A place in the 2022 A-League Grand Final is on the line today as our City boys return to AAMI to host Adelaide United in the second leg of their Semi-Final tie.
The teams played out a tense 0-0 draw earlier in the week, but that scoreline won't be good enough this time around as City fans hope to see their team into a third-consecutive Grand Final.
Here are the major storylines heading into this afternoon's high-stakes clash:
Arguably the biggest talking point of all...
...is that it's Western United, not Melbourne Victory, who the winner of this match would be facing in the Grand Final.
We just about need two disclaimers on this statement before launching into why this is such a big talking point as: a) We need to worry about beating a very good Adelaide side first, and b) Underestimate Western at your own peril, as Victory found out in humiliating fashion.
The reason this is such a relevant storyline is that, for all that point b is accurate, many fans would be fancying our boys against those in the green and black more than they would have been against our navy blue counterparts.
The narrative of Victory's 16-game undefeated streak seemed to be building just a little too ominously, personally, whilst our 0-1-2 record against WU this season severely overstates their performances against us. We suffered two smash-and-grab defeats in our early meetings (one of which was with several key players missing), whilst our City boys had the opposition on toast for the latter two-thirds of the 2-2 draw between the sides later in the season.
Nonetheless, our focus needs to be entirely on securing our spot in the Grand Final by beating Adelaide this afternoon, so that's where the next two talking points are concerned.
Build on what we did well midweek
Whilst we mightn't have gotten the long-awaited win in Adelaide that we were after earlier in the week, the City boys still did plenty of things right and convinced us that we've got what it takes to book a place in the Grand Final.
The plethora of chances that we created on Wednesday night need to be converted to goals this time around, but we've got just the strike force to do that in Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout.
Up the other end of the pitch, a standout feature of our defensive performance against the Reds in the first leg was the partnership between Curtis Good and Nuno Reis, who would engage an attacker or sweep up behind as the situation demanded. Throw in a mention of the duo's long-range passing capabilities and it's clear that a repeat of Wednesday's performance at the heart of defence will be equally important this afternoon.
Another player who was good midweek but will need to be even better this time around is Carl Jenkinson, who has the task of keeping Craig Goodwin quiet in what will be a captivating battle on City's right side of defence. In the first leg, Jenkinson blunted Goodwin's influence but didn't quite contain him as well as we need him to, so he'll need to find an extra gear against the Reds winger today.
Florin HAS to be back this time... right?
Following the official announcement of Florin Berenguer's full return to fitness, many were expecting the Frenchman to play at least a bit-part in the Semi-Final's first leg on Wednesday night.
However, City's fifth all-time games-holder wasn't even in the matchday squad for the eventual 0-0 draw, so we can only presume that he remained in Melbourne for some final preparations.
The influence of Berenguer's deputy at the point of midfield, Marco Tilio, has waned a little in recent times, potentially through accumulated fatigue from a run of nine starts in just under 40 days. The diminutive midfielder hasn't scored or assisted in the league since returning from Asia (nor in the pre-ACL Derby, making it four without a goal involvement), where he was perhaps at his most destructive.
This is not to doubt Tilio's quality, nor the potential impact he could still have on today's crucial fixture even if he were to start again, but the circumstances could be right for Berenguer to return in a starting capacity and have Tilio later replace him or join in on the action from the wings.