Sydney FC will be looking to make history on Sunday afternoon, with the chance to become the first team in A-League history to win three grand finals in a row.
But while being just one win away, they will have to overcome their toughest challenge yet.
They will be taking on Melbourne City, who stormed to the league title this season, playing expansive, attacking football along the way.
And to make the away game harder, AAMI park will likely contain no Sydney fans at all, with recent COVID-19 outbreaks meaning lockdowns will stop Sydney’s major fan base from making the trip to Victoria.
They also may be missing Milos Ninkovic, with Steve Corica holding off giving any major updates in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
In their previous two meetings this season, Sydney was outplayed in a 3-2 loss at AAMI park, and drew 1-1 at Leichhardt oval after a (very) late Jamie Maclaren penalty prohibited the sky blues from taking all three points.
But what does Sydney have to do to complete the three-peat?
Keep possession in the middle third
Excluding crosses, Sydney and Melbourne City have the first and third best passing accuracy in the league respectively.
Sydney is at its best when controlling the game, either from sitting deep and forcing their opponents wide, or being on the ball with time and space.
City will likely press Sydney, but won’t want to waste too much energy and will do it in phases of the game.
It’s important that Sydney keeps a stronghold in the game from the start, and won’t want to be inviting pressure from the early stages of the game.
Melbourne City is fantastic at withholding pressure, using their fitness and passing abilities to keep teams under the pump and Sydney won’t want to succumb to that until at least the 75th minute if they do go a goal ahead.
To stay in the game, Sydney must keep hold of the ball and stay composed under pressure, especially in the middle third.
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Utilise the fullbacks
While usual right back Rhyan Grant will be watching from hotel quarantine, Paulo Retre has shown his versatility moving back into the defensive line from central midfield.
Both him and Joel King have fantastic ball retention abilities and composure, and allow Sydney to keep possession, which as outlined in the first point, will be vital to the game.
King has excelled throughout the campaign, and has been a vital yet understated part of Sydney’s attack.
His crossing ability has seen him create thirty four chances throughout the campaign with twenty three crosses finding a teammate in the area.
Meanwhile, Retre offers progressive passing down the flank, with the technique to bend balls in behind to Adam Le Fondre and Kosta Barbarouses, and find Bobo inside.
With City naturally defending narrowly when Sydney have possession, the Sky Blues have to utilise the attacking abilities of their fullbacks to create goal scoring opportunities in the Grand Final.
Find Le Fondre and Bobo in the box
For all the brilliance of Adam Le Fondre and Bobo, they are both poachers, goalscorers.
They can help with Sydney’s build up play in different ways – Le Fondre can run the channels and dribble forwards while Bobo can hold up play and use his physicality to his advantage.
However, they are most of all sharpshooters – something that Sydney hasn’t had in the past.
The Sky Blues first had Bobo partnered by Alex Brosque, a second striker.
Then Le Fondre partnered by Brosque, and then Le Fondre partnered by Kosta Barbarouses, a winger turned second striker, who now plays as one of the number 10s in Sydney’s system.
Le Fondre and Bobo are best when a plethora of chances are coming in at them, which is why they need to utilize their fullbacks to cross the ball into the box and keep possession in the middle third, slowly building up to their fabulous front two.
It looks set to be a Grand FInal for the ages. For the opposing perspective, check out the following:
How Melbourne City can win the A-League grand final
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