Melbourne City will be out to continue their 2018 resurgence when they host pacesetters Sydney FC at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
City are enjoying a brilliant 2018, unbeaten since new year’s day having scored at least two goals in each game played. City’s run has them hot on the heels of second-placed Newcastle Jets, just four points adrift of Ernie Merrick’s team.
What is most impressive of City is their ability to find a way to goal without departed loanee Ross McCormack.
The Scotsman was responsibility for a swathe of City’s goals, but they have found sources from elsewhere in the shape of Dario Vidosic and Marcin Budzinski in particular, while Daniel Arzani continues to be an excitement machine around the penalty area.
Meanwhile, Sydney have recovered from their mini-form slide – if it can indeed be called that – to put together back to back wins over Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix.
Sydney embarrassed the defensively inadequate Phoenix to win 4-0 at Allianz Stadium on Friday night in front of Bert van Marwijk, maintaining their points lead at nine.
Key Battle – Daniel Arzani vs Michael Zullo
Nineteen-year-old Arzani is the talk of the competition having tormented defence after defence for the opening six or so weeks of 2018; his impact on City has been profound since his introduction.
But Sydney will be his biggest challenge yet, and so too will left-back Zullo, the A-League’s best in that position. In terms of direct positional battles, Zullo is seldom beaten, if ever.
Part of Arzani’s vast attacking catalogue is his ability to run at defences and wreak havoc at the top of – or worse, for opponents, inside – the penalty area.
A smart footballer, Arzani has been able to send panic through defences he has charged at, so the onus will be on the reliable Zullo to minimise those runs into the box and protect his vastly experienced central-defensive partnership.
City have just about a full compliment of personnel to choose from other than Bruno Fornaroli and youngsters Nathaniel Atkinson and Christian Cavallo. A strong run of form means Warren Joyce has the luxury of maintaining the same squad that defeated Brisbane Roar 2-1.
Melbourne City Expected XI (4-4-2): Bouzanis (GK); Delbridge, Jakobsen, Schenkeveld, Jamieson; Brattan, Malik, Arzani, Mauk; Vidosic, Budzinski.
Like City, Sydney are healthy are only set to strengthen after their trashing of the Phoenix. Brandon O’Neill returns from suspension and will slot straight back into midfield despite Paulo Retre’s stand-in impressive shift alongside Josh Brillante. New addition Fabio Ferreira has also been called on for a possible debut.
Sydney FC Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Redmayne (GK); Wilkshire, Wilkinson, Buijs, Zullo; Brillante, O’Neill; Mierzejewski, Brosque, Ninkovic; Bobo.
Sydney shade the ledger against City in the A-League, boasting eight wins to six. There have however been nine draws. Arnold’s men are unbeaten in their past five against boys from Bundoora.
These sides last met at Allianz Stadium in December. City took the lead through Luke Brattan, but things quickly turned pear-shaped as Sydney recovered to win 3-1.
City have been impressive this year and have finally addressed their desire to score more goals, but their newfound attacking instincts will face their sternest test against the league’s most defensively sturdy team. While Sydney have already conceded the same numbers of goals they did for the entirety of last season, 14, they still hold the best defensive record in the competition by a staggering eight and do not look like letting up. Having addressed the offensive side of the game that was perceived as such an achilles heal, City must not allow Sydney to settle at the back and use the counter.
Melbourne City 0 Sydney FC 1