We're set for a top-of-the-table clash that could decide the 2021/22 A-League Women's Premiership when Melbourne City and Sydney FC clash at AAMI Park later today.
Our City girls will come into the clash high on confidence, recently extending their winning streak to three games with their dominant 4-0 victory over Perth Glory last weekend.
Sydney FC is yet to lose a game this season but recently had their run of six wins broken by Melbourne Victory, who came back from 2-0 down to secure a 2-2 draw midweek.
With everything on the line in this afternoon's blockbuster clash, here are some of the biggest talking points heading into it:
The game to decide the Premiership
The draw between Sydney and Victory has put an entirely different spin on the blockbuster clash between the league's top two teams, to the point where the 2021/22 Premiership could be decided based on the result of today's game.
A City win would see the team have a higher points ceiling over its three remaining games (36) than Sydney would be able to reach in their two remaining games (35). A Sydney win would mathematically wrap up a second-consecutive Premiership for the Sky Blues.
Whilst the task of beating the undefeated league leaders without two of our best players (more on that in a bit) seems improbable, achieving that and then going on to win our next three isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility; we'd have to beat Brisbane (8th), Western Sydney (9th) and then play our postponed game against Newcastle (6th, but their only two wins have come against the league punching bag Wellington Phoenix).
Look, ultimately the only game that matters is tomorrow's clash against Sydney, but the belief that we could pull off something truly special might just inspire our girls to get the result against all odds.
Doing it the hard way
A City win would be the unlikely result even if we were at full strength, but there's no hiding that the losses of Rebekah Stott and Hannah Wilkinson will turn the improbable into the near-impossible.
As the pair represent their native New Zealand at the SheBelieves Cup, Rado Vidosic will be in desperate search of answers as to how he's supposed to compensate for the loss of two of his most influential players against a Sydney FC side that has pretty much walked the league so far.
Stott's sheer quality is above just about every other player in the league, but Vidosic likely has two options to replace the former Brighton and Hove Albion star to the best of his ability. Defensive midfielder Meisha Westland has been called upon off the bench several times this season as a like-for-like replacement whenever Stott has needed a rest. However, the FIFA-esque option of fitting as many of your best players on the pitch as possible likely involves Leticia McKenna, who could slot into a central role alongside Rhianna Pollicina if Leah Davidson drops deeper to do the defensive work, as she was relied upon to do last season. McKenna has over 40 appearances in the A-League Women despite being just 19 years old, but hasn't seen as much playing time this season as many would have expected given the breakout campaign of Pollicina.
If replacing Stott is difficult, then replacing Wilkinson up top is impossible - there's simply no other player with her physical profile and target-player capabilities. As our only other out-and-out striker, Holly McNamara will likely lead the line, and you'd assume that Pollicina will accompany her in some capacity, but whether that is as a front two or if they're flanked by a third player in a front three (potentially TJ Vlajnic or the aforementioned McKenna) remains to be seen.
Blood in the water?
The Sky Blues have been the standout A-League Women's team in 2021/22, but there's an argument to be made that kinks in their armour are starting to show.
Until their recent 2-2 draw with Melbourne Victory, Sydney hadn't had to travel interstate for an away game, and their only other game against a top four side was their home win over City.
The Sky Blues goalscoring output has also dropped recently; over their past three games, Sydney has beaten Brisbane 2-0, Newcastle 1-0, and then, of course, were held to a 2-2 draw by the Victory. City has outscored the league leaders by three goals over the same period.