It’s a lot later than we expected, but we’ve at last arrived at the final match of the regular season, not against Sydney as we’d been fixtured, but instead against an in-form Western United who’ve been very busy since the return to play.
Melbourne City were unlucky not to come away with the three points against Adelaide last Wednesday, when a costly red card to Craig Noone flipped the game on its head and allowed Adelaide to claw their way back to level terms in extra time.
Western United’s most recent result came just on Saturday night when they also scored in extra time to spoil Sydney FC’s party, dampening the post-game celebrations for this year’s Premiers.
With Western United in such menacing form and on the back of a confidence-boosting win, this Wednesday night’s clash will be another challenge for our City boys to face, and will be an important final test to see if we’re truly prepared for what could be the most significant Finals series in our club’s history.
Whilst the Melbourne City squad would have been disappointed not to come away with the three points against Adelaide, our first-half performance should be of particular delight for fans, with some much-needed consistency finally starting to show through in our performances.
However, Craig Noone’s sending-off and subsequent one-week suspension, as questionable as the referee’s decision may have been, creates a significant absence in the front three ahead of this Wednesday’s clash.
This does allow for some experimentation on Erick Mombaert’s part though and will largely depend on the formation he elects to play, having trialled both three- and four-back formations in consecutive weeks.
Given that City’s four-at-the-back formation is currently 2-0 against Western United this season and with Craig Noone unavailable to play the second striker role in the case of a three-back, we’re probably tipping the same backline as last week. Nathaniel Atkinson looked especially lively on the left in place of Scott Jamieson and Harrison Delbridge was decent on the right too.
With this assumption, Lachie Wales probably lines up on the right, unless Erick’s patience with the winger has run out to the point of handing an opportunity to the likes of Ramy Najjarine or Stefan Colakovski, the latter of whom we’d especially like to see given another chance after impressing early on in the season.
If Wales stays, one of those two would be the favourite to be given the nod on the other side, though a left-field option for our left-wing could be Adrián Luna, who has played as a winger frequently throughout his career.
Western United have been one of the form teams of the competition since the restart, winning four of their five games including wins over top-six mainstays Sydney FC and Perth Glory.
However, the squad is likely to be feeling the effects of fatigue having played more games than any other team in the league since the return to play, with this Wednesday’s match set to be their fifth game in just 14 days.
With ageing stars Alessandro Diamanti, 37, and (we hate to say it) Besart Berisha, 35, on their books, as well as the fossil himself Andrew Durante, 38, United are surely about to run out of steam, and will have some big decisions to make; with Finals qualification wrapped up and second-place out of reach, does the side really want to push for third-place or will it give some of its key players a rest?
It’s an important dilemma to consider because there could be some huge key matchups right across the field this Wednesday. Rising star Max Burgess has emerged as the Robin to Diamanti’s Batman in midfield this season, with that dual-threat likely to be the biggest concern facing our boys in the upcoming clash.
Fullback Josh Risdon has also been a big part of United’s success, with the equal-most assists for his side whilst also racking up more tackles than any other teammate. His potential clash against Nathaniel Atkinson could be one to watch, with the two defenders likely to line up on the same side of the field.
Finally, there’s the Windy v Berisha matchup, with City’s Austrian centre-back hopefully set to prove his value again by defending the Kosovan (admittedly less fun than ‘the Albanian’ used to be) out of the game as he did in the teams’ most recent encounter.
Alas, it’s the final game of the regular season and the stakes are objectively quite low, but it still feels like there’s a lot at stake in regards to momentum and confidence in this Wednesday’s clash. Will the City boys demonstrate their title credentials and restart their momentum heading into Finals or will Western United prove they’re a dark horse to be taken seriously?