The A-League’s ‘Star Wars Round’ will be headlined by the competition’s biggest rivalry at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night with Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC going head to head.
Sydney FC are riding high at the summit of the league after three wins on the trot following a surprising defeat to the Central Coast Mariners last month.
They solidified their place at the top of the league with a gritty win over Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium last week.
They face Western Sydney Wanderers, winless in eight matches and tantalisingly close to the bottom of the table.
It’s Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader. It’s Rey vs Kylo Ren. It’s the 17th Sydney Derby.
Key Battle – Raul Llorente vs Adrian Mierzejewski
Llorente has been the Wanderers’ mainstay at left-back but is faced with an unfamiliar task this Saturday with he and Polish winger Mierzejewski set to go head-on.
Mierzejewski was ruled out of the last derby in Round 3 due to a hamstring injury, where it ended all square in a 2-2 draw. This time around, the Mark Viduka medalist is fit and firing to make his debut in the biggest club match in the country.
Mierzejewski has played in many big derbies in Europe, most notably the Warsaw Derby in 2009-10 as Polonia Warsaw player against Legia.
He is difficult to pick up in attack as he traverses across the front three with a passing accuracy in the opposition’s third at 70.4%, as well as four key passes.
Llorente is threatening if not picked up when he marauds forward. Josep Gombau uses his full-backs as focal points for width, with his wingers drifting inwards. The Spaniard has two assists this season thanks to a passing accuracy of 83.6% and nine key passes.
Josh Sotirio suffered a hamstring injury in last week’s 2-0 loss to Brisbane Roar. He is ommitted from the squad, however Oriol Riera, who seemed to pick up a knock and was taken off after 18 minutes last week, is in the squad. He scored the first goal of the 2-2 draw in Round 3.
Captain Robbie Cornthwaite returns from suspension and is a welcome revelation for the Wanderers defence, while Chris Herd is back from the UK after becoming a father again.
Western Sydney Wanderers Expected XI (4-3-3): Janjetovic (GK); Risdon, Cornthwaite, Thwaite, Llorente; Baccus, Herd, Bonevacia; Kusukami, Riera, Cejudo.
Johnny Warren medalist Milos Ninkovic returns to the squad after missing out on the past two matches following the FFA Cup final. The marquee midfielder can inflict a lot of damage on the Wanderers’ wounded defence. Matt Simon also returns from suspension.
Sydney FC Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Redmayne (GK); Wilkshire, Buijs, Wilkinson, Zullo; O’Neill, Brilliante; Brosque Ninkovic, Mierzejewski; Bobo.
Sydney have the most wins next to their name in derbies with seven, but have only lost once at ANZ Stadium in five matches in the A-League. Coincidentally, that was the Wanderers’ last derby win last season. Western Sydney are winless in five out of their last six matches at Homebush.
That was of course in Round 3; a simply thrilling match. Western Sydney took a 2-0 lead at Allianz Stadium but goals from Bobo and Josh Brillante scored the Sky Blues a point in a fighting 2-2 draw.
Western Sydney are still a work in progress under Gombau and last week’s defeat against Brisbane Roar was perhaps the starkest remind yet that there is plenty of work to do. They looked toothless and there is little guarantee Riera will be passed fit to play. Sydney showed they just know how to win, even off the pace, in Adelaide.
Western Sydney Wanderers 0 Sydney FC 1