Talking points preview: Melbourne Derby - ALW Preliminary Final
Updated: Mar 19, 2022
Melbourne City will do it the hard way following a loss in the A-League Women's Semi-Finals that now sends us careening towards a do-or-die Melbourne Derby at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon in the Preliminary stage.
We'll have to do it without TJ Vlajnic and Melissa Barbieri after the pair were sent off in City's 4-2 extra-time loss in its Semi against Sydney FC last Friday.
Melbourne Victory, on the other hand, pulled off a surprise 2-1 win in their Elimination Final against Adelaide United, whom they'd lost to 3-0 only a few weeks earlier and who'd been tipped as a Finals dark horse.
With so much riding on Sunday's blockbuster Derby, here are three of the biggest talking points surrounding the clash:
A Melbourne Derby Final
Melbourne Derbies may now be fixturing commonplace given their appeal to broadcasters, but they've proven to be much more of a rarity come Finals time. In fact, City and Victory have never played each other in A-League Women's Finals, and have met just once in the Men's equivalent.
The additional, high-stakes element set to be added to an already high-profile clash should provide even more reason for fans of both teams to turn out in force at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon, with the occasion looming as a huge opportunity for the City faithful to vocalise their support and help get our girls over the line and into a fifth Grand Final; this will be quite literally the most important Derby to be played in the history of our Women's team.
The aftermath of a costly Semi-Final loss
It seemingly wasn't enough for City just to have blown a 2-0 lead in a Semi-Final that should have seen us into the big dance whilst forcing Sydney down the more difficult route; we also managed to get two players sent off after receiving straight red cards.
However, whilst we'll be without Vlajnic and Barbieri for this weekend's do-or-die Derby, the loss of these two starting XI regulars, in particular, might be far more manageable than many would expect - and that's not to disrespect either City veteran, it just speaks to the quality of the back-ups in either position.
Vlajnic's left-back spot looks most likely to go to Chelsea Blissett, who has already started there three times this season. The youngster has been with City for several seasons now, but long-term injuries and a certain world-class left-back by the name of Steph Catley has ensured that Blissett has never really had the chance to establish herself as a first-team regular. In her 353 minutes of action this season, she's seen just three goals conceded - around one every 117 minutes - and ranks fourth and fifth amongst the squad for crosses and interceptions per 90.
Even less of a case is needed to justify why we're not worried about Sally James earning her first start of the season between the sticks in Barbieri's absence, with the 19-year-old widely expected to have been our first-choice keeper in 2021/22 if not for a broken arm late in pre-season that allowed her more senior counterpart to build into some undroppable form.
The red-hot Reds are out - but the hurdle isn't dodged yet.
If you're a City fan who thought pre-Finals that we'd be headed for a straight-sets exit, we wouldn't really have blamed you; a loss in the Semis to Sydney was always looking the likelier outcome, despite our recent upset win over them, and it would have set up a Prelim against arguably the league's most in-form side in Adelaide United.
The Reds, however, seemingly dropped their bundle on the big day and were comprehensively outplayed by a Victory side who had conversely stumbled and fumbled their way through the season before pulling themselves together when it mattered.
Whilst we may have lost to Victory in Round 2, that was when they had US international Lynn Williams and looked like Premiership favourites. Now, that surprise Semi-Final win juxtaposes heavily with a Round 4 Derby demolition, Williams' mid-season departure and an immensely underwhelming second half of the campaign, with City fans subsequently left with no idea what to expect from the Victory this time around.
We may have avoided the team that we really didn't want to face, but City now risks Finals humiliation if it were to fail to secure progression against a hot-and-cold Victory outfit who we should realistically be able to account for come Sunday afternoon.