Written By Michael Safro (@safrossydney)
Sydney FC will need to get off their cloud.
Games are coming thick and fast and Sky Blues will have had no time to celebrate Wednesday’s momentous win against Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande. In the lead up to their all-important clash with Melbourne City this Saturday night, it has been little more than recovery sessions as they look to shake the fatigue that comes from playing their fifth match in two weeks.
Not in the least – this is where Sydney FC needs to be every season and managing fatigue comes with the territory when a club takes part in ACL competition alongside its domestic campaign. But no one said it was easy.
Complicating matters is the number of Sydney players unavailable through injury and suspension on Saturday night. I had my say on Jacques Faty last week but David Carney, superb in the last few games back in Sky Blue colours, should have known better than to talk himself into a yellow last weekend, which ruled him out for this weekend through card accumulation. Faty and Carney are joined on the sidelines by other card offenders Rhyan Grant and Seb Ryall, leaving the Sydney backline in a parlous state come the weekend.
Further forward and the loss of Alex Brosque to yet another hamstring injury, potentially for the rest of the season (or worse), leaves the Sky Blues short of their inspirational leader and goal scorer. Meanwhile, Matt Simon remains in doubt following his hospital stint with suspected spleen damage and while, thankfully, he was given a clean bill of health, there is no certainty that internal bruising won’t render him unavailable for this Saturday night.
On the plus side, a fresh Filip Holosko takes up his spot on the right of the Sydney midfield and, perhaps jolted into action following an anonymous Big Blue display last weekend, could have a major say in proceedings. He certainly needs to.
Should Simon fail to recover, young striker and Melbourne City specialist George Blackwood could get his first start since Sydney’s disastrous showing against Perth Glory last month. In Carney’s absence, the left wing could be occupied by one of Andrew Hoole, Chris Naumoff and even Wednesday night’s hero Robert Stambolziev if Arnie decides that the flyer could be taking form and confidence into the game.
Sydney’s best route to success appears to be its midfield. Milos Ninkovic, substituted in the 66th minute on Wednesday night, should start in his customary position behind the striker and ahead of Milos Dimitrijevic and either Mikael Tavares or Brandon O’Neill.
Sky Blue defence, as stated earlier, presents the biggest problem and Aaron Calver should keep his Champions League rightback spot while Ali Abbas is expected to start at leftback. In the absence of Faty and Ryall, big Zac Anderson will line up alongside Matthew Jurman who will take on the responsibility for leading the backline.
City, at full strength bar the injured Corey Gameiro, have played some scintillating football this season and are entitled to carry the mantle of favourites. On paper they are a formidable lineup, with names like Sorensen, Kisnorbo, Hughes, Wilkinson, Franjic, Zullo, Mooy, Novillo and Fornaroli reading like this season’s Who’s Who of the A-League world.
How to stop them?
It’s a cliché but the Sky Blues need to win the midfield. And if they do, the best way to defeat the petrodollar team is to take the game to them. For all their big names, they have, at times, been surprisingly brittle, losing home matches to Newcastle Jets and the Western Sydney Wanderers and stumbling away to the same two sides in recent weeks. The hosts go into Saturday night’s game on the back of a 2-1 defeat in Wellington last weekend.
Which means that neither side has terrific A-League form to call on, Sydney without a domestic win since January and Melbourne’s sole victory in that period coming against depleted cellar-dwellers the Central Coast Mariners. And while the hosts will believe that a win against the Sky Blues is within easy reach, doubts will begin to creep in if put under pressure early in the contest.
With just six games left in the regular season, the match takes on massive significance. A win will see Sydney FC leapfrog City to end the round in 4th or 5th spot on the table while a loss can see them drop out of the Top 6 altogether. Due to Sydney’s mixed results this season, the margin for error has now become a fine one.
Coming off Wednesday night’s ACL triumph, however, the Sky Blues will feel that they have turned their ship around and will not be intimidated despite the unavailability of key players. Both Miloses will need to stand up and the front three must be fearless and take their chances. Abbas has to continue where he left off on Wednesday night while the stage is set for Holosko to make his mark on the game.
The belief and courage shown by each and every player on Wednesday night led to a Sydney FC cocktail of intense, positive, attacking football that toppled a giant. If the depleted visitors take the same fearless attitude into the game against Melbourne City, they will come away from AAMI Park with all three points.
As we know, a win against the odds is certainly not beyond the Sky Blues.