A heavyweight showdown is on the cards this Saturday night as Melbourne City and Western United prepare for battle in the Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final at AAMI Park – coverage begins at 1830, kick off 1945 AEST on 10 and 10 play.
The number three has quite a bit of significance ahead of this Grand Final as it is City’s third consecutive appearance in the showcase event while it is Western’s first appearance in their third season in the competition.
What has separated these two teams from the rest of the pack this season?
A strong spine is everything. There have been key players throughout the park for both teams who have been invaluable throughout the campaign.
We begin at the back with City’s Nuno Reis and Socceroos Curtis Good. This defensive pairing has undoubtedly paid dividends. An injury-free Good has shown just how valuable he can be on a regular basis while Portuguese defender, Reis has seamlessly adapted to the demands of the A-League since arriving down under last year.
The experienced pairing at the back have been complimented by a formidable midfield which features Frenchman Florin Berengeur, Aiden O’Neill and the departing Conor Metcalfe.
Berengeur has been a creative spark for City’s midfield with five goals and five assists this season. He only just returned to the starting line-up in their semi final victory over Adelaide last weekend after a lengthy injury layoff but is expected to stamp his authority on proceedings come Saturday.
Unfortunately, injury rules O’Neill out of the big dance but it does provide an opportunity for Taras Gomulka who has been a regular in the starting line-up since some formidable performances in the Asian Champions League last month.
This will also be a big occasion for recently capped Socceroo Metcalfe who would like the perfect send off as he jets off to Germany to join St Pauli next season.
Moving to the front line now which boasts the strongest attacking threat in the competition this season. Patrick Kisnorbo’s side scored 55 goals over the regular season – outright leaders in that department by six goals with Central Coast Mariners in second.
Mathew Leckie’s return home from Germany has complemented an already potent attack that features Jamie Maclaren as well as Andrew Nabbout. Emerging talent Marco Tilio has also added another dimension to City with the 20-year-old weighing in with four goals – his most recent coming against Adelaide on Sunday.
Success lies in Western’s Marquees
Successful marquee signings can often springboard a team to glory. This has without a shadow of doubt been the case for United who have the defensive might of Leo Lacroix and attacking prowess of Aleksandar Prijovic in part to thank for their barnstorming campaign.
Swiss centre back Lacroix has proven to be an inspired signing for John Aloisi’s side. He has become an unlikely source of goals for his side with three throughout the season – all scored during a hot streak in March.
He opened the scoring the last time they met City when the points were shared in a 2-2 stalemate.
Before moving onto Prijovic we must also acknowledge the heroic efforts of Western’s Jamie Young whose imperious form has been a major factor behind his side’s place in the decider this weekend.
The veteran goalkeeper was without a club after leaving Brisbane Roar last season before he was approached by his former coach to link up with United.
Making our way to the attacking end of the pitch now, where we can find Serbian powerhouse Prijovic.
The target striker has been trigger happy heading into Grand Final, after finishing fifth in the golden boot race with nine to his name, he has since added three to his tally in the finals series.
The towering Serb weighed in with the deciding goal in the elimination final against Wellington Phoenix before producing a finishing masterclass with two goals as well as an assist as he tore apart Melbourne Victory in the second leg of the semi-final.
Head to Head Results
H2H results this season have it in favour of United who came away with two slender 1-0 wins before the two teams shared the points in March.
United have been City’s bogey team this campaign given that two out of their five defeats this season were dished out by their cross town neighbours.
Aloisi’s fluid counter-attacking display against Victory demonstrated that his side have it within themselves to nullify whatever comes their way.
Meanwhile, a nervy finish to their semi-final against Adelaide will have City on high alert as they chase their second Isuzu UTE A-League championship.