Sheffield United
West Bromwich Albion
11:45 AM UTC
Game Details

Melbourne City top in Australia as Manchester City lead in England

When City Football Group founders Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak dreamed up a plan to dominate world football, with a City club flying high on each continent of the globe, the situation today must have been close to what they had in mind.

Manchester City stand undefeated atop the Premier League standings, having won nine of their 10 games this season, and are through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League after a 4-2 victory over Napoli on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, New York City's hopes in the MLS playoffs remain alive, despite a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Columbus Crew in game one of the conference semifinals on Tuesday.

Over 11,000km away, in another hemisphere from where that City dream was first born, another side have quietly elevated their hopes of becoming a force. Melbourne City have made a perfect start to the season in Australia's A-League, winning their first four matches against stiff competition, ahead of Friday's home game against champions Sydney FC.

Melbourne City FCMelbourne City FC
Sydney FCSydney FC
Game Details

In contrast to their City Group brethren, however, Melbourne are succeeding with far fewer stars and fanfare.

Led by somewhat unfashionable British coach Warren Joyce, who previously managed Wigan Athletic and the Manchester United reserves, Melbourne City have seemingly perfected the art of winning ugly. Though they have scored seven goals and conceded just one, their ability to eke out victories without playing in the free-flowing fashion of their Manchester counterparts has been a feature.

On-loan Scottish striker Ross McCormack has linked up with veteran Socceroo Tim Cahill at Melbourne City this season.

That is not a criticism, though, particularly in a relatively level competition such as the A-League where making the most of your chances is vital. A tight salary cap ensures clubs with bigger resource pools to draw from, such as City, remain in check.

Added to this, there have been injuries to South American imports Bruno Fornaroli and Fernando Brandan, along with incremental introductions for newcomers Marcin Budzinski and Marcelo Carrusca. City simply haven't had great firepower at their disposal.

Out-of-favour Scotland international Ross McCormack, on loan from Aston Villa, has instead led the line, supported by youngsters Bruce Kamau, Stefan Mauk and Nick Fitzgerald.

This rawness is the main reason Melbourne City are in for their first true test on Friday when they take on Graham Arnold's Sydney FC. Last season, the Sky Blues broke almost every A-League record conceivable in what can only be described as the greatest campaign in the competition's 13-year history.

Through their cohesion and big-game experience, Sydney will take the game to City, and will expect to control the tempo of the contest. Midfielders Brandon O'Neill and Josh Brillante will be the fulcrum upon which Sydney pivot from defence to attack, as Brazilian striker Bobo attempts to expose erratic City defender Iacopo La Rocca.

Melbourne City coach Warren Joyce
Warren Joyce may not have the best footballing resume, but his gritty style has paid dividends at Melbourne City.

But perhaps Melbourne City's key to success -- not only in this blockbuster, but throughout the season -- will be in following the gritty style instilled by Joyce. In a world, and indeed a Football Group, obsessed with power and stardom, perhaps this is the down-to-earth approach needed for this particular franchise to thrive.

The ever-impressive Sydney will undoubtedly go into the match as favourites, and it remains to be seen if Melbourne City can sustain anything like their recent run of results, but in a short space of time, Joyce may just have stumbled upon the club's formula for future glory.

Regardless, Friday promises to be a significant moment of growth for yet another City Football Group investment.

If Melbourne City can beat Sydney FC, they will move five points above them at the top of the A-League table. And Manchester City will be guaranteed of maintaining their five-point lead at the Premier League summit if they're able to defeat Arsenal at home on Sunday.

Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.