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Semi Final Preview: Melbourne City vs Western United

Seven days after our last meeting, Melbourne City are set to face league newcomers Western United, who’s impressive run to the Semis in their inaugural season we will be looking to end on Wednesday night.

The previous clash between the two sides, who admittedly hadn’t been playing their strongest lineups, ended in a 3-1 win to City, with Jamie Maclaren bagging yet another brace against United and Moudi Najjar establishing himself as a starting candidate for the wing with his first league goal.

Since that game, Western United also faced Brisbane Roar in their Elimination Final on Sunday, scraping a 1-0 win thanks to an Alessandro Diamanti free-kick.

This Wednesday is arguably the biggest match in either club’s history, with the teams set for an epic 90 minute battle for the elusive prize of a maiden Grand Final appearance.

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Whilst Erick Mombaerts has not yet given his usual pre-game press conference to confirm the squad’s health, Melbourne City look set to field a full-strength side against United (with the obvious exception of Scott Jamieson), with Florin Berenguer expected to have recovered from his minor calf aggravation after missing last Wednesday’s clash.

The main talking point in regards to the lineup heading into the Semi-Final will be the return of Craig Noone to the wing and, more specifically, the identity of his potential accomplice on the other side. Moudi Najjar was largely impressive against United, not only scoring his first league goal but also demonstrating an admirable work ethic in his defensive recoveries, making a handful of surprising tackles to regain possession. Lachlan Wales looms as the other likely option, with the regular right-winger executing a killer first-time assist for Jamie Maclaren to seal the 3-1 result after coming on as a substitute. Whilst Mombaerts has previously indicated his desire to play wingers on the side of their preferred foot, he may be more comfortable with naming Craig Noone on either side given the Englishmen’s proven versatility, which would make either of Najjar or Wales a viable option.

For further analysis, it’s worth considering the matchups in either situation; Najjar, lining up on the left, would be coming up against Socceroo Josh Risdon, whilst Wales on the right would be facing the less-credentialed, though significantly pacier, Connor Pain.

It’s a talking point that could genuinely take up this entire match preview, but we’ll leave it at that and let the discussion continue on tonight’s podcast and in the socials comments.

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With such a hectic schedule, Western United must surely be starting to feel the pinch. The side from Victoria’s west (just emphasising here that it’s NOT a Melbourne Derby, sorry Fox) have been playing two games a week since the start of August, with the Semi-Final set to be their seventh game in just 24 days.

Whilst it may have been a time-wasting tactic, there were certainly a lot of United players going down late in the piece against Brisbane, with Josh Risdon and Max Burgess appearing to be substituted off for injury-related reasons.

On the topic of substitutions, Mark Rudan’s decision not to make a change until the 88th minute was somewhat bizarre, with the United manager electing to keep his strongest lineup on the park to see out the match instead of saving his stars.

Reviewing United’s match against Brisbane, the majority of chance creation was coming from the former’s right-hand side, with Diamanti and Risdon combining as the danger men on that flank. Nathaniel Atkinson, though starring in his role as an inverted full-back last week, will need to stay accountable defensively and neutralise Risdon’s crossing threat in particular.

Josh Brillante will play a pivotal role if he can close down Diamanti and prevent him from getting into space to expose vulnerabilities in the defensive structure.

Whilst City may have the season sweep over United so far, there’s no mistaking that a loss at the Semis to the Western Victorian side would be a catastrophe. Our boys have never looked better heading into a Finals series and are coming up against a football team who are just about playing on a basketball schedule.

There’s never been a bigger match for us, never a bigger opportunity, so let’s take it.

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