Coming hot off the heals of the Macarthur expansion announcement, Saturday night’s marquee fixture -the Sydney Derby – has an extra edge of desperation this time around.
For what will soon be known as the ‘Original Sydney Derby’, Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC are set for a third clash inside three months. What makes this encounter unique is that, for the first time in years, the Sky Blues appear battered, bruised and vulnerable – a proposition that should entice the Wanderers.
For the first time ever, they are the ones entering a derby with three points under their belt as the Sky Blues recover from a loss. The 2-0 win over Central Coast Mariners last Friday night appeared routine at Spotless Stadium for the 2014 Asian Champions League winners, but it did require a stunning Keanu Baccus strike right on the cusp of half time to assert their dominance on the scoreboard.
This was a step in the right direction in the wake of a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Melbourne Victory, a result that illustrated to all in sundry how far off the pace the Wanderers are to the upper echelon of the A-League. The reintroduction of German defender Patrick Ziegler appears to be a building block that the manager and compatriot can work with, taking some pressure off skipper Brendan Hamill and covering for the overlapping runs of Josh Risdon – arguably their best performer to date in 2018-19.
Sydney are in something of a sorry state, humiliated 3-1 by Wellington Phoenix at their temporary home ground at Kogarah last weekend. That scoreline would actually flatter the 2017 premiers with a late conciliation strike papering over a defence that was carved to shreds by Roy Krishna.
Former captain Mark Rudan gave his old teammate Steve Corica a lesson on the touchline, taking advantage of a lax and slow defence where simple through balls would expose a shoddy and high back line time and time again. With all the talk about the loss of Adrian Mierzejewski, it is actually the departure of Jordy Buijs that is proving to be Corica’s greatest challenge.
Fans on social media have already dubbed Jop van der Linden a “flop”, decrying his lack of pace and poor decision making to see a once stubborn defence now open for business. The manager was adamant in his press conference that changes must be made with Aaron Calver in the wings and Ben Warland only weeks from a return. Yet it would be foolish to pin the blame on the Dutchman entirely for Sydney’s slump, despite a clear lack of quality or performance to date from the Eredivisie signing.
This is a team that plays with a very static and predictable 4-2-3-1 formation, a formula that worked wonders for Graham Arnold but one that is now quite stale and easy and opposition managers to plan for. Siem de Jong’s return could alter that dynamic if Corica has the strength of his convictions, breaking up the Brandon O’Neill-Josh Brillante midfield pivots to inject some creativity and dynamism from deep.
There is also the chance to switch Paulo Retre to the middle and utilise Daniel de Silva or Alex Brosque out wide. O’Neill told the Daily Football Show that the situation is uncomfortable, but he won’t shirk the responsibility to get the team firing again. Serious questions are being asked of both coaches on the touchline now, creating an intriguing scenario that will really turn up the heat at ANZ Stadium.
Key Battle – Patrick Ziegler vs Adam Le Fondre
One of the brightest performers in a below-par season for Sydney so far has been Le Fondre, a man who is managing to fill the huge boots left by Brazilian marksman Bobo.
It is hard to do better than six goals in six games for his new outfit and he will be looking to add to that tally against a Wanderers defence that has been anything but solid.
What could prove difficult this time around is the return of Ziegler, a player who helped the red and blacks to a rare clean sheet last week.
The experience and expertise of the German might allow the Wanderers to close down those runs in behind that the striker likes to make, killing any hope that a fast counter attack could produce the goods.
Will Markus Babbel use that 2-0 win as a platform and stick solid with his team? Ruon Tongyik will be absent from the bench picking up a slight knock but he will have Roly Bonevacia and Rashid Mahazi who have been promoted back into squad.
Western Sydney Wanderers Expected Starting XI (4-3-3): Janjetovic (GK); Risdon, Hamill, Ziegler, Elrich; O’Doherty, Baccus, Baumjohann; Kamau, Sotirio, Riera.
Expect the Dutch midfielder to make a second half cameo in this one. Sydney meanwhile have no new injuries to speak of, but a severe lack of form across the board will surely make way for changes to the XI.
Youngster Luke Ivanovic has been mooted for a start to inject some pace, but Corica would more likely lean on proven quality with Siem de Jong and Daniel de Silva being thrown into the fray. If form is any guide, van der Linden would make way for Calver.
Sydney FC Expected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Redmayne (GK); Grant, Wilkinson, Calver, Zullo; Brillante, O’Neill; Retre, De Jong, Ninkovic; Le Fondre.
Across 19 A-League fixtures it is Sydney who hold the dominant record, picking up 10 wins with four losses and five defeats. Only one of those five Wanderers wins have come in the last 14 fixtures. Sydney’s FFA Cup win preseason would extend that marker to 11 wins overall. The Sky Blues also fancy their chances at Homebush to enjoy four wins from six games including a memorable 5-0 demolition last time out.
The last battle between the crosstown rivals was a controversial and contentious Round 2 encounter at the SCG. The Sky Blues showed off one of their best attacking displays of the season as Le Fondre and Alex Brosque helped Sydney re-establish their dominance for a 2-0 win. The game was marred by yet another VAR debacle however, with Chris Beath’s denial of a Wanderers equaliser stealing the headlines due to a dubious foul on Michael Zullo.
How on earth could anyone predict what is about to take place at ANZ Stadium this weekend? That 3-1 defeat to the Phoenix will shake the foundations at Moore Park as the once invincible Sky Blues now enter a derby as the vulnerable party. Do the Red and Black outfit have enough confidence themselves to land a knockout blow? A bit of chaos and mayhem with both sides trading punches is guaranteed, so a share of the spoils in a frenetic and entertaining clash is the way to go.
Western Sydney Wanderers 2 Sydney FC 2