Talking points preview: Perth vs City
After learning the disappointing outcome of our otherwise respectable debut Asian Champions League campaign, all eyes will be on Melbourne City's upcoming domestic fixtures as the team looks to successfully defend its A-League Men's crown.
The City boys travel straight to Western Australia to take on Perth Glory tomorrow night, with a win set to put us within touching distance of a second-consecutive Premiers Plate.
Looking ahead to the all-important fixture, there's an underlying theme amongst the major talking points: Chance.
Here's what will surely be on City fans' minds heading into the clash:
Our chance to move on
Though we're all incredibly disappointed not to have progressed to the ACL's knockout stages, it's likely a different sort of hurt that we're experiencing, one that we're maybe not so used to.
Where in the past fans have felt a gutwrenching type of pain that had played on their hope, optimism and belief in the team (look no further than Adelaide, October 2019), this time it feels a bit different: it's a feeling of being wronged, of unjustness. Say what you will about our performances over the Group Stage, but after an undefeated six-fixture campaign in which we collected points at a better per-game rate than either this (potentially Plate-winning) season or the last, the sentiment is that our City boys didn't deserve to have been denied passage to the knockout stages.
Whilst those circumstances may have left us with a lingering, burning sensation that we've struggled to shake off post-campaign, I'd be confident that the scale of that failure would be reduced if we moved on quickly with a pair of positive results that secured us another huge piece of silverware.
So, that's exactly what we're going to do.
Not leaving it to chance
Whilst we can technically afford a slip-up, Patrick Kisnorbo's side will be approaching tomorrow's clash with ruthless intent; there can be nothing but a comprehensive three-point performance from the boys.
Though we'll be coming up against a worst-ever Perth Glory side that has failed to win in its past 16 matches, there can be no room for complacency as the City boys hunt the result that would put us within touching distance of further glory.
Whilst debate was generated around Kisnorbo's decision to heavily rotate his squad to face United City on the final matchday of our Asian campaign, there can be little doubt about the potential upside that this will bring in terms of the reinforcements that we could be set to usher back into the starting XI. Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout, Curtis Good and Carl Jenkinson all started that fixture on the substitutes' bench and should be primed for a return to action from the first whistle tomorrow night.
Bolstering our Finals chances
Without dismissing the importance of tomorrow's game, there's also a larger picture to look at as we return to domestic competition.
Until the Derby loss that snapped our 11-game undefeated streak at the beginning of April, City appeared the team to beat when it was time for the business end of the season to roll around, but the landscape of the A-League has shifted in our recent absence.
Our crosstown rivals have mustered their own streak of 11 fixtures without defeat, a confidence-boosting run of form that they are likely to carry into Finals if they can stretch it to 12 against Sydney FC in their final game of the regular season.
With an unsettling failure to win against any of the current top four sides hanging over the City boys' heads, the team will do all it can to prepare for high-stakes rematches against Victory, Western and Adelaide.
To do so, we'll not only be hoping to come into Finals with an eight-game undefeated streak and a Plate tucked under one arm, but also that we're doing so with as fit and firing a squad as possible.
Though we've only got two fixtures to do so, the reassimilation of Mathew Leckie, Scott Galloway, and, possibly, Florin Berenguer back into the squad will be vital to our Championship prospects, as it will take our very best to ensure we become the first team to be crowned back-to-back A-League Men's double-winners.