Talking points preview: Melbourne Derby
The City boys have started their 2022/23 A-League campaign strong, but fans will know whether or not we're the real deal when the team takes on its traditional rivals in the 39th Melbourne Derby on Saturday night.
A disciplined 2-0 win away to Brisbane Roar earned plaudits from City fans as the team battled hard to preserve its lead following the sending-off of Taras Gomulka just a couple of minutes into the second half.
Across town, Melbourne Victory put on an impotent display against Western Sydney Wanderers, with the visitors running out 1-0 winners after their hosts failed to register a shot on target until second-half injury-time.
Despite the setback for our rivals, this upcoming Derby feels just as life-or-death as every other, and there's always a wealth of talking points to discuss as we count down the days until Melbourne's two shades of blue again do battle against the backdrop of AAMI Park:
Are we the real deal?
Our opening two performances to start the new campaign have been pretty convincing, but City fans will know whether or not we're the real deal after this Saturday night.
Despite losing 1-0 at home to Western Sydney in Round 2, Tony Popovic's Victory outfit are still touted as a leading Premiership contender, and would have been tipped preseason as the most likely of our first three opponents to give City the most significant challenge.
Part of the reason that Saturday's Derby clash will be a true barometer of our title credentials is that it could be the first time this season that we get a look at what our 'Plan B' is if 'Plan A' isn't working as well as it has thus far.
To defeat the old enemy this weekend would not only put us a minimum of six points ahead of both our Victorian (and potentially Premiership) rivals, it would also represent our best start to a season after three games since 2017/18.
Though Taras Gomulka is out following is red card against Brisbane, City's starting XI could be primed for some big 'ins' in exchange.
Curtis Good and Nuno Reis are both on course to return to the matchday squad assuming no further injury complications midweek, which could see Scott Jamieson shift back out to the left of our defence, potentially leaving Jordan Bos as the odd one out and due for a night on the bench.
Of greater interest, however, will be Patrick Kisnorbo's handling of Gomulka's absence in midfield, particularly after the furor around Marco Tilio's lack of minutes to start the new season. Though Tilio could be named to the attacking midfield role occupied by Valon Berisha in recent weeks and the Kosovan shifted deeper, this would discount the revolutionary performances that the City newcomer has dazzled fans with in recent weeks.
A tweak more in the style of City's no-nonsense coach would be to find a like-for-like replacement for Gomulka, which he will likely find in the versatile Thomas Lam. If both Reis and Good are fit to start, the Finn could be moved alongside Aiden O'Neill in City's midfield, allowing fans a look at how the defender operates amidst the pressure of the engine room.
On the pitch, in the stands
Between City's 6-0 and 7-0 demolitions of our crosstown rivals on the way to a league double in 2020/21 and Victory's wooden spoon in the same season, it's fair to say that the Melbourne's footballing balance shifted on and off the field at the turn of the new decade.
However, with Victory's sizeable bandwagon back in attendance at AAMI now that the club isn't the league's laughing stock, and following their undefeated run in 2021/22 Derbies, that balance is now very finely poised, ready to be shifted again in the new campaign.
On the pitch, City should look to stem the tide of recent Derby results (three draws and a loss in the past four), and claim the victory that would yet again bring the all-time head-to-head record back to 14-11-14.
Off-field, the City Terrace will hope to follow the examples set by The Cove, the RBB and (reluctantly) OSM in recent weeks in regards to the impressive displays and atmospheres provided amidst what some are calling a resurrection of Australia's active support scene - just don't look to Sydney United for inspiration.