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Talking points preview: City vs Sydney

Melbourne City will seek retribution for both its recent Melbourne Derby loss and its previous humiliating defeat at the hands of Sydney FC when the Sky Blues travel to Kingston Heath this Saturday.

The City girls put in a respectable performance in the Derby, but were ultimately brought undone by bad luck and their own poor finishing against a Melbourne Victory side that desperately needed the resulting three points.

However, their loss was not nearly as embarrassing as Sydney FC's upset defeat to 12th-placed Wellington Phoenix just two days earlier. This result, however, came with the caveat that Ante Juric's side was missing its starting centre-backs Natalie Tobin and Charlotte Mclean, goalkeeper Jada Whyman, and import striker Madison Hayley, all of whom (bar Mclean) are eligible to return this weekend.

Here are the biggest storylines heading into the matchup:

Photo: Getty Images

Our last big test before Finals

With City all but out of the race for the Premiers Plate, our remaining fixtures have become about fine-tuning our performances in time for Finals.

There will be no greater barometer for that challenge than our upcoming clash against Sydney FC.

Against current top-four sides, our City girls have been entirely underwhelming, securing just one draw and losing four times in previous clashes with Western United, Sydney and Melbourne Victory. It has been a feature of all of these games that City has dominated in parts but failed to convert in front of goal, netting just three times from a total of 73 shots across those fixtures - heavily outperforming our opposition in this combined stat.

Our defence also falls away significantly when facing more difficult opposition, conceding 2.2 goals per game against top-four opposition, compared to 0.4 per game against all other teams. In fact, from our past eight games, the City backline has been breached only by Western, Sydney and Victory.

The evidence is mounting against our City girls as a squad of downhill skiers, and whilst fixtures against Perth and Canberra await following this weekend, it is Sydney FC that will represent our final big test of the regular season.

Some big squad inclusions

City's prospects of success in this heavyweight clash have been bolstered by the inclusion of Daniela Galic and Karly Roestbakken following international duty and injury respectively.

The pair will be in contention for places in the starting lineup alongside the newly-fit Naomi Chinnama, who featured off the bench in last Monday's Melbourne Derby loss.

With these three important names being thrown into the starting selection mix, we can move quickly onto the real meat of this article:

Solving the balance issue

To mixed results, Dario Vidosic has stacked his team with his entire arsenal of attacking weapons over the past two weeks, but the outcome has been a midfield imbalance that is difficult to ignore.

With Leah Davidson suffering a season-ending injury, Leticia McKenna has operated at the base of midfield with Rhianna Pollicina playing as her more offensive partner. Holly McNamara and Bryleeh Henry have flanked wide, whilst Cote Rojas and Hannah Wilkinson - a markedly contrasting strike duo - have played up front.

What fans have observed in the fallout is a midfield that struggles to transition the ball quickly up the field, a strength of the team earlier in the season. Surprisingly, our star-studded attack has lacked the same fluency and multidimensionality that saw us net 17 goals across our opening five games, despite arguably being improved (in terms of available personnel).

However, with Chinnama, Galic and Roestbakken returning, several solutions are beginning to emerge.

  1. The team could revert to the additional defensive solidity of a three-back system now that Chinnama is fit, compensating for a lack of proper defensive nous in midfield. This formation also complements the strengths of outside defenders Kaitlyn Torpey and Julia Grosso, but could cause even more selection headaches as they would occupy the lineup's only wide positions.

  2. Maintaining our current back four, Daniela Galic could be paired alongside Leticia McKenna, releasing Pollicina to play as more of a #10. Neither Galic or McKenna are particularly strong defensively, but together they could compensate for the vulnerability of a single, ill-equipped #6.

  3. The returns of Chinnama and Roestbakken means we finally have direct alternatives to McKenna as the solitary holding midfielder. While Roestbakken is capable of playing there, she's only just returning from injury and has started very few games even when fit. Alternatively, Chinnama could replace Katie Bowen alongside Emma Checker in defence, and the versatile Kiwi could be moved into midfield where she has a wealth of experience.

Experimentation with any of the aforementioned strategies, even at the risk of failure, is surely better than inaction, especially with the might of Sydney FC ahead.

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