Semi-Final preview: Sydney vs City

Melbourne City is headed for a fifth Finals series in seven seasons in the A-League Women, with the team set to contest Sydney FC for a place in the Grand Final on Friday night.


Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

City finished the regular season in second place following a dramatic final day where we were briefly in first until Sydney beat Adelaide United 1-0 to claim their second-consecutive Premiership.


The teams' most recent meeting was in late February when the City girls pulled off a shock 2-1 win that could have reshaped the Premiership race if not for our slip-up against Brisbane Roar in the following game.


In that 2-1 victory, the City girls came out of the blocks fast, possibly catching Sydney by surprise, as Rhianna Pollicina and Kaitlyn Torpey netted first-half goals to see us into a great position heading into the break. However, the second half was entirely different, with Sydney proving their quality by dominating the entire second 45 as Melissa Barbieri's goal was peppered and some massive chances unbelievably passed up by some of Sydney's best players. Princess Ibini would eventually spoil our clean sheet with a successful conversion from the penalty spot, but fans will be hoping for a repeat of that defensive resoluteness in this high-stakes Final.



That said, the real challenge will be finding the back of the net ourselves, especially given how we're yet to convince offensively since Holly McNamara suffered a season-ending ACL injury in our last meeting with the Sky Blues. Without the young striker, City scored just four goals in its final three games of the season - two of which were against teams in 8th and 9th.


Hannah Wilkinson has hit the ground running since her return from international duty, scoring in each of the games she's played following her time away, and the team will again be reliant on her to make an impact in front of goal on Friday.


Similarly, the absence of McNamara's creative abilities places a further emphasis on the performance of Rhianna Pollicina against Sydney, with the 24-year-old arguably having been our best player in the second half of the season.


Elsewhere, our wing-backs could be the key to unlocking the Sydney FC defence, but it could come at the expense of exposing our own backline. TJ Vlajnic and Kaitlyn Torpey have been brilliant on the left and right respectively this campaign, and were at the centre of City's disassembly of Sydney when the teams last played. Early on, Torpey fed a ball from wide to central for Pollicina to score the first, before Vlajnic later drifted inside from the left and played a line-breaking through ball for Torpey to run onto on the right and finish across the keeper.


Source: Andrew Wiseman (@wisemansports)

However, it was in the space vacated by our wing-backs that Sydney constantly looked to play balls through for their insanely quick wingers, usually two of Cortnee Vine, Princess Ibini and Paige Satchell. Our central defensive trio would then be forced into a foot race against expectedly pacier opponents, who could then fizz in a low cutback to the centre of the box or take the shot on themselves.


Whether this issue will be solved with instructions for our wing-backs or a larger-scale tactical shift remains to be seen.

 

We may have missed our chance at a third Premiership trophy, but it's the Finals series where we've really shone over the years.


After downing the frighteningly in-form Adelaide United in the final round, Sydney FC will unsurprisingly be favourites to win this one, but that will suit our City girls just fine. The team has shown incredible character this year and has often exceeded the sum of its parts; it'll take that type of performance to pull off another upset victory and progress through to our fifth Grand Final.


Score prediction: Sydney 1-1 City (1-1 a.e.t, City to progress on penalties)

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