Talking points preview: City vs Western Sydney

The Liberty A-League is approaching its business end for the 2021/22 season and Melbourne City looks very much set to be an active participant.


Rado Vidosic's side are fresh off a dramatic 2-1 win away to Brisbane Roar where, despite the home side arguably being the stronger outfit on the day, City's ability to win ugly and secure a vital three points was pleasing nonetheless.


Today's opposition, Western Sydney Wanderers, will have taken a significant hit to their confidence following a 3-0 loss at the hands of Adelaide United, especially given their pride in their previous defensive solidity this season.


Heading into the clash, here are the three biggest talking points from a Melbourne City perspective:


Source: Andrew Wiseman @wisemansports

All eyes on Holly Mac

She may only be 18, but Holly McNamara could be one of the most influential players at City this season, and fans will rightly be sweating on her fitness for a potential return to club football this afternoon following a period away with the Matildas.


City has struggled to score goals in the games that she's been absent, and Hannah Wilkinson, in particular, has felt the effects of the creative void that has been left over the past three games. The Kiwi has recently been seeing around half the amount of shooting opportunities compared to when McNamara was teeing her up routinely over the opening five rounds. This is especially critical when Wilkinson has one of the best goals-per-shot ratios in the entire league, serving as a pipeline for City's goals this campaign.


However, despite the Matildas' disappointing early exit from the Asian Cup, allowing players to return to their clubs, McNamara remains in doubt for the clash after limping off the field in Australia's final group stage game against Thailand.


There has been little in the way of detailed descriptions of the injury in the media, leading one to think that it may not be too serious, but the lack of information is seriously anxiety-inducing for City fans when she's been so crucial to our form.


How does Rado balance Barbieri's form with James' potential?

If you're looking for the short answer, it's this: You simply CANNOT drop Bubs after last weekend's goalkeeping display.


However, the discussion is warranted.


In acquiring Sally James prior to the 2021/22 season, City had recruited one of the top goalkeeping prospects in the country - a name touted as one of Australia's best outside of the current Matildas trio of Lydia Williams, Teagan Micah and Mackenzie Arnold.


After recovering from a severe arm injury sustained in pre-season, fans are now aware of James' availability for selection after her substitute appearance against Sydney FC recently.


The balance of rewarding the consistent performances of veteran keeper Melissa Barbieri versus fostering the development of one of Australia's brightest talents is a difficult one to maintain, but there are several more games this season for fans to see how Vidosic elects to play it out.


Source: Albert Perez / Getty Images

Convince us

With that initial Melbourne Derby result aside, the City girls had made a FLYING start to the season, winning five of their opening six games, and the early call was that we and Sydney were set to be the breakaway top two. Unsurprisingly, we had perhaps gotten a bit too far ahead of ourselves.


Following McNamara's departure for national team duties straight after the Wellington Phoenix game, City's performances have been far from convincing ever since.


Skipping over the 3-0 loss to Sydney FC, which likely would have remained a similar result (if not scoreline) regardless of available personnel, City's six points from its past three games is a drastically fortunate outcome given our performances in the away meetings with Adelaide and Brisbane, in which the home sides were the better outfit for much of the contest.


Regardless of whether McNamara returns to the starting lineup or not, City fans now need to be convinced that our blistering start to the season was the form of a Championship contender and not a plucky pretender.


A comfortable win - against a Wanderers side that has scored just twice this season - should be on the cards if we're the former.

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