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Preview: Sydney Derby – Round 20

sydney derby 2014

Sydney FC’s player of the round last weekend did not turn out in Sky Blue.

Blake Powell, a talented footballer and a terrific bloke to boot, never quite got the opportunity he deserved in his two year senior stint with Sydney FC. He certainly made up for it with his four-goal demolition of the Western Sydney Wanderers last Sunday, an amazing haul that exceeds the three that he scored for the Sky Blues in his knee injury-interrupted Sydney career.

Which is just as well.

The Sky Blues are going through a confidence crisis and in the run up to the Sydney Derby this Saturday night, “Blakey” helped even the odds by putting the Wanderers to the sword and giving them a headache of their own.

Sydney’s crosstown rivals may be in the frame for premiership honours this campaign but find themselves missing some key defenders. The impressive Alberto Aguilar is still serving his suspension after tangling with Melbourne Victory’s Besart Berisha a fortnight back while young Jonathan Aspropotamitis collected a red last weekend. Brendan Hamill may start despite being low on match fitness and his presence can only be a boon for the Sky Blues given his track record against them.

It points to one thing – the Wanderers’ best chance of finally winning a Derby is to attack. And attack is where their current strength lies, given the form of Mitch Nichols, Dario Vidosic, Mark Bridge and Brendan Santalab. Not to mention the best right winger in the competition, Dutchman Romeo Castelen.

And this leaves Sydney coach Graham Arnold with a dilemma.

Rhyan Grant, coming off arguably his worst game of professional football, is a better one-on-one defender than the man who replaced him in the second half last weekend, Ali Abbas. Does Arnie gamble and entrust the all-important leftback position to the more polished Iraqi, or offer the quicker and tougher tackling Grant a chance at redemption?

Brandon O’Neill is likely to replace Mikael Tavares, who was guilty of failing to track his man on at least two occasions last weekend. Milos Dimitrijevic, meanwhile, should keep his spot in the side behind Sydney’s form player, Milos Ninkovic.

In attack, Filip Holosko makes his return while David Carney, one of Sydney’s few standouts last weekend, should line up on the left and link with Alex Brosque, who is expected to lead the line. The understanding between the two ex-Socceroos has looked good and another week’s training should see them form an even better attacking combination.

With Scott Jamieson in the form of his career, expect the clash of the fiery leftback and his good mate, the hard-tackling Seb Ryall, to be among the night’s confrontations. Neither shirks a challenge or minds bending the rules on occasion, so the chances of at least one of the pair earning a card are high.

Another contest that holds great interest is form attacking midfielder Mitch Nichols versus whoever has the job of containing him, most likely Brandon O’Neill. Nichols is playing not only for three points but a Socceroo recall so could either thrive or wilt under pressure.

For the Wanderers, impressive midfielder Dimas Delgado returns following his one match suspension. The La Liga veteran has been among the visitors’ leading lights and controls the tempo of the game from the back of midfield. The Sky Blues’ best chance of upsetting his rhythm, and that of their opponents on the night, is to feed Milos Ninkovic plenty of ball, forcing the Spaniard to expend his energy marking the tricky Serbian #10.

The Sky Blues have been unimpressive since Christmas and are coming off their worst month in at least two years, but hold the wood over their crosstown rivals. They will feel that they have the psychological edge over the Wanderers while feeling the pressure to arrest their slide in front of a packed Allianz Stadium.

Across town, the confidence of the western Sydney outfit will be dented following their shock 2-5 loss to cellar dwellers Wellington Phoenix last weekend and they will be nervous about facing the Sky Blues without a number of first choice defenders. What they will be saying to each other in the dressing rooms, however, is that they are playing an inferior opponent and if they attack Sydney they will win the match.

Tactically, Arnie set up his previous two Sydney Derby sides to soak up pressure and hit the Wanderers on the counter, a tactic that has yielded Sydney the full six points this season. However, given Wednesday night’s ACL match – one in which Urawa Red Diamonds are expected to dominate possession – he is unlikely to force his team into 180 minutes of defensive running, so Saturday night’s instructions may well be to win the midfield battle.

Should Sydney do just that, they have the capacity to defeat the Wanderers, maintaining a phenomenal record in the process. If they fail to do so, however, it could be a long night for their long-suffering supporters.

On Saturday night, 40,000 fans will watch a contest that is the envy of other sports in this country. The Sky Blues do not have to entertain but they do have to get a result against a rival that will be desperate to wipe a two year winless streak against Sydney FC.

Long may that streak continue.