Melbourne City and Perth Glory resume hostilities in the second A-League elimination final at AAMI Park on Sunday evening.
Perth have been something of a bogey team for City this season, and they need to come up with a way to buck the trend to avoid being bundled out of the play-offs.
Sure, self-explanitory, you might be saying. But the reality is that at the best of times this season, City just have not defended, whether it be through ballwatching or other. They have conceded 44 goals this season, which is only two fewer than Adelaide United who occupied bottom for much of the season, ending up in ninth. The return to action of Michael Jakobsen, often described by Michael Valkanis as the best centre-half in the league, has helped steady a creaky ship, and the holes will need to be plugged against a side City have regularly been porous against. Including Easter Sunday’s kamikaze goal-fest, City have conceded 11 goals in three games against Glory this season, too many in anyone’s book.
When you are playing a team from the opposite side of a country as big as Australia, making a home advantage count should be a priority, and scoring the opening goal goes a long way to piling the pressure on your guests. City did not manage to register a home win against Glory in the home and away season, losing one (3-2) and drawing the other (3-3). Tim Cahill opened the scoring in the drawn match but were not able to hold on. Still, finals are a totally different beast and an early concession will ring mental alarm bells.
Get Tim Cahill and Bruno Fornaroli involved
Glory’s troubles at the back are well known. They have lost both Alex Grant and Shane Lowry to season-ending injuries, players who would likely have been regulars in the heart of defence. Dino Djulbic is guiding the Perth rearguard, but his stop-gap partner Lucian Goian still looks to be something of a liability, not yet totally adapted to the A-League. The Romanian came in at short notice at the business end of the season, really thrown into the deep end. City have the cattle to exploit that weakness with the league’s most dominant aerial threat in Cahill and best holdup player in Fornaroli. The story could be different if Rhys Williams is drafted into the heart of defence alongside Djulbic, with Brandon Wilson stepping into midfield.