A-League Alert: Fireworks expected at Sydney Derby

28 February, 2024

Nine rounds remain in the 2023-24 A-League season, meaning every point is worth its weight in gold as the finals race continues to heat up. Two sides in the race – Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC – lock horns in the second Sydney Derby of the season, which promises to be full of fireworks, while Melbourne City’s season hangs by a thread as they avoid a ten-year first. We analyse what to expect in this weekend’s Derby and whether City can resuscitate their campaign in the weeks ahead.

Sydney Derby promises fireworks as finals hopes go on the line

Strap in. The second Sydney Derby of the year is here.

Western Sydney Wanderers welcome Sydney FC to CommBank Stadium on Saturday night, with both teams looking to solidify their place in the top six heading into the season’s final stretch.

A packed crowd is expected in Parramatta, welcoming the Wanderers back home after they returned to winning ways with a crucial victory on the road against Adelaide United on Saturday, which led to them leapfrogging Sydney on the standings after the Sky Blues were held to a 1-1 draw with Melbourne City.

Only a point separates the two sides on the ladder, with the Wanderers currently sitting in fifth and Sydney in sixth heading into this weekend’s contest. However, the trailing pack – led by Melbourne City – is nipping at their heels, residing four points behind the Sky Blues.

It makes this weekend’s contest all the more enticing, especially when you consider the overarching history between the two teams and the recent encounters in the last year, making picking a result almost impossible to predict.

Last season, the two teams split the four meetings with two wins apiece, but incredibly few of the victors were the home sides on the day. 

Namely, Sydney won the Elimination Final at CommBank Stadium, coming from behind to win 2-1 in Sydney’s west, and the trend has continued this season, with Western Sydney winning the first meeting this season 1-0 at Allianz Stadium thanks to a goal from Zach Sapsford.

But this isn’t the same Sky Blues side the Wanderers faced earlier in the season, with Sydney coming into the contest riding a six-game unbeaten streak.

In another subplot, Wanderers boss Marko Rudan is set to return to the touchline this week after a two-game ban following his comments in a post-game press conference following their 4-3 loss to Macarthur FC, which saw him issued with a show cause notice by Football Australia.

All of this makes for a box office encounter on Saturday night.

 

Crucial nine games to come as City hope to avoid ten year first

Melbourne City and finals football have gone together like peas and carrots, but that could be coming under threat this season.

The winners of the last three A-League Men’s Premierships reside outside the top six heading into the final nine rounds of the season, meaning they’re currently on track to miss the finals for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

In fact, since the City Football Group takeover of the then Melbourne Heart, City have not missed the finals, showcasing their turn in fortunes in the last decade.

However, their fortunes have changed this season, with Aurelio Vidmar’s side sitting four points outside the top six heading into Round 19 and needing points fast if they are to ensure their finals streak continues.

City’s season has been nothing short of hectic, having to juggle league, Asian Champions League and Australia Cup duties early in the campaign, all while trying to mesh on the field with essentially a brand new squad, a host of injuries and a managerial change after Vidmar replaced Rado Vidosic in October.

After a slow start, it seemed as if City had turned a corner heading into the New Year, especially after dismantling Brisbane Roar 8-1 at home, but since then, they have only won two of their last eight matches and none in their last four games.

Star striker and the winner of the last four Golden Boots Jamie Maclaren hasn’t scored since the said match against Brisbane, while gun midfielder Tolgay Arslan has missed the last three games due to suspension, Mathew Leckie has battled injuries for the entirety of the campaign, and Aziz Behich departed mid-season for Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr.

However, the tide has slowly turned in the last fortnight, with back-to-back draws against Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC and the return of key players, including Leckie and Marco Tilio – who scored his first goal since returning to the club on loan from Celtic in the draw with the Sky Blues.

They’re set to be joined by Arslan this week against Macarthur, which will boost their playing stocks.

City played six of their last nine games at AAMI Park, too, which is a significant plus considering they have only lost once on their home deck in the league this season.

But it all starts with getting three points away to the Bulls on Friday night, which will be far from a guarantee given the way Mile Sterjovski’s side have performed this season, going from a bottom-placed finish just under a year ago to residing inside the top four.

 

Around The Grounds: A-League Round 19 Preview

Macarthur vs Melbourne City

Round 19 kicks off in Sydney’s west as Macarthur welcomes Melbourne City to Campbelltown. Both sides are in the thick of the finals race, with City needing a win to close the gap on sixth place. It promises to be a cracking contest.

 

Western United vs Perth Glory

A-League action returns to Ballarat when Western United take on Perth Glory. Bottom-placed Western has turned a corner in recent weeks but surrendered points in second-half stoppage time in their last two games, while Perth are unbeaten in six games and need a win to stay in the finals hunt.

 

Newcastle Jets vs Central Coast Mariners

The second F3 Derby of the season emanates from McDonald Jones Stadium as Newcastle takes on the high-flying Central Coast Mariners. Jets’ season is slipping away by the week off the back of five games without a win, but they turned a corner in their 2-2 draw with Macarthur last week. Meanwhile, the Mariners are in red-hot form and could sit at the table at the end of the round with a win over their rivals.

 

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC

Saturday’s Derby theme continues when arch-rivals Western Sydney Wanderers welcome Sydney FC to CommBank Stadium. Only a point separates the Wanderers and Sydney on the table, with the former winning the first meeting earlier this season on the Sky Blues’ home turf. Sydney, however, has a great record in Parramatta, winning the two meetings out west. Expect fireworks.

 

Wellington Phoenix vs Adelaide United

League leaders Wellington Phoenix return home to face the out-of-sorts Adelaide United on Sunday. The ‘Nix sit three points clear atop the standings and are unbeaten in nine games, with their last defeat coming on December 29. Meanwhile, Adelaide hasn’t won in their last five matches and need a win to keep their faint finals hopes alive.

 

Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory head on the road to face Brisbane Roar in the final game of Round 19, seeking a win to keep pace with the top two. Tony Popovic’s side has only won one of their last eight matches but only sits three points behind Central Coast on the ladder. Meanwhile, Brisbane sits five points outside the top six, and a win would go a long way to bolstering their hopes for the finals.

 

Tips

Macarthur vs Melbourne City – Draw

Western United vs Perth Glory – Draw

Newcastle Jets vs Central Coast Mariners – Central Coast to win

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC – Draw

Wellington Phoenix vs Adelaide United – Wellington to win

Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne Victory – Melbourne Victory to win

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