Sydney FC to win in a battle of the benches

Andy Paschalidis Columnist

14 Have your say

    It took Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat almost five years to kill the memories of a heartbreaking grand final loss to Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium.

    On that fateful day – 20 March, 2010 – another epic grand final was locked at 1-1 after 120 minutes.

    Muscat then failed with the Victory’s first penalty kick. Sydney prevailed in the shoot-out 4-2, securing a second championship win.

    Redemption didn’t come quickly. In 2015, on the back of two goals in the closing seven minutes, Melbourne Victory responded with a 3-0 triumph in the A-League game which counts most. This time Muscat was leading his troops from the bench.

    It could be the battle of the benches that decides the fate of Sunday’s decider on what is likely to be a difficult Allianz Stadium pitch but one on which Sydney has an imposing 2016/17 record: 11 wins, three draws, 25 goals and just four concessions in 14 starts.

    Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold.

    Graham Arnold versus Kevin Muscat. Two former Socceroos teammates. Two men who have shown that local coaches can deliver on the big stage – and hasn’t Arnold delivered.

    There has been just one loss all season, and that came nine games ago against cross-town rivals Western Sydney Wanderers at ANZ Stadium (and let it be known that I am a WSW Ambassador!).

    Neutrals can only admire Arnold’s achievements. Numerous records have been broken. Numerous awards have been won. Finishing the regular season 17 points clear of the Victory with a goal difference of 43 while leaking just 12 goals speaks for itself.

    There are a couple of key factors that will determine the outcome. In the 3-0 home semi-final triumph against Perth Glory the likes of Milos Dimitrijevic, Bernie Ibini-Isei, Dave Carney, Matt Simon and Andrew Redmayne were once again ready to join the fray from the bench. What a luxury of riches.

    The 4-2-3-1 formation has served Sydney FC so well. Jordy Buijs and Alex Wilkinson are rocks in the heart of defence while Danny Vukovic is a giant in the goals.

    Josh Brilliante and Brandon O’Neill are models of consistency, and in fact it’s consistency in selection that has proven to be a huge key – Arnold has 10 players who have made 25 or more appearances this season.

    Statistics also don’t lie. Bobo (28 appearances, 15 goals, four assists), Alex Brosque (27 appearances, 11 goals, five assists), Milos Ninkovic (27 appearances, nine goals, 11 assists) and Filip Holosko (27 appearances, eight goals, four assists) provide Arnold with so many attacking options. Ninkovic has certainly taken his game to the next level.

    Don’t get me wrong, Melbourne Victory also boasts some enticing attacking weapons with the likes of Besart Berisha (27 appearances, 20 goals, four assists), Marco Rojas (24 appearances, 12 goals, 11 assists) and James Troisi (25 appearances, six goals, six assists).

    Besart Berisha of the Victory waves to fans

    My concern for Melbourne Victory is twofold. The team’s form coming into the business end of the campaign has not been overwhelming. In the closing six rounds Victory claimed just two wins and five goals alongside three losses.

    Melbourne’s away form has also been poor, with just five triumphs in 13 games. There has been just one success in the last seven road trips: a 3-0 triumph at the Central Coast on 19 February.

    If Sydney FC can starve Victory of possession and also cut the supply and nullify Berisha, they will hold sway. Home ground advantage no matter the state of the pitch is huge – opposing teams have only managed four goal celebrations at Allianz this season.

    It’s fitting the top two sides will end another dramatic 2016/17 A-League campaign. I sense the celebrations in Sydney will go well into the night.

    Andy Paschalidis
    Andy Paschalidis

    Having worked in the game since 1983, Andy Paschalidis is a true football tragic. He's covered some of the game's biggest events, including multiple World Cups and European Championships. You can catch him on Twitter @AndyPaschalidis.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • May 4th 2017 @ 7:35am
      Nemesis said | May 4th 2017 @ 7:35am | ! Report

      Whilst Melbourne Victory finished well behind Sydney on the table, they did finish 2nd. Yet, they’ve been given no respect by any analysts or commentators.

      I’ve seen Cup Finals where a team from the 2nd Division of England playing teams at the top of the Premier League given more respect in a one-off match.

      Based on all the analysis I’ve been reading about the A-League Grand Final, Melbourne Victory may just as well save on the airfare and not turn up on Sunday.

      In fact, it’s hardly worth watching this match given it’s apparently going to be a one-sided 90 minutes of Sydney FC celebration.

      • May 4th 2017 @ 11:35am
        Ian said | May 4th 2017 @ 11:35am | ! Report

        17 points behind Sydney. 7 points ahead of Brisbane. Goal difference of 18 to 43 with Sydney.

        Articles I have read state Victory have every chance as it’s a one off game. But they pick Sydney.

        With all the favouritism Victory usually get it must be a strange feeling to read your opposition being overwhelming favourites.

      • May 4th 2017 @ 3:11pm
        Chris said | May 4th 2017 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

        Im not sure people are saying its a shoe-in for Sydney. At best I think its 55-45 for a Sydney win. (And thats only because its in Sydney on what will be an atrocious pitch).

    • May 4th 2017 @ 8:02am
      Paul said | May 4th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Has it sold out yet? no, what a surprise Sydney!

    • May 4th 2017 @ 8:03am
      jamesb said | May 4th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

      Sydney FC have been the best team by the length of the Bathurst conrad straight. So in a sense, they are deserved to be talked up. However, it all comes down to one game,,and anything can happen.

      And welcome to The Roar Andy!

    • May 4th 2017 @ 8:41am
      Michael said | May 4th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      Why didn’t the author go with “Bench Warfare” as the headline, practically writes itself! Missed opportunity

      • May 4th 2017 @ 3:12pm
        Chris said | May 4th 2017 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

        haha like it!

    • May 4th 2017 @ 8:42am
      Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | May 4th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      Considering that, the state of the pitch on Sunday for this game will be worse than a cow paddock, the match will go for 120min and then the dreaded penalty shootout. I hope our boys (SFC) will be practicing penalties in their final training sessions.

    • May 4th 2017 @ 9:04am
      Brisvegas said | May 4th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      As a neutral, I hope for a Victory win. It would be funny indeed if Sydney lost 3 games all season – 2 cup finals and a derby. How I would laugh.

      It’s just a pity that it would mean Melbourne Victory winning.

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