Melbourne’s showpiece footballing fixture makes its return tomorrow night as Melbourne City takes on Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park.
The Christmas derby holds a special place in the hearts of City fans as it is widely considered the most anticipated fixture of the regular season, with this one offering up the potential to be a classic.
Last year saw City utterly dominate the Victory, beating them 6-0 and 7-0, followed by a forgettable 1-1, on the road to clinching the league double. However, a new-look Victory appears to be a much bigger challenge.
For City, a side still yet to reach the levels we know they are capable of, there is no sweeter opposition to make a statement against. Similarly, Victory are on a quest to earn back respect back after being embarrassed at the hands of City last season. With all this in mind, everything is pointing towards this being a Goliath v Goliath type match-up. Derbies are often so much more than football, and this one feels that way.
With so much to look forward to, here are three things to keep an eye on ahead of Saturday’s game:
Exploit the wing
The off-season saw Victory bolster their defensive ranks, which included a key figure from Australia’s Asian Cup-winning side, Jason Davidson.
Davidson was sent off late against Adelaide in Victory’s previous fixture making him ineligible to play the derby. This leaves Stefan Nigro his likely replacement. No disrespect to Nigro, but there is no doubt that Tony Popovic would have much rathered his former Socceroo to keep City’s wingers at bay.
Patrick Kisnorbo used fluid wingers last season and having both sets of wide men comfortable on either side of the pitch proved a successful route to goal on a number of occasions. Leckie and Nabbout possess more than enough quality in wide areas and spreading them across the left and right in Davidson’s absence would bear an almighty task on Nigro.
One absence, of course, does not guarantee goals for City. However, exploiting any potential vulnerabilities will be vital to getting past a Victory defence who will be desperate not to be breached after their horrors from last season.
Can’t afford to make a mistake
City look to dominate possession in every game.
We saw last time out against Perth that even as the game moves into the dying embers, PK’s men will trust the process. Hold the ball, spread the play, stretch the defence and look to find the killer pass. It worked against Perth, but we’ve also seen it not quite click against Western United. However, we know that City will persist with this approach because when it does work, we look fantastic.
Victory are the opposite. Popovic’s men are yet to see more than 50% possession in the league this season, opting to use the pace of Rojas and Folami to punish teams on the counter.
It's unlikely that Victory will decide that City will be the team they'll try and control the game against, especially when City have been their own worst enemy this year, often giving the opposition glaring chances from brain fades in build-up play.
City will trust their ability to control the game and so they should, it looked impenetrable for the most part of last season. However, with that confidence must come respect for our opponents and a lapse in concentration could very well be punished by Victory who, if sitting back, will be relying on that to score.
Play the occasion
Tactics are great for analysis and are no doubt vital in gaining any sort of edge possible over our opponents, but this is a Derby. History suggests that the form book goes out the window when rivals meet.
Both sides possess quality, both sides have shown that when they are on, they are dangerous, and yet both sides have shown there are definitely weaknesses that can be taken advantage of.
So, when two sides are so tightly matched and the stakes are so high, who comes out on top? Whoever wants it more.
City spent a lot of time in Victory’s shadow, but last season that changed, and not just in our minds; it was an undeniable fact that City dominated Melbourne. This is something that Patrick Kisnorbo won’t be willing to hand back, especially considering he was part of our squad during the tougher days. Victory on the other hand won’t care how it happens, they’ll just want to win by any means necessary.
This is a derby in its most beautiful form; if the teams are near inseparable on ability, look to passion to get yourself over the line.
City shouldn’t become overwhelmed by the occasion, but with Jamieson and Kisnorbo leading the boys out, each member of our XI will know exactly how much this game means and will do anything in their power to ensure the bragging rights stay with the boys in City blue.
Last season was wonderful. Burying Victory twice in a season was something not even fans of some of the oldest rivalries in the world have had the luxury of experiencing and as joyful as it would be recreating those results tomorrow night, I don’t suspect many City fans are predicting that to be the case.
This seems to be a textbook derby - two sides doing whatever is necessary to ensure their fans leave with smiles on their faces, with the prospect of losing being something too difficult to think of.
City will be looking to silence some early doubters, with a win not only keeping us kings of Melbourne but also hot on the trail of the first two places in the league.
With so much to play for there is really only one place to be on Saturday night: at AAMI park cheering on our City boys. Come on City!