Melbourne City fans will be hoping to commemorate the club’s tenth season with a maiden A-League Championship, with the side set to do battle for the coveted ‘Toilet Seat’ this Sunday against Premiers Sydney FC.
Our historic first berth in the season’s showpiece fixture was secured on Wednesday night in a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Western United, with our boys showing real grit to outlast an onslaught from their opponents in green and black before capitalising up the other end.
Sydney FC also progressed to their second consecutive Grand Final on the back of a 2-0 win, this time over Perth Glory thanks to a fortunate ricochet and a goalkeeping howler from Liam Reddy.
For City, this Sunday is an opportunity to create history with their first-ever. For Sydney, it’s an opportunity to cement their place in history as the greatest-ever.
Here’s our preview of this Sunday night’s Grand Final:
Melbourne City will expect to have a full-strength squad to select from, with no injuries seen to have been sustained in our Semi-Final clash. Typically the short turnaround may have some impact on selection decisions, but it seems unlikely that Erick Mombaerts will name anything but his strongest possible side to challenge Sydney FC on their home turf.
It raises the question: what IS our strongest possible side?
In recent weeks, Mombaerts has named a 4-3-3 system in which Harrison Delbridge lines up on the right and where Nathaniel Atkinson is employed as an inverted fullback on the left, joining the midfield during offensive transitions where he has been extremely influential, best exemplified by the Round 28 fixture against Western United.
With that defensive structure keeping out United for the first time in our four-encounter history (though largely thanks to Tom Glover’s heroics in goal), it’s difficult to justify any changes, so Scott Galloway will likely remain amongst the substitutes come Sunday.
There’s no discussion to be had amongst the midfield selections, with Brillante, Luna and Berenguer the likely trio, nor will Noone or Maclaren’s positions come under any scrutiny whatsoever, so let’s just skip ahead to the elephant in the room; does Lachie Wales start?
The answer has to be yes.
For all that alternatives have been thrown up, primarily for Noone to be thrown onto the right and Najjar to get another go on the left, what benefit is experimenting with changes in the final game of the season expected to bring about?
With Wales still the strongest of our three young right-wingers, City fans have no other option than to accept the lineup that’s put out on the day (in our opinion, it’ll likely remain the same) and let Lachie take his future into his own hands, given that he’s very likely playing for his next contract.
Sydney FC dominated the 2019/20 season pre-COVID, but had appeared a shadow of their former selves since the restart, at least until finally clicking into gear against Perth in their Semi-Final on Wednesday.
The Sky Blues were still far from convincing, essentially gifted their two goals, and survived some dominant periods from the Glory in which fans were left stunned that the ball had not ended up in the back of Sydney’s net.
The Grand Final is a familiar stage for the league’s most successful club and negating the influence of their champion midfield will be of huge significance this Sunday evening.
Employing a 4-2-2-2 system, the Sky Blues have experimented with their midfield composition frequently since the restart, with their host of options including Milos Ninkovic, Alexander Baumjohann and former City players Luke Brattan, Anthony Caceres and Paulo Retre.
Caceres was preferred to Baumjohann in the Sky Blue’s Semi, lining up alongside Ninkovic as the two attacking midfielders. This leaves the benched German as a card up the sleeve of this season’s Premiers, with Baumjohann capable of starting for just about every other team in the league.
Winning the midfield battle will be crucial and City managed to do this by bypassing it altogether in the two sides’ most recent encounter, with Adrián Luna dropping deep and launching a long ball directly from defense to attack to set up Craig Noone’s opener.
Capitalising on counters to bypass the Sydney midfield is where the team will need Florin Berenguer to be back to his very best, with his marauding transitional play expected to be crucial for opening up space to play his wingers into.
The midfield will need to step up generally, with Nathaniel Atkinson’s influence in the engine room likely to be handicapped by the double-threat of Milos Ninkovic and attacking fullback Ryan Grant, who is known to abandon his defensive duties to push into spaces behind the opposition defensive line when the chance presents itself.
Ultimately, our preview finishes on this: there is no other team that Melbourne City would want to be playing in the Grand Final than Sydney FC.
Sydney have been the best team in the league for several seasons now and will go into this clash looking to establish themselves as the competition’s greatest-ever.
A win against the indomitable Sky Blues won’t be the result of luck or an easy road to the Final, it’ll be on the back of a champion team who’ve shown an unprecedented ability to bounce back in a season that has required resilience and determination like no other before it.
It’s been ten seasons. Ten seasons of underachieving and in some cases, outright failure, but also ten seasons of memories that we wouldn’t trade for anything. This Sunday is the culmination of ten seasons of ups and downs – of ecstasy and agony.
This Sunday is the chance for Melbourne City to finally grow into its long-known potential and to prove that winning is part of our identity.
Come on you City boys.