Preview: Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
Date: Saturday, November 10, 2012
Kick-off: 7.45pm AEDT
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Played 24: Wins: Sydney FC 5, Victory 7, Draws: 12
Sydney FC 1-0 Victory, March 10, 2012
Past five matches:
Sydney FC: LLWWL
It's been a week of inquisitions and soul-searching at Sydney FC after last weekend's 7-2 annihilation at the hands of the Central Coast.
Sky Blues fans and coach Ian Crook will be expecting an immediate response from his players and what better way to banish the demons of the club's worst-ever defeat than by beating fierce rivals Melbourne Victory.
In a huge boost for Sydney Italian superstar Alessandro De Piero is almost certain to return after missing the Mariners debacle with hamstring soreness.
The Sky Blues' defensive woes could be eased for this clash with Pascal Bosschaart, Adam Griffths and Fabio all a chance to return from injury. Bosschaart and Griffiths both played 45 minutes in a friendly game against Western Sydney this week and if they pull-up well Crook is likely to rush them straight back in.
Socceroos midfielder Jason Culina also played in that match and is a contender for a spot on the bench. It's a lot more settled at Victory, who have no new injury concerns and have moved into the top six for the first time this season on the back of their 3-2 win over Wellington.
While they continue to leak goals against them, the Victory's attacking weapons of Archie Thompson, Marco Rojas, Marcos Flores and Gui Finkler are all in good form and will relish the prospect of taking on a shaky Sydney back-four.
The big issue
Sydney: He may only be in his first season in charge but Ian Crook is an experienced coach and he will need to use all his powers to repair the shattered confidence of his players.
It's only natural that last week's thrashing will have sapped a lot of belief out of the Sky Blues squad which they will need to rediscover quickly if they are a chance against the Victory. The possible return of a couple of key defenders could help but they will need more than that to turn things around.
It's vital they start well or the home fans may get on their back and what's left of their brittle confidence could be eaten away, making this weekend's challenge even greater.
Victory: The two-time champions were breathtaking in the opening hour against the Phoenix but almost undid all their good work by clocking off early. The late lapse was something coach Ange Postecoglou has taken notice of and he will be stressing the need to see games out with much greater efficiency if they are to continue to rise up the ladder.
The game breaker
Alessandro Del Piero: It's too much to say Del Piero's absence was the sole reason for his side's heavy loss to the Mariners but there's no doubt the Sky Blues players feel much more comfortable when he is on the field.
He should be fresh after the week off and if Sydney can tighten things up at the back, Del Piero's brilliance at the other end could turn the game in their favour. The Italian veteran turns 38 the day before the game and would love nothing more than to celebrate his birthday with a goal and a win.
Sydney 2-3 Victory: No matter where they are on the table or what type of form either side is in, this clash has always been hard to pick and fiercely contested.
Given the week the Sky Blues have had you can expect even more feeling and desperation in this one. While the return of a couple of key defenders will help the home side's cause, it should be remembered they will be lacking match-fitness and sharpness, which could be a factor against the class and pace of the Victory's attack.
Melbourne's own defensive frailties means Sydney will always be a threat in attack but it's difficult to see the Sky Blues being able to completely turn things around in a week. The Victory should edge this one in an entertaining and high-scoring affair.