Talking points preview: City vs Western United
Against the backdrop of a Men's Melbourne Derby and the planned protests with which it will be accompanied, it is rather unfortunate that Saturday afternoon's top-of-the-table clash between City and Western United in the ALW has been relegated to a secondary talking point coming into the weekend.
Both sides head into the clash unbeaten and City in particular are playing some captivating football to start the 2022/23 campaign, scoring 12 goals across our opening three fixtures.
Most recently, the City girls put five past what had been an improved Newcastle Jets outfit on previous seasons, whilst Western United were the recipients of the Round 4 bye.
Here are the major talking points (just two this week - everything else pales in comparison) heading into what could be the game of the ALW season thus far:
With the big pre-season contenders Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United all having lost at least once already this season (the latter two to WU, concerningly), the winner of City vs WU stands to gain an early advantage on its competition.
The two sides have played vastly different brands of football heading into the clash; Dario Vidosic's notable emphasis placed on possession (in which his team leads the competition with an average of 59%) contrasts with Mark Torcaso's willingness to afford time on the ball to his opposition, with United accounting for 47% of possession on average. This tactic is also reflected in the fact that Torcaso's side rarely presses in their attacking third, ranking last in this metric.
Part of United's strength stems from its miserly defence, which concedes a league-low 6.67 shots per 90 minutes. However, when the green and black defensive unit is compromised, it tends to be at its own peril with teams capitalising on high-quality opportunities. This should concern City less than any other team, as Vidosic's side creates higher-quality chances and takes fewer shots to score than any of its ALW rivals. In contrast to United's defence, City concedes a substantial amount of low-probability shooting chances which are saved routinely by Sally James, who boasts the third-highest save percentage among goalkeepers.
Saturday's blockbuster promises to be a clash not only of footballing quality, but also of footballing philosophy.
Calm before the storm
A high-stakes blockbuster for our girls should never feel relegated to a secondary event, but, along with the ALM Melbourne Derby, the on-pitch contest will unfortunately be overshadowed by matters that are bigger than football later in the night.
The ALW fixture occupies a very awkward position in Saturday afternoon's schedule; it is the calm before the storm. With planned walkouts from the active supporter groups of either Melbourne team set to take place 20 minutes into the Derby, the question is raised: what about the curtain-raiser?
Will pre-game rituals like meeting up in a pub become a little redundant with such little time set to be spent in the stadium (a major reason many would claim explains their absence at the first game of a double-header normally?) Will participating protesters take the opportunity to watch the ALW clash in lieu of the football they will later miss? Will the fixture be used as a further platform for protest given it is being broadcasted?
To these questions, I have no answers, but will watch keenly on Saturday evening for all of the ramifications - direct and indirect - of the football community's response to recent events.