Three months after a record Hyundai A-League crowd witnessed instalment one of the season, another packed-out stadium is expected when Red & Black and Sky Blue meet for the 14th Sydney Derby.
It’s the day when the Hyundai A-League takes over Sydney – you’re either Red & Black or Sky Blue on derby day. And rarely have we previewed one with such contrasting form lines.
This season, the Sky Blues have won 11, drawn 3 and lost none in the league - their only loss being to Melbourne City in the Westfield FFA Cup Final.
The Wanderers have been, by comparison, been playing some eye-catching lead up play but lacking the defensive nous that made them so difficult to beat in years gone by.
But the beauty of the derby is that the occasion takes centre stage - and therein lies Wanderers’ biggest hope. They are clear underdogs - and that’s a big advantage.
In fact, if you analyse Wanderers this season, they have been playing some good football and creating chances.
Wanderers have better possession stats to Sydney FC (51%-46%) and better passing accuracy (78%-73%). But the Wanderers have not kept a clean sheet all season, as opposed to the Sky Blues with an impressive eight.
Encouragingly, last week revealed some promising signs for Popa’s men.
A red card early in the game saw them on the back foot against City, but with a “false 9” and strong team spirit, their 10 men almost left AAMI with a point.
And the emergence of Robbie Cornthwaite - subbed on after Aritz Borda's red card - in central defence bolstered organisation and added some fire to the red and black belly.
Vedran Janjetovic handled his debut last week with aplomb but running out in front of the Cove will be a whole other thing – though he might have an insight or two on how Sydney FC play.
Likewise, new signing Terry Antonis may see some game time for the visitors against the club where his career started.
In the white-hot atmosphere of a derby, and with Sydney FC missing key men Josh Brillante (suspended), Matt Jurman (transferred last week) and Jurman’s central defensive replacement Seb Ryall injured, there is some hope of an upset of sorts.
Adding even more spice, how will Wanderers keeper Vedran Janjetovic cope with the feeling of being at Allianz as an opposition player?
It is after all, the Sydney Derby, the city’s greatest, most intoxicating sporting event where anything can happen.
ROUTE TO GOAL
Comparing these two strike lines is like chalk and cheese.
Sydney FC have numerous attacking weapons, different types of strikers, an attacking midfielder and two aggressive and attacking full backs.
Attempting to blunt that FC attack will likely be Robbie Cornthwaite alongside Jonathon Aspropotamitis in central defence.
It’s a strong combination and both look in form as a central duo after Cornthwaite came on last week as a sub following the red to Borda.
But it’ll likely be Bruno Pinatares who’ll likely be tasked with shackling Serbian superstar Ninkovic - expect the Uruguayan to lay on a bruising first tackle for ref Peter Green to adjudicate.
It’ll light the fuse as he and skipper Dimas (a welcome return from suspension) patrol the midfield and try to stamp their authority on a key part of the park.
Much will fall on the shoulders of attacking midfielders Nico Martinez, Mitch Nichols and Jumpei with rookie Lachlan Scott and Jaushua Sotirio other options.
The key will be how Wanderers will set out their modified attacking set up of a “false 9” and how Sydney FC will adapt to that, particularly with this potentially troubling central defensive issue of who’ll partner Alex Wilkinson in central defence (likely to be Brandon O’Neill or one of the untried U-20s in Arnie’s squad).
And if Wanderers want to channel inspiration from the past, who better than Jumpei, whose hero Shinji Ono made Allianz his own during his sparkling spell in the Red and Black.
Saturday, 14 January 2017
Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers FC
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-Off: 7:50PM (Local) (7:50PM (AEDT))
Referee: Peter Green
Assistant Referee 1: David Walsh
Assistant Referee 2: Anton Shchetinin
Fourth Official: Kurt Ams
TV Broadcast: Live coverage on Fox Sports 505 from 7.45pm (AEDT) and Sky Sport 3 (New Zealand)
Radio Broadcast: ABC Radio Sydney, ABC Radio Canberra, ABC Local Radio NSW, Grandstand Digital, Online & via the ABC Radio Mobile App – A-league Live, Hawkesbury Radio
Join the conversation on Twitter using the hash-tag #SydneyDerby
To purchase tickets visit www.aleague.com.au
Sydney FC squad: 1.Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 4.Alex WILKINSON, 7.Michael ZULLO, 8.Milos DIMITRIJEVIC, 9.BOBÔ, 10.Milos NINKOVIC, 11.Bernie IBINI, 12.Aaron CALVER, 13.Brandon O’NEILL, 14. Alex BROSQUE, 16.George TIMOTHEOU, 17.David CARNEY, 18.Matt SIMON, 19.George BLACKWOOD, 20.Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 21.Filip HOLOSKO, 23.Rhyan GRANT, 25.Patrick FLOTTMANN.
**two to be omitted**
Ins: 12.Aaron CALVER (promoted), 14. Alex BROSQUE (returns from suspension), 16.George TIMOTHEOU (promoted), 25.Patrick FLOTTMAN (promoted)
Outs: 6.Josh BRILLANTE (suspended – 1 match), 22.Sebastian RYALL (hamstring – indefinite)
Western Sydney Wanderers FC squad: 1.Jerrad TYSON (gk), 3.Jack CLISBY, 5.Brendan HAMILL, 6.Mitch NICHOLS, 7.Steven LUSTICA, 8.DIMAS (c), 10.Nicolás MARTÍNEZ, 12.Scott NEVILLE, 13.Bruno PIÑATARES, 14.Jumpei KUSUKAMI, 15.Kearyn BACCUS, 16.Jaushua SOTIRIO, 18.Robert CORNTHWAITE, 20.Vedran JANJETOVIC (gk), 22.Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS, 23.Lachlan SCOTT, 24.Terry ANTONIS, 49.Abraham MAJOK
**two to be omitted**
Ins: 8.DIMAS (returns from suspension),12.Scott NEVILLE (promoted), 24.Terry ANTONIS (promoted), 49.Abraham MAJOK (promoted)
Outs: 17.Aritz BORDA (suspended – 3 matches), 42.Keanu BACCUS (omitted)
Unavailable: 2.Shannon COLE (injured – 1 week), 11.Brendon SANTALAB (suspended – 1 match)