Sydney FC vs. WS Wanderers: Five questions for the Sydney Derby
The A-league Finals Series is just around the corner and things are starting to get tense on the competition ladder.
The complexity and compactness of the fixture list means that every result of every game from here on in grows in importance. Therefore, Saturday's Sydney Derby at Allianz Stadium promises to be yet another mouth-watering contest.
While a loss will not end either team's season, Sydney FC manager Graham Arnold and his Western Sydney Wanderers' counterpart, Tony Popovic, will see the match as an opportunity to deliver a hammer-blow to the title ambitions of their cross-town rivals.
With bragging rights clearly on the line, here are five key questions for the game:
1. What will Arnold tell his players given their recent poor form?
Sydney boss Arnold is not one to back down from the challenge he currently faces with his charges on a three-game losing streak -- a decline that has seen the potential A-league title-contenders slip to sixth on the ladder.
Having won only four of their 10 home games to date, Arnold will view this match as a vital chance to boost the confidence of his squad and an ideal opportunity to sweep away the staleness that has enveloped the team in recent weeks.
Players will have been reminded by Arnie of their total responsibility in performing as a Sky Blue, which was missing in the recent loss to Perth Glory.
He will be resolute and demanding in a performance of the players and will no doubt select a starting XI he knows can deliver.
Keeper Vedran Janjetovic is clearly one who has come under the microscope given the recent performance against Perth. A poor match against the Wanderers could loosen his grip on the No. 1 position.
2. Will Shane Smeltz start on the bench?
Arnold needs to switch things up if his is to lift Sydney out of their malaise. One option is to change the attacking setup for the underperforming Sky Blues.
Goals have not been free-flowing for weeks now, which surely must be a concern for Arnold. Alex Brosque's return from a long-term injury will certainly be welcome, plus the interesting January acquisition of David Carney from Newcastle means Arnold has two more experienced options to utilise.
But, what about Shane Smeltz?
Arnold could do worse than considering a starting position for the prolific A-League marksman who scored for New Zealand in the 2010 World Cup. A pivotal role in leading the line for the Sky Blues and the ability to receive and engage other attacking players could well be the missing link that Sydney have been crying out for.
This would enable the likes of Carney and Brosque the freedom to attack against a Wanderers defence that was demolished by an enterprising Wellington Phoenix last weekend.
Smeltz's clinical finishing in the final third could well make the difference in not just the Derby, but over the next few weeks.
3. What combination would suit WSW in midfield?
After what can only be described by all involved at the Western Sydney Wanderers as a total surprise in losing 5-2 to the ninth-placed Nix, Popovic now heads into a Sydney Derby in which he has an extremely poor record.
Poppa, though, has an array of quality midfield players at his disposal and this area could well define success or failure on Saturday.
With the Spanish midfield duo of Andreu Guerao Mayoral and Dimas Delgado missing from the recent Wellington defeat, this area of the team becomes crucial in the Derby selection.
Kearyn Baccus and Jacob Pepper provide a steady and competent partnership, but not to the level of the missing Spaniards.
Switching to a midfield diamond could well test out-of-form Sydney FC and provide better penetration and quality of forward passes for the likes of Mitch Nichols, Romeo Castelen and Dario Vidosic -- who all have the attacking presence to expose a vulnerable Sydney FC defence.
Wanderers striker Mark Bridge, who has been in excellent goal-scoring form, could also be beneficiary of this formation switch.
4. Should the Wanderers go for the kill?
Given the recent poor form of Sydney FC, the Wanderers should be looking to start on the offensive.
The short history of the Sydney Derby has a considerably Sky Blue tinge to it and this may well play a part in the thinking of Poppa. FC, currently stalling after a good early season, are clearly ripe for the taking. Now is the time for the Wanderers to be on the front foot so they can inflict further damage on Arnold's team.
Wanderers may be best to opt for an explosive start and look to apply the early pressure on the Sky Blues in front of what will be a sell-out crowd full of atmosphere and anticipation.
Quick counter-attacks can surely test what maybe a nervous Sky Blue defence, so the midfield area will be crucial for Poppa`s side to exploit. Penetrating balls between the Blues central defenders and fullbacks would optimise the pace of Vidosic and Castelen.
An early goal could well be the order of the day in turning the Derby form line back towards the Wanderers.
5. Is a return to Sydney on the cards for Cahill?
Saturday's Derby won't answer this question, but Tim Cahill's exit from Shanghai Shenhua on Tuesday will surely send some phones running hot across the A-League.
Born and raised in Sydney's inner-west, both Sydney FC and the Wanderers could to a lot worse than trying to lure the legendary Socceroo back home (although if they can afford him is another question).
For Arnie's Blues, Cahill could be the target man that they have so desperately missed since Austria's Marc Janko returned to Europe. Even at the age of 36, his quality and confidence would surely inspire all around him and maybe the tonic missing from the current team.
For Poppa's Wanderers, Cahill could serve as both provider and goal-scorer. The thought of having Cahill turn out in the Red and Black at Wanderland would swell the already impressive WSW support in the West into a stratosphere that Australian domestic competition has never seen before.
Ex-Wellington boss Ricki Herbert, who guided New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup, is Maldives head coach and runs his own academy in NZ.