When and where: 4:00pm AEST on Sunday, May 17, 2015 at AAMI Park, Melbourne
TV coverage: Fox Sports
Weather: Mostly sunny
Melbourne Victory – $2.25 at WilliamHill.com.au
Last five results: W W W W L
League record (W-D-L): 15-8-4
Sydney FC – $3.20 at www.Sportsbet.com.au
Last five results: W W W W L
League record (W-D-L): 14-8-5
Sunday’s Hyundai A-League Grand Final promises to be an absolute belter as the top two teams of 2014/15, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, go toe to toe in the biggest of Big Blue grudge matches.
Pundits and punters alike are calling it the most evenly balanced title fight in the competition’s 10-year history, but the bookies disagree.
Melbourne are fairly sharp favourites at take out their third A-League Championship, and their first in six years, at best odds of $2.25 at online bookmaker William Hill.
And how could you argue against a team that topped the league standings and comes into the decider with four wins on the bounce?
The Victory hardly broke a sweat last Friday night as they booked their spot in the big dance with a 3-0 win over a Melbourne City side which lost David Williams, Aaron Mooy and Harry Novillo to injury inside an hour.
The damage was done well before any of those three left the pitch, however, as a complete absence of marking inside the penalty area allowed Besart Berisha and Kosta Barbarouses to all but bury City with only 30 minutes played.
Things didn’t get any better for John van ‘t Schip’s men after the break, either, and Archie Thompson sealed the deal late in the day as he pounced on a rebound to send Victory through to their fourth A-League Grand Final appearance.
That semi-final drew a sellout crowd to Etihad Stadium, and yet a fixture clash with the AFL – which has refused to shift the Western Bulldogs vs Fremantle Dockers match – means the main event will have to be played in the much cosier confines of AAMI Park.
Perhaps that is why the leading Australian bookmakers are favouring Melbourne so heavily – an extra home ground advantage, possibly with a more partisan crowd than might have been expected at the Docklands.
That theory doesn’t really hold water, however, when you factor in that Sydney FC – paying outsider odds of $3.20 at www.Crownbet.com – have not lost a single game away from home in the 2014/15 domestic season.
Add in the fact Graham Arnold’s men are also on a four-game winning streak and have outperformed Melbourne since the turn of the year, and you can see why this is shaping up as one of the biggest club matches in Australian football history.
Sydney, who finished second in the league table, booked their second consecutive appearance in the A-League Grand Final with a 4-1 smashing of Adelaide United in front of a jubilant Cove at the Allianz Stadium last weekend.
Skipper Alex Brosque starred with a brace, finding the net either side of half time after Bernie Ibini opened the scoring 19 minutes in. United pulled one back through Craig Goodwin in the second half, but it counted for nought as Chris Naumoff completed the rout with a fourth Sydney goal on 90 minutes.
What makes Sunday’s title clash especially interesting is that it features the two most dangerous counterattacking sides in the country. Despite both having the better of the possession, neither Adelaide nor Melbourne City could cope with their opponents’ speed and enterprise on the break.
Another big plus is the relative lack of injuries or suspensions in either squad, meaning both Melbourne and Sydney will have more or less their best possible XI on the park.
The X-factor, though, is the visitors’ superb scoring form in 2015 – something the head coach was all too happy to point out when he fronted the press after the semi-final win.
“I’ve been saying for the last month that from January 3 to today, we’re the best team in the league,” Arnold said.
“Since the Asian Cup that’s 41 goals in 14 games. We’re getting better and better.
“That’s the belief I have and the stats will show you since Christmas we’ve got four or five points more than Melbourne Victory.
“We have to go down confident and our away form is outstanding, so we’ll be extremely confident.”
Meanwhile, Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat will be looking to exorcise some personal demons on Sunday evening, having missed from the penalty spot when these two sides met in the 2010 decider – Sydney FC’s only A-League Championship win to date.
Yet the former Socceroo was determined not to hog the limelight when he spoke to the Melbourne media this week, taking a cheeky swipe at his opposite number in the process.
“Especially this week, I’d rather leave it to the players,” Muscat said on SEN Radio.
“They’re the ones who ultimately have gone out there and worked the hardest in terms of blood, sweat and tears.
“I’m not going to make comments that detract away from what the players have done this season.
“I’m not going to make it about me, like Graham Arnold.”
If the two coaches’ head-to-head record in 2014/15 is anything to go by, the 25,000 or so fans that squeeze into AAMI Park are in for a real treat – and probably extra time.
All three of Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC’s home and away meetings ended in draws, including a pair of 3-3 thrillers which ranked among the games of the season.
Victory have pretty much a full-strength list to choose from, but Muscat hasn’t made a single change to his matchday squad in the last three weeks. Don’t expect him to alter that winning formula here.
Sydney, meanwhile, must decide whether or not to start Shane Smeltz, who scored four times against Melbourne during the regular season. But with Marc Janko back in action, the New Zealand striker might have to settle for a bench seat once more.
Possible Melbourne Victory lineup: Thomas, Broxham, Ansell, Delpierre, Georgievski, Milligan, Valeri, Finkler, Barbarouses, Berisha, Ben Khalfallah. (Subs – Thompson, Mahazi, Pain, Geria, Turnbull.)
Possible Sydney FC lineup: Janjetovic, Ryall, Faty, Jurman, Petkovic, Dimitrijevic, Tavares, Naumoff, Ibini, Brosque, Janko. (Subs – Calver, Smeltz, Stambolziev, Necevski, Grant.)
A-League Grand Final betting predictions
Result: Draw (90 mins + AET) – $3.55 at Sportsbet Australia
With what we’ve seen from these two this season, you have to expect this final to go the distance. Both sides are in great form and while Melbourne are terrific on their own patch, Sydney’s phenomenal away record all but nullifies any home advantage. Barring any big late changes to either lineup, back this one to go to penalties.
Correct score: 1-1 – $7.00 at CrownBet.com
While this should be a fascinating contest between Australia’s two standout teams, don’t hold out for another goalfest. With the A-League crown on the line, we should see a somewhat more cagey affair than those six-goal specials we witnessed earlier in the season. Having said that, each of the last four GFs have produced at least two goals, so take that into account here.
First goalscorer: Marc Janko – $6.50 at William Hill
Sydney’s Austrian import has been lethal in front of the sticks, netting 16 times in 22 games on his way to the golden boot in his inaugural (possibly only) A-League season. He lasted an hour on his return to the side last week, so he should be sharp enough for the trip to AAMI Park.
Last goalscorer: Guilherme Finkler – $11.00 at www.Bet365.com
The Brazilian maestro has a happy knack of producing something special when the Victory need it most. He has form against the Sky Blues, too, having struck a vital free-kick equaliser to scrape a point during the league season. If you’re a romantic, though, you’ll no doubt back Archie Thompson ($8.00 at Sportsbet) to come off the bench with a bang.
To lift the cup: Sydney FCMelbourne Victory – $1.67 at CrownBet
If you are backing a penalty shootout, it all comes down to who will have the calmer heads after over 120 gruelling minutes. We fancy the likes of Berisha, Thompson, Milligan and Gui Finkler to get the job done, but Sydney’s $2.30 odds online at Sportsbet make them an excellent A-League Grand Final value bet.
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