Talking points preview: Melbourne Derby
City and Victory will again do battle for a claim to footballing superiority in Melbourne, with the city's 17th Derby set to get underway in less than an hour.
With so little time to kick-off, let's launch straight into the fixture's biggest talking points:
So many attacking weapons, so few positions
Last week, Dario Vidosic welcomed back Holly McNamara and Cote Rojas to his playing squad, in addition to all of the selection headaches that his additional attacking reinforcements would bring.
The City Women's coach named a front six (from deepest in midfield to furthest afield) of Leticia McKenna, Rhianna Pollicina, Holly McNamara, Bryleeh Henry, Cote Rojas and Hannah Wilkinson, shoehorning four out-and-out attackers and two offensively-minded midfielders into what was a notably liberated attacking unit.
With this selection decision came the consequence of a midfield imbalance, as McKenna was left to shoulder the burden left by the absence of defensive midfielder Leah Davidson. McKenna - a technically-adept, progressive ball-carrier - is of a markedly different profile to Davidson, a hard-working tackler and composed ball distributor in the face of pressure, and whilst City weren't overly tested defensively against the Newcastle Jets, better attacking teams would fancy their chances of stretching McKenna beyond her capabilities.
All of this has only been complicated by the impending return of Daniela Galic.
The teenage midfielder had been away with Australia's Under-20 outfit representing the country at a qualifying tournament for the 2024 U-20 Asian Cup, but has since been made available for our Derby matchday squad. Galic seems like a better fit for a holding midfield role due to her athletic and robust profile, but could also be overwhelmed in such a high-pressure position due to her inexperience.
Fielding only one of McKenna or Galic could leave City a little defensively underdone, but playing both as a double-pivot would mean excluding one of City's other attacking stars, almost all of whom got on the scoresheet against the Jets.
With City now back at full strength, it's up to Vidosic to make the selections that best exploit those long-missed assets.
Is a Premiership challenge back on the table?
After losing to Sydney FC a few weeks ago, I had previously ruled out City's chances of a surprise Premiership challenge and instead emphasised the importance of simply focusing on our performances to build for a strong Finals campaign.
Following a pair of upset losses on Saturday, however, the door is now slightly ajar for a City Premiership charge.
On a wild day of A-League Women's results, the seemingly indomitable Sydney FC were brought undone by a Kate Taylor goal for 12th-placed Wellington Phoenix, whilst Western United struggled on the road to a previously mediocre Brisbane Roar side who ran out 2-0 winners. The results now see Western United five points ahead, but with two additional games played, and Sydney FC on the same points tally - provisionally - but with the same amount of games played as City.
Sydney FC's ascendancy depends on the three-point deduction handed down to Canberra United less than a week ago, which turned a 2-1 loss for Sydney into a 3-0 win. The Australian capital-based side have challenged that verdict, and are seen by many to be justified in that opposition. If the deduction were to be rescinded, Sydney FC would stand just two points ahead of City, with the teams set to meet in a high-stakes clash next weekend.
Though fans and players should continue to focus on improving performances ahead of Finals, there is at least the additional carrot for our playing squad that a perfect record to finish the season should be enough to secure an unlikely piece of silverware.
The battle for Melbourne's footballing supremacy
As in the Men's competition, today's contest will be a fierce on-field battle with the typical off-field ramifications of a Melbourne Derby.
City had long been the dominant Victorian outfit in the A-League Women, famously enjoying a successful start to life in the competition with an undefeated Premiership and Championship double in 2015/16 which became a Championship three-peat by 2017/18, but our crosstown rivals have begun to make up the disparity in trophy cabinet contents in recent seasons. Under Jeff Hopkins, the Victory have won the past two A-League Women's Championships, sneaking past Sydney FC in the 2021 and 2022 Grand Finals.
Adding to the occasion will be the sentiment that the Women's iterations of the Melbourne Derby are starting to carry as much spice as the Men's. This could be attributed to a number of factors, including the large contingent of players to have featured for either side, humiliating recent defeats for either side in the fixture, or simply the increased competition since Victory's silverware wins.
What was certainly noted by City fans following a recent AAMI Park Melbourne Derby was a post-Victory win 'Shit when you're red, shit when you're blue' chant lead on the megaphone by the players in navy blue. Beyond the fact that the chant is pretty empty when directed at our Women's side, who have enjoyed unprecedented success in City blue and never existed in the Heart red, it was a surprising - and, perhaps, unsurprising - act for the Victory players to partake in.
Personally, if some vitriol (generally atypical of support in the Women's game) helps to bolster the atmosphere and improve attendances of Dub Derbies then let the hostilities continue.
I just hope to see the occasion of a Derby at AAMI Park on a public holiday be met with the crowd it deserves.