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Round 1 Preview: Melbourne Victory vs Melbourne City

Derby Days. Don’t we just love ‘em?

It’s that time of year again. Another long preseason winds up. City fans buzz with optimism, anticipation and excitement. The players make their final preparations ahead of another huge clash against our despised crosstown rivals as we hope to kick our 2019/20 league campaign off with a bang.

Could this be the year?

We’re getting straight into it this time. Here are the three things that we’ve got our eyes on ahead of tonight’s season opener:

A trend in recent Derby history

We’ve got good news and we’ve got bad news.

The good news is that City have won the opening derby in each of the past three seasons. 2016/17 saw an incredible 4-1 scoreline which included goals from Fornaroli, Brattan and Brandán, as well as Cahill’s iconic volley on his league debut.

2017/18 was a tighter affair which ended with City emerging 2-1 victors. This was the year that Marcin Budsinski scored that rocket on the stroke of half-time, whilst Bruce Kamau also got on the scoresheet.

Last year’s opening round derby was a controversial one, but that just makes claiming the win even sweeter, doesn’t it? You’ll likely remember the much-debated penalty call and the ensuing rebound smashed in by Ritchie De Laet, cancelling out Keisuke Honda’s opener, before Riley McGree went and sealed the win with a goal later on in the half.

The bad news is that we haven’t won a non-opening derby since Round 11 of the 2015/16 season…

We'll worry about that later though.

Youngsters to step up

We’re combining two into one here because there’s simply no way that we can write this preview without mentioning the impending ‘trial by fire’ for both Connor Metcalfe and Moudi Najjar.

Connor Metcalfe’s been the story of the preseason thus far. We’ve mentioned him in just about every match preview to date, but he really looks to be one of the shining lights ahead of the new season. However, the majority of what we’ve seen of him has been against NPL opposition in three of our four competitive matches in the FFA Cup, so the upcoming fixture against a strong A-League outfit will be a crucial test of his capabilities.

Moudi Najjar, on the other hand, looks to be a possible – potentially probably – replacement for Jamie Maclaren to lead the line, with our in-form striker unavailable for the match having scored his first Socceroos hattrick against Nepal on Thursday night. It would be a huge burden to place on the 19-year-old’s shoulders, but we’re even more intrigued by how the potential change may affect City’s approach in the attacking buildup.

Much of the team’s offensive play revolves around Maclaren’s pace and agility to find space and dart behind opposition defenders, with Craig Noone occasionally dropping deep to play aerial balls over the top, as exemplified by his exhilarating first half against Western Sydney Wanderers in the FFA Cup Quarters.

Najjar, however, fits a different mould of striker; just a little bit taller and a fraction less pacey. If Najjar does start tonight, it’ll be crucial for Erick and the boys to work out the degree to which they’ll need to modify their game plan to unlock the Victory defense.

We hear that scooting past Corey Brown at the edge of the box works pretty well.

A new era for City

With City fans anxiously awaiting the FFA Cup Final against Adelaide United later this month, it certainly feels as though there’s a different air about the club this season.

The days of Joyceball are over. Erick Mombaerts has arrived at Bundoora determined to instill an attacking philosophy consistent with the ideology of the City Football Group, of which he has become well-versed in whilst coaching Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan.

The boys are playing a much more exciting brand of football, accentuated by the real quality up-front in the form of Craig Noone and Jamie Maclaren in particular.

Mombaerts’ commitment to youth development has also been proven, with the aforementioned Metcalfe pretty much guaranteeing himself as a starter for at least the first handful of games this season, whilst Ramy Najjarine continues to be given opportunities to raise his game to the next level.

We’re hesitant to say that this season will be the one, given that we as City fans tend to be optimistic every year, but a win in tonight’s Derby might just be a sign of brighter things to come.

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