We’re set for the third and possibly final chapter of the engrossing Melbourne City FC vs Sydney FC rivalry that’s taken place throughout the 2021/22 A-League Women season, with the teams set to face off for a place in the Grand Final this Friday night.
Following an inspiring season from our City girls in which they narrowly missed out on claiming a third Premiership, Rado Vidosic’s side will instead be targeting a fifth Women’s Championship for the Club.
Here’s what to watch for throughout Friday’s Finals blockbuster:
Sydney to again rely on pace to expose
A theme of the previous two meetings between City and Sydney this year has been the latter’s ability to regularly get in behind the former’s backline with some well-weighted balls from midfield into the path of explosive wingers like Cortnee Vine, Princess Ibini or Paige Satchell.
With City’s own pacey wing-backs relied upon to provide attacking width further afield, the Sky Blues would exploit the vacated space and force our central defenders into unenviable footraces against some of the quickest wingers in the league, usually resulting in a cutback into a central area or shot on goal.
On the flip side, it was City’s wing-backs that did all the damage against Sydney most recently, with Kaitlyn Torpey assisting and scoring and Tyla-Jay Vlajnic setting up her defensive counterpart’s first-half stoppage time strike.
Whether we’ll see Torpey and Vlajnic instructed to tame their forward runs or again relied upon to do the damage, or if there is a different fix on Vidosic’s mind altogether, that particular battle will make for a fascinating watch on Friday.
With few chances likely, can Wilkinson or Pollicina make the difference?
There’s no secret that shooting opportunities will be hard to come by when you’re facing a league-best defensive unit that also hasn’t conceded a penalty all season. This campaign, it has taken an average of 20 total shots to beat Jada Whyman in goal, so for City to be able to achieve that once – let alone twice, as will likely be necessary – would be a huge win in the 90-minute battle that awaits on Friday.
Fortunately, City boasts two of the league’s most in-form players in Hannah Wilkinson and Rhianna Pollicina, but the pair will have an already difficult task made even more so by the absence of Holly McNamara, who was influential in the last meeting between the teams in which she also sustained a season-ending ACL injury.
Together, the attacking trio has accounted for 86% of City’s goals scored in 2021/22; a statistic that both highlights the threat posed by Wilkinson and Pollicina, but also how heavily our attacking prospects rest on the duo in McNamara’s absence, with goals from elsewhere appearing unlikely.
Between Wilkinson’s incredible strike rate of one goal every three shots and Pollicina’s return of three goals and one assist in her past five games, City is equipped with one of the best attacking duos in the league, and fans can only hope that one of our stars up top can make the vital breakthrough on Friday.
Rested legs to return to the starting lineup
Whilst a win last Sunday was essential for our Premiership hopes at the time, the game was also an opportunity for Vidosic to rest some key players after a congested run of games thanks to COVID postponements earlier in the year.
Rebekah Stott missed the fixture entirely, whilst Tyla-Jay Vlajnic and Leticia McKenna were shifted to the bench with Chelsea Blissett and Caitlyn Karic taking their places in the starting XI.
With Stott and Vlajnic having been mainstays in lineups this season and McKenna essentially assuming McNamara’s starting place following her injury, City fans will take plenty of confidence from a potential return of a trio of regular starters to Vidosic’s XI for Friday’s do-or-die clash.