Talking points preview: City vs Sydney
The City boys are back in action just days after their staggering 6-0 away win over Wellington Phoenix and we'll all be hoping to see the momentum from that massive achievement carried straight into tomorrow night's Grand Final rematch against Sydney FC at AAMI.
The Sky Blues are coming off an important win themselves, emerging victorious against their Sydney Derby rivals, but will be without Socceroos full-back Rhyan Grant who was sent off late in the piece.
As for City, Connor Metcalfe and Marco Tilio may be in line for returns to the starting XI after they featured in the matchday squad (via the bench) for the first time since arriving back from their national team duties.
With so much on the line, here are the major talking points ahead of tomorrow's game:
Our Finals have already begun
Whilst we're all undoubtedly excited for our upcoming inaugural ACL campaign, there's the small matter of a title race going on at the moment and that's where the team's immediate priorities will lie.
In some ways, Saturday's demolition of Wellington was the first of an informal 'Finals series' for City that could just about wrap up a second-consecutive Premier's plate; City started the day on 40 points, nine short of Western's projected points tally (at that point) of 49, which - even in light of their recent draw - I continue to regard as what should be our minimum points target (49 would be a tally that, on a points-per-game basis, would have won us the league in 13 of the A-League's 16 seasons to date).
I propose this idea of a three-game 'Finals series' because, with wins against Wellington (away), Sydney and Victory, we would have reached that golden points tally just in time for our ACL group stage and still with two games in hand to build on that points buffer against 12th-placed Perth and one-win-from-seven-away-from-home Wellington (at AAMI).
We have no idea how the boys' fitness, morale and acclimatisation to A-League opposition might be affected by a gruelling, condensed ACL group stage campaign, so they'd be doing themselves (and certainly fans) a favour by securing six points against Sydney and Victory in order to make themselves HUGE Plate favourites.
Note: For context, City (1.95 ppg) and WU (1.90 ppg) are currently projected to finish on 50.7 and 49.4 points each. Obviously that latter tally doesn't bode well for the 'magic 49 points' theory, even though we'd still win on goal difference, so if you want real certainty, 52 points (2.00ppg) might be the golden number, as no team has ever collected points at a higher rate and not won the Plate. Who knows though, history is always being re-written...
Fantastic matchups for City's Socceroo wingers
The January departure of Joel King to the Danish Superligaen (which I didn't even know occured until researching for this article, hence the mention) and Rhyan Grant's red card in the recent Sydney Derby leaves the Sky Blues short on fullback stocks heading into tomorrow night's clash.
21-year-old Callum Talbot has deputised admirably for King at left-back so far, but will be in for the challenge of his 737-minute professional career when he is likely shifted to the right side of defence in Grant's absence (as he has done previously in such circumstances) to face City, with the youngster set to come up against nine-goal-involvements-in-his-past-nine Mathew Leckie.
On the other side of the back four, it's likely to be second-string defender Connor O'Toole who's left to face the pace and power of Andrew Nabbout - fresh off a confidence-boosting, drought-ending goal against Wellington - a most unenviable task.
There's likely something to be said about Marco Tilio too, who again hinted at his European potential with a two-goal cameo against the 'Nix, but there's no telling how PK plans to fit so many star attacking assets into his starting lineup.
(And, a quick one to finish off:) History to be made
Currently on a run of 10 games undefeated, the City boys would rewrite club records if they were to secure at least a point against the Sky Blues tomorrow.
Our previous longest undefeated streak was, ironically, set over the 10 games that won us the Premier's Plate last season, culminating with that 1-0 win over the Mariners at home. Hopefully, there's something in that - that when the stakes are high, the City boys go higher - so let's see if, for a second-consecutive season, we can go undefeated long enough to secure the title.