As Melbourne City take the long flight across our wide brown land for their clash with Perth Glory on Saturday night, the A-League world is still a little unsure of both teams.
City have made something of a curious and inconsistent start to the season. With three wins from their first six matches, there is some good form of which to speak. Unfortunately for them, there are also bad losses to Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar in the last month.
Last week’s demolition of Newcastle Jets may, in retrospect, be a turning point for the club, yet being convinced of that fact and confident of a win in Western Australia are both difficult mindsets for the average City fan to adopt.
Contrastingly, Perth looked to have convinced everyone that they were going to be a considerable threat for the title this season. Then, inexplicably, they hit a hurdle last week against Wellington Phoenix, dropped two points and were probably lucky to take what they did from the match.
Now, two uncertainties meet in a match that could have a potentially significant impact on the table. A win for City tightens things at the top; providing Melbourne Victory, Sydney and Adelaide United the opportunity to go top, whereas another win for the Glory would see them maintain top spot come the end of Round 7.
Last weekend, City were decidedly better against Newcastle. The distraction of Fornaroli-gate had done nothing for the club over the weeks prior and with a cloud of uncertainty around the future of their marquee man, Warren Joyce again leads him team into battle without his most potent attacking weapon.
Perth looked a little flustered across the ditch in Round 6, as the Phoenix pressed, pressed and pressed some more, in a successful attempt to deny them decent flow and connectivity through holding midfield. It ruffled Perth’s feathers and could become something of a template for other sides as they plan and prepare to combat the Glory’s considerable weapons.
Key Battle – The battle of the full-backs
Perth will look to get back to the method that has seen them begin the season undefeated; using Jason Davidson and Ivan Franjic consistently on either side of the pitch. Davidson in particular has been outstanding thus far and his constant bombing down the flank has created headaches for opposition defences.
Andy Keogh no longer plays a lone hand up front. Chris Ikonomidis has found four goals to match Keogh’s early haul; and as a duo, they look as dangerous as any in the league. With Diego Castro finally back from injury and Neil Kilkenny showing everyone why he felt aggrieved at being unwanted by City, controlling Perth’s potency will be a test for the Melburnians’ defence.
Without Fornaroli up front, Joyce has played a more team-orientated attack, with Luke Brattan, Riley McGree and Lachlan Wales likely to all chip in from time to time and share in the spoils. It is far different to the often one-dimensional tendency they had with the Uruguayan on the pitch. That appears to be the want of the manager and in the long-term it may serve him well, as the players become more connected and combinations grow.
Defensive strength will once again be a key for City. It is a potential powerhouse, with Bart Schenkeveld and Scott Jamieson in excellent form. Ritchie De Laet has provided a whole new dimension to City; making excellent attacking runs on the right and bringing a defensive calm that is having a positive impact on young defenders like Harrison Delbridge.
Perth welcome Matthew Spiranovic and Chris Harold back to the matchday squad. Enjoying a decent run in terms of injuries, one would expect a similar XI to the one that drew 1-1 with Wellington last weekend to start this match.
Perth Glory Expected XI (3-4-3): Reddy (GK); Djulbic, Lowry, Mrcela; Franjic, Wilson, Kilkenny, Davidson; Ikonomidis, Chianese, Keogh.
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For City it is much the same story. Ramy Najjarine and Connor Metcalfe come into the squad yet neither will be expected to start. It is pleasing that both teams will be near full strength for what looms as a vital match.
Melbourne City Expected XI (4-3-3): Galekovic (GK); De Laet, Schenkeveld, Delbridge, Jamieson; Brattan, Baccus, Berenguer; McGree, Wales, Vidosic.
Perth won two of the three matches between these clubs last season. Historically, Perth hold sway with 14 wins to City’s seven. From 28 matches, there have only been seven draws, suggesting that one club could very well walk away with a full bag on Saturday night.
These teams last met in February with Perth emerging 2-1 winners. Glory came from behind to snatch three points late and, amazingly, Kilkenny scored an equaliser soon after being axed by Joyce at City.
With the Glory enjoying their best season for some time and the watchful and stern eye of Tony Popovic producing obvious results early on, the home fans are slowly coming back to nib Stadium. That makes the challenge of travel and a hostile environment even more considerable for City, when added to the unquestionable quality that Perth possess on the pitch. The City defence may be able to keep them in the match for much of the contest, yet Perth have potency up front and goals seem likely. The question thus becomes whether City can find the net as comfortably as they did in their 3-0 thumping of Newcastle. It will be a test for Popovic’s new defence and one that the men from the west should pass with flying colours.
Perth Glory 2 Melbourne City 0