The A-League Grand Final will be played this afternoon, in what looms as a fascinating contest, with coverage commencing at 5.30pm on Fox Sports.
Melbourne City, who came into the A-League in 2010 as Melbourne Heart, is into its first Grand Final. They’ll be coming up against the league’s most successful team, and this seasons champions, in Sydney FC. City finished second in the regular season behind Sydney FC and both sides proved they were worthy of their positions by progressing to today’s Grand Final with both teams having had convincing semi-final wins over Western United and Perth Glory respectively.
With stellar strikers at either end, two goalkeepers in red-hot form and a strong midfield there will be key battles all over the park which could decide who comes out on top at Bankwest Stadium. For me, it’s the midfield which is where this game will be won, with delivery into their respective champagne strikers pivotal.
Both Josh Brillante and Luke Brattan are preparing to take their place in City and Sydney’s respective starting line-ups with the intention of breaking the hearts of their former teammates and fans. Brillante and Brattan will go head-to-head in the battle to dominate the middle of the park – a facet of play both City and Sydney FC aim to control in every game. The players switched sides ahead of the 2019/20 campaign; Brillante made the move from Sydney FC’s Championship-winning side to join challengers City and now can win his second Grand Final in as many seasons albeit in new colours.
Both clubs have the league’s best strikers with Jamie Maclaren who has showed a constant ability to break games apart throughout a stellar 2019/20 campaign in which he has 23 goals in 24 games, whilst ex Bolton Wanderers gun Adam LeFondre has been the model of consistency with 35 goals in 55 games for Sydney FC since joining the Sydney side. This season he has scored 17 goals in 20 games, suffice to say if one of these players have a quiet game it will be detrimental to their team’s premiership aspirations.
On recent form City should win, Sydney FC had been the best team this season, however since the COVID break they have struggled for rhythm and fluency, only picking up form in the semi-final. Grand Finals however are a different kettle of fish and Sydney have many experienced players who have won several grand finals and have added to the squad by bringing in ex Roar and Victory premiership winner Kosta Barbarouses, based on experience Sydney are favoured to win.
It will be interesting to see how the game plays out, and whether the Melbourne City can handle the pressure, as Sydney are old hats at this, but they are well led and have stepped up to date. I’m going City 2-1, but it needs to be in regulation time. If it gets to penalties, I’ll have Sydney to handle the pressure then.
In off-field news, Melbourne City see themselves in a bizarre situation. With the City Football Group closing in on the purchase of French Ligue 2 outfit Troyes AC, Frenchmen, City coach Erick Mombaerts, 65, is being positioned to take charge. It’s a strange move to make this move so close to a Grand Final. Him leaving will likely see former Leicester City and Leeds United defender Patrick Kisnorbo as the in-house option for the mantle. Like Brebner at Victory (see below), Kisnorbo is well known to City folk having represented the club on 76 occasions, and been on the coaching staff for many years.
Melbourne Victory have finally settled on interim club coach Grant Brebner. This was a surprise to many as Brebner had initially ruled himself out saying he would like to coach the club into the future, but that right at this present time he felt he needed more experience. Victory settled on a person the supporters knew well, having represented Victory with distinction in 120 games. Time will tell if he has the experience to carry out one of the hottest seats in Australian Football.
Perth Glory appear to be in all sorts of upheaval with captain and marquee player Diego Castro at loggerheads with the club. Castro refused to play post lockdown, believing the contract offered to him was unrealistic. “I have never interfered in football matters; you can ask all my previous coaches” club owner Tony Sage said. “That’s the job of the Football Director and Head Coach”. The PFA (players’ union) and FFA came to an agreement on salaries for the hub not the clubs, and each club had to inform the playing group of the new player payments for the hub and get them to sign off. In our case Popa (Tony Popovic) and Jacob Burns, our football director, interviewed each player individually and got them to sign off on the paperwork”.
“Our captain, Castro, was last on the list and was thought to be the easiest as he was the leader. After two minutes he threw the contract at both Burns and Popa. Tony Pignata (Glory CEO) also tried to chat to him”.
“It was beneath him to play for less than his contract despite 99% of A-League players signing. The players did not like his attitude, or decision either, so Popa asked him not to train and he did not. He then went on a holiday and now he is trying to defend his position and presumably sue the club”.
Further upheaval for Perth, with their coach Tony Popovic having reportedly sealed his exit from the club, less than 24 hours after a heart breaking 2-0 defeat in the A-League semi-finals.
Popovic will immediately take over Greek Super League club Xanthi FC which is reportedly in the process of being bought by Greek Australian Bill Papas, president of NPL outfit Sydney Olympic.
However, Glory owner Tony Sage said in a statement he had heard nothing from the manager.
“He is contracted for next season and it’s up to him to make a comment if he wishes to break that contract,” Sage said.
“Whatever he decides, the club is concentrating on the upcoming ACL season and signing seven new players to fill our roster.”
Glory’s former Socceroo defender Ivan Franjic also announced his departure from the club with Macarthur FC the favoured destination.
Finally, Former West Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne City gun Aaron Mooy has surprised everyone overnight with a move from the English Premier League, where he was named as Brighton & Hove Albion’s most valuable player this last season, to head to the Chinese Super League outfit Shanghai SIPG. Mooy had joined the Seagulls on a permanent basis during the January transfer window after moving on loan from Huddersfield following their relegation from the top-flight in 2019. His move to Asia involves a deal reported to be worth $18 million.
The 29-year-old made 32 appearances for Brighton last season and scored twice, let’s hope his change of club has no impact on his ability to lead our national team’s midfield. It’s a massive backwards step for Mooy in terms quality of competition, and for mine, a complete lack of ambition. A really disappointing development for one Australia’s most talented players.