What to watch for: Sydney FC v City

Melbourne City FC will be looking to continue its hot start to the Liberty A-League season when it takes on Sydney FC in a top of the table clash on Saturday evening.

Rado Vidosic’s squad will be hunting a fifth consecutive win as they look to close the gap on the ladder leaders.

Here’s what you should keeping in eye out for on Saturday:

An early Grand Final preview?

We may only be at the halfway point, but enough games have been played to see Sydney and City establish themselves as the league’s top teams thus far. Occupying first and second place on the table with 19 and 15 points respectively, Sydney and City have collectively dropped just five points out of a possible 39, demonstrating how difficult the teams are to secure a positive result against.

However, predicting what type of game – aside from a high-quality one – we’ll see when the teams face each other this weekend is difficult; Sydney and City possess the first and second-best records in terms of both goals scored (23 and 15) and goals conceded (1 and 4).

Whether this determines that the game will be a high-scoring affair or a gritty, defence-first contest (or a score draw in between both ends of the spectrum), we’ll have to find out when the action kicks off on Saturday.

How City deal with one of the league’s most in-form players

Hannah Wilkinson may have stolen recent headlines with her goalscoring exploits against Adelaide, Victory and Wellington, but Sydney FC have a devastatingly in-form player of their own in Mackenzie Hawkesby.

The midfielder has taken her game to another level in 2021/22, becoming the star of the show for her side as she’s racked up a whopping five goals and six assists in seven appearances thus far, accounting for an involvement in 48% of Sydney’s goals this campaign.

With attacking stars Remy Siemsen and Cortnee Vine away with the Matildas, the obvious task for Rado Vidosic and his side is to restrict Hawkesby’s influence in midfield and the final third.

How the likes of deeper midfield pairing Leah Davidson and Rebekah Stott are able to restrict her time and space on the ball, and how City’s centre-backs balance defending Hawkesby on the front foot with marking Sydney’s front three, will be crucial to the outcome of Saturday’s blockbuster clash.

Does Rado change how he tried to compensate for the loss of Holly McNamara?

Whilst Winonah Heatley and Holly McNamara were both big losses in their own right heading into City’s game with Adelaide United last weekend, the 1-0 scoreline in City’s favour showed that it was the latter’s absence that Vidosic struggled to compensate for the most.

Youngster Darcy Malone was named in place of McNamara, earning her starting debut in the Liberty A-League, whilst Stott fulfilled a notably more attacking midfield role than fans had seen previously of the Kiwi.

For all the tactical tweaks, Vidosic’s side recorded slightly fewer shots than their season average against an Adelaide side who had been one of the higher chance-conceding sides in the league to that point. McNamara’s absence didn’t hinder the play of attacking midfielder, Rhianna Pollicina, who continued to be a goal-scoring threat as she recorded a team-high four attempts, with a 66th minute winner as a result.

With Heatley returning for the Sydney clash but McNamara remaining unavailable due to her inclusion with the Matildas’ final Asian Cup squad, Vidosic will again need to consider how to compensate for the loss of the 18-year-old striker’s pace, pressing and dribbling in the final third.