The FFA Cup has been a fantastic introduction to the Australian footballing landscape. It is somewhat fitting then that tonight’s final pits the competition’s two biggest protagonists against one another.
It may be a repeat of Sunday’s A-League fixture, but if Melbourne City’s 2-1 win over Adelaide United is anything to go by, then it’s a game most will have no issue watching again.
With less than 1000 tickets left to be snapped up, fans are voting with their feet on this one.
And a win tonight would be a glowing endorsement for the process Erik Mombaerts has set in motion at Australia’s richest franchise.
The Frenchman is proving you don’t need to revolutionise your squad to deliver vast improvements.
The charismatic coach opted for a minor face-lift in terms of personnel, but he’s pulled off some major reconstructive surgery in terms of tactical style and approach.
City look rejuvenated. They play the ball calmly and confidently out of the back, but not as if to bore their opponents – and fans – to death.
Dean Bouzanis has been a solid custodian in goal, while Harrison Delbridge’s quality in the tackle and composure on the ball is surely earning him a look-in from the Socceroos camp.
The lung-busting runs of overlapping fullbacks Scott Jamieson and Scott Galloway provide plenty of opportunities to overload defences. It says a lot for Mombaerts’ options in midfield that Josh Brillante was not even required to start on Sunday.
Craig Noone looks as exciting a foreign addition as any, and while Ramy Najjarine remains relatively raw, he seems to grow in confidence every time he plays.
Najjarine will attract his fair share of critics for a lack of end product, but it’s pleasing to see a young Australian talent backed in by his manager and given the freedom to express himself on the ball.
With a bit of time and patience, City might have another Daniel Arzani on their hands. If nothing else, Najjarine shares Arzani’s never-ending fountain of confidence.
Mombaerts will need to see more in terms of goals and assists soon, with some highly-experienced Uruguayan imports champing at the bit for their chance, but here’s hoping Najjarine starts repaying the faith.
The jewel in the crown, however, is Jamie Maclaren.
His brace on the weekend was as Maclaren as it gets.
The Socceroo’s goal-scoring instincts are second-to-none at the moment. He patrols that ever-so dangerous space between the six-yard box and the penalty spot like a hyena, drooling at the prospect of any scraps that come his way.
And when the chances present themselves, he just does not miss.
But it was his contribution in overall attacking play which truly impressed. Maclaren consistently found pockets of space.
A man of his size and stature will always struggle to play the role of the target man, but he plays the lone striker role in his distinct way by simply never standing still.
His ability to evade his two markers and bring others into play is outstanding. City would have won the derby had he been available.
He was the difference on Sunday, and he could well be the difference tonight.
Adelaide United, to their credit, contributed to Sunday’s entertaining league affair.
They paid the price for a slow start, but a much-improved second half demonstrated their potential.
Gertjan Verbeek might consider himself unlucky to have taken zero points from his opening two games. A leaky and at times undisciplined defence is his Achilles heel.
Like Mombaerts, Verbeek is looking to deliver a change in fortunes with a change in tactical direction, as opposed to simply overhauling an entire squad.
The Dutchman has some catching up to do when it comes to matching the Frenchman in that respect.
It’s early days, but there was a tangible sense of optimism at AAMI Park on Sunday.
The days of Warren Joyce’s lifeless football already seem a distant memory, and while City still need to prove their title credentials, Mombaerts has delivered a quiet revolution at the competition’s perennial underachievers.
Taking the FFA Cup in hostile surrounds at Coopers Stadium will be no mean feat, and would suggest that City finally have a coach who can deliver on their lofty ambitions.