Sydney FC will be hopeful of making an already special Friday night house party that little bit better by securing a third successive win over Melbourne Victory in the Big Blue at Allianz Stadium.
The premiers will lift the trophy after the game, but they will want to make sure they present the silverware to their supporters on a high note following a win over their oldest rivals.
And Sydney fans should be confident of exactly that happening. Since their surprise home defeat against Brisbane Roar in Round 23, the Sky Blues have won every game, and that coupled with their recent record against Victory is cause for optimism.
Sydney are unbeaten against Kevin Muscat’s team since January 2016, at which point Victory had not lost to their lighter-hued rivals in nine games. For Victory, there has scarcely been a better opportunity to end Sydney’s dominance over them.
Victory have a job to do. While destiny is out of their hands in the chase for third spot, all they can do is clinch a win against Sydney and await the result of Melbourne City’s meeting with Wellington Phoenix on Saturday.
Victory are without the festive mood, and there will be no guard of honour for the champions-elect after Kevin Muscat angrily denied a Sydney request for one had been received. They will also be desperate to end Sydney’s dominance and gain a vital mental boost going into finals.
Assuming Victory remain in fourth, they will face Sydney once more in a semi-final if they can get past Adelaide United in week one of the play-offs at home.
Key Battle – The midfields
While Victory’s head-to-head record against Sydney in the past two years is unsightly, they have proven time after time they are well equipped to cause the Sky Blues some headaches.
More often than not, their achilles heal has been profligacy in front of goal, burning opportunities and failing to strike while the iron is hot.
Play the same way and scrub up in front of goal, and Victory will be in with a chance of snapping their winless run against Graham Arnold’s team.
In order to do that, the likes of James Troisi, Terry Antonis and Carl Valeri must be prepared to press in midfield and take time and space away from Josh Brillante and Brandon O’Neill.
Arnold has included Alex Wilkinson in his extended squad, meaning Ben Warland will likely be forced back down to the bench. Rhyan Grant has also been named for what would be his first appearance since rupturing his ACL in the preseason. Those minutes though would be as a substitute, if at all.
Sydney FC Expected XI Expected (4-2-3-1): Redmayne (GK); Wilkshire, Buijs, Wilkinson, Zullo; Brillante, O’Neill; Ninkovic, Brosque, Mierzejewski; Bobo.
Victory meanwhile regain the formidable duo of Rhys Williams and Kosta Barbarouses, who both sat out their win over Wellington Phoenix through suspension. His inclusion, coupled with Christian Theoharous’ likely omission because of illness, could see Muscat make a raft of changes to his starting XI.
For both teams, the lineups will be just about full strength.
Melbourne Victory Expected XI (4-2-3-1): Thomas (GK); Deng, Williams, Donachie, Broxham; Valeri, Antonis; Troisi, George, Barbarouses; Berisha.
The overall ledger between these teams is dead even at 13 points apiece, though the overwhelmingly frequent result between them is the draw, of which there has been 19.
Victory have not beaten Sydney since Australia Day 2016, when they prevailed 1-0 at Etihad Stadium.
Sydney overcame a 1-0 deficit in Melbourne on Australia Day to defeat Victory 3-1. Since-departed right-back Jason Geria was sent off in the match as Bobo scored twice.
Victory are staring at an uphill battle to usurp City and finish in third. Sydney have long since put their short-lived issues behind them and are again firing, and look the functioning machine we have become so associated with. There will be a cheerful atmosphere at Allianz Stadium and the Sky Blues will ensure their premiership party is not soured by defeat.
Sydney FC 2 Melbourne Victory 0