It is somewhat fitting that Kevin Muscat’s final game in an official capacity with Melbourne Victory is on the Asian stage.
After the fantastic week of football that the world has seen, the A-League season’s fourth and final Big Blue will have a lot of drama and expectation to match.
But if any match-up can live up to the hype, it’s a knock-out clash between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.
The Sky Blues are looking to wash away the painful memories of last season’s semi-final, when Terry Antonis went from a villain to a hero in extra time, whereas Melbourne Victory will be looking to stamp those memories and more into Sydney fans’ heads.
Steve Corica’s men enjoyed a week off before playing in the ACL on Tuesday, where they lost 1-0 to Ulsan Hyundai away from home.
Reza Ghoochannejhad continued to disappoint after coming in for Siem de Jong, who was one of the four players left at home in preparation for the play-off.
The loss means Sydney’s hopes of making the ACL knock-out stages have ended.
Melbourne were thrashed by Daegu 4-0 mid-week, but it seemed like Kevin Muscat – who was playing an almost completely rotated side – didn’t expect anything more.
Both teams still have one game to go in the ACL, but neither have any hope of progressing.
After leaving Siem de Jong, Alex Wilkinson, Rhyan Grant and Alex Brosque at home, Steve Corica can call on a fully fit squad ahead of this clash.
Jacob Tratt should play with Alex Wilkinson at the back – he would be a great addition to the Sydney defence and has shone when playing there.
His combination of pace and power has allowed him to be a rock at the back and he’s also contributed two goals.
He is also looking to extend his stay at Sydney FC, whereas the other option – Aaron Calver – is leaving in the summer.
That being said, Steve Corica has prefered Calver over the course of this season and is the more likely option.
This is how they’ll probably line up.
GK: Andrew Redmayne
LB: Michael Zullo
CB: Aaron Calver
CB: Alex Wilkinson
RB: Rhyan Grant
CDM: Brandon O’Neill
CDM: Joshua Brillante
LAM: Milos Ninkovic
RAM: Anthony Caceres
ST: Siem de Jong
ST: Adam Le Fondre
Kevin Muscat went all out in resting his players against Daegu, with nine of the 11 players that started against Wellington Phoenix not starting, and eight were left at home.
That strategy showed Muscat was completely focused on the Big Blue and had already stopped thinking about the Asian Champions League.
The big team news is that James Troisi is unfit. It’s a big blow for Kevin Muscat because it means he is unable to keep his favoured 4-1-2-1-2 narrow formation and will instead have to field a 4-3-3 with Kosta Barbarouses and Ola Toivonen alternating between right wing and striker.
Barbarouses and Toivonen have been key for the Victory this season, but the fact they won’t be able to play centrally together is a shame.
They’ll likely field the following team.
GK: Lawrence Thomas
LB: Leigh Broxham
CB: Georg Niedermeier
CB: James Donachie
RB: Thomas Deng
LCM: Terry Antonis
CDM: Raul Baena
RCM: Keisuke Honda
LW: Elvis Kamsoba
ST: Ola Toivonen
RW: Kosta Barbarouses
Two key match-ups throughout this game will be Rhyan Grant against Elvis Kamsoba and Brandon O’Neill against Keisuke Honda.
In both scenarios, it is youth against experience – but it’s hard to pick the winner.
The man of the match is also hard to pick with so many quality players on the field, and it’s anyone’s game.
It is likely to go to extra time, with these two teams being hard to split so far this season, and penalties are also a possibility.
Kevin Muscat is playing mind games, so how will Steve Corica respond in his first finals game in charge?