Melbourne Victory hosts Sydney FC on Sunday afternoon to see who will win the ultimate prize. A capacity crowd at AAMI Park and the best two teams of the season ensures this will be a day to remember for Australian football.
There isn’t much to separate the two squads so I’ve tried to break down some key factors that could influence Sunday’s final.
Mark Milligan is one of the ultimate leaders in the A-League and compliments Kevin Muscat’s style of football. A fine Asian Cup campaign showed many Milligan is still more than capable at international level and was a key part of the winning team. Sydney captain Alex Brosque wants a repeat of his 2009/10 Championship win, but this time as captain. Brosque has managed to score four goals in the last month, including a late contender for goal of the season last week against Adelaide. The current form of Brosque is scintillating but Milligan is the ultimate big game player.
Melbourne: Milligan 7
Sydney: Brosque 8
THE INTERNATIONAL MARQUEE
When Victory snared marquee man Besart Berisha from Brisbane many stated the Albanian front man would lead his team to a Grand Final appearance, how right they were. Berisha may have missed the Golden Boot award this season, but has managed to not only score goals but create them at opportune times. The player who pipped Berisha for the Golden Boot was Austria Marc Janko who had the biggest boots to fill this season, replacing Alessandro Del Piero as Sydney FC’s international marquee. Janko has produced 16 goals for Sydney FC but hasn’t scored for over two months so will be under pressure this Sunday. The Austrian is no stranger to scoring under pressure and will be a key player in the final.
Janko has scored twice in two games against Victory; Berisha has scored 6 goals in 11 games when playing Sydney but none this season.
Melbourne: Berisha 9
Sydney: Janko 8
Vedran Janjetovic has been one of the best keepers in the league and a main stay in the Sydney FC defense. Janjetovic has won many fans this season in his standout season. In 28 appearances he kept a league best 9 clean sheets and rescued the sometimes fragile back four. Janjetovic will need to be at his best with Gui Finkler and Besart Berisha lurking around the goals.
Lawrence Thomas has been sitting on the sidelines for much of the season but has been superb when called upon. An injury to Nathan Coe has given Thomas this grand final opportunity but that is not to say he is undeserving. Thomas has won five out of six games he’s been involved in and only conceded two goals in 482 minutes of football.
Melbourne: Thomas 6
Sydney: Janjetovic 8
Mind games have been played all week between Graham Arnold and Kevin Muscat, with Arnold being the main aggressor. Arnold’s domestic record in Australia speaks for itself with excellent results with Central Coast Mariners and this season at Sydney FC. Arnold has more tactical nous and experience than counterpart Kevin Muscat but Muscat’s passion for the game is undeniable. Many questioned Muscat’s appointment when Ange Postecoglu was poached to coach the Socceroos, stating he was far too inexperienced for the role. Muscat was very deserving of his 2014/15 coach of the season award and will prove a worthy opponent for Arnold.
Melbourne: Muscat 7
Sydney: Arnold 8
THE EXPERIENCED ATTACKER
Like two wiley old foxes Shane Smeltz and Archie Thompson could become key players in the Grand Final. Experience is crucial in key games and Smeltz and Thompson have this in spades. Thompson has scored the most goals in A-League history, with Smeltz sitting second. Both players are in the twilight of their careers but cannot be underestimated in this key game. Smeltz has scored four goals against Victory this season and Thompson a hat-trick in the Round 10 clash against Sydney.
Both strikers have been on target in the last month and one goal either way could be match defining.
Melbourne: Thompson 7
Sydney: Smeltz 6
THE MIDFIELD X-FACTOR
Gui Finkler has already won the heart of every Victory supporter over the last three seasons with his sublime dead ball abilities, but imagine if he can produce on the biggest stage of all. The Brazilian has the ability to setup play in the midfield whilst making opposition defenders very weary of fouling in critical areas around the box. Finkler always finds a way to lift Victory and Sunday will be no different. Serbian Milos Dimitrijevic is a class above when on song and controls the Sydney midfield. Dimitrijevic doesn’t receive the plaudits most times but Kevin Muscat will have a watchful eye on the key midfielder as the teams take the field. If Finkler and Dimitrijevic perform to expectation the match will be one of the best seen at A-League level.
Melbourne: Finkler 8
Sydney: Dimitrijevic 7
THE DISIPLINE FACTOR
Melbourne Victory collected 59 yellow cards over the season but was the only club to avoid the dreaded red card. On the flip side Sydney were responsible for the most red cards (5) but only 55 yellow cards. Jarred Gillett has been given the responsibility of over seeing his second final, let’s hope it’s less controversial than the game in 2011/12.
The teams have faced off 34 times over the last 10 seasons for very even results. Victory has won on 10 occasions and Sydney has claimed the three points 8 times. There has been 16 draws between the two clubs so expect extra time on Sunday afternoon. Victory has scored 50 goals in the 34 games, whilst Sydney has found the back of the net 48 times. This season the clubs have played three draws, including two six goal thrillers.
Victory wins 52% of times when playing at AAMI Park, where Sydney FC has only won 18% of games. The last time (29/3/2014) Melbourne and Sydney played at AAMI Park ended in a 1-1 draw and was interestingly officiated by Jarred Gillett, the man in charge on Sunday.
A very pro Victory crowd at AAMI Stadium can be a daunting experience but ‘The Cove’ won’t back away from this challenge. Sydney fans will be outnumbered but in full voice to match it with the different sections of Victory fans. Expect the ‘Northern Terrace’ to be sufficiently louder due to superior numbers but for any fan watching at the ground or at home it should be an electrifying experience.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Melbourne and Sydney have played many classic encounters over the history of the league and this one will be no different. Whilst the numbers point to a close Victory win don’t be surprised if we see extra time, or even a repeat of the 2009/10 penalty shoot-out. No matter how the game is decided I can guarantee we have the best two teams playing on the final day of the season.