In the mix: Christmas Derby

Heading into Saturday night’s blockbuster Melbourne Derby, there seems to be greater competition for starting places than we’ve seen all season, with several important positions up for grabs.

Nathaniel Atkinson’s endeavour to make a first league start of the season will again be one of the main talking points going into Saturday, with the Joe Marston medallist kept out of the starting lineup this season by an in-form pairing of Andrew Nabbout on the wing and Scott Galloway at full-back. In addition to his three assists against South Melbourne in the FFA Cup Round of 32, Atkinson made his case for selection again in Round 4 when he came off the bench to net an 88th-minute winner against Perth Glory.

The Olyroo has already proven he can stand up in big games with several standout performances last season which he capped off with a best-on-ground display in the Grand Final. Whether these points aid his case in making a return to the starting lineup remains to be seen.

Another point of contention is in midfield, where Florin Berenguer, Marco Tilio and even Manuel Pucciarelli will be vying for the most advanced role alongside Connor Metcalfe and Aiden O’Neill. Berenguer has been one of the early-season standouts with his contributions in the position but made way for Marco Tilio in Round 4 following a busy schedule of fixtures.

The youngster will also hope to compete with Socceroo Mathew Leckie for the starting left-wing role. The third player in this midfield equation is Pucciarelli, who is yet to make a league appearance for City following his club debut against Hume City in the FFA Cup Round of 16. The Italian impressed fans in his City audition, assisting Leckie’s winning goal that saw City through to the Quarter Finals, but may find it tough to break into a strong midfield immediately and could instead feature in a cameo from the bench.

Whilst all three contenders possess diverse qualities that would make them suited to the role of City’s most advanced midfielder, only Patrick Kisnorbo will know who he intends to select ahead of Saturday’s Derby.

Rostyn Griffiths’ ongoing return to fitness and City’s existing solid centre-back pairing of Curtis Good and Nuno Reis may make it hard for the veteran to break back into the starting lineup in time for the Derby. City’s defensive unit secured their first clean sheet of the season in the team’s 1-0 win over Perth at home and will hope to give their side every chance of winning the game by keeping a clean sheet in Saturday’s Melbourne Derby.