydney will no doubt look to expose this in addition to Graham Arnold having the side peaking much better than Kevin Muscat has his men.
I have no doubt we will come away the Toilet Seat at Melbourne City’s home ground.
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