It is rare to see a Melbourne derby with both sides coming in on more-or-less an even playing field.
While the sentimental value of Sunday’s match will be a far-cry from what it would have been at Frank Holohan Reserve, the occasion will instead be sparked by two sides desperate for points to kickstart the new year.
Neither side has managed to pick up a win from its opening two matches.
Melbourne City had goalkeeper Teghan Micah to thank for rescuing a point against Brisbane, before going down late against Canberra United. The Victory too held the Roar to a scoreless draw in its opening match of the season.
The intrigue for the first derby of 2021 stems from the fact both sides have been forced to start from scratch after respective mass exoduses at the end of last season.
Melbourne City lost its entire 11 which started the 2019/20 Grand Final, while Melbourne Victory blooded five debutants in its draw against Brisbane.
This potentially provides the greatest leveller this fixture has ever seen. You only have to look as far as last season to see City’s dominance in this derby, with the four-time Champions recording a 5-0 aggregate score across the two meetings.
‘’They’re definitely not the team they were last year but I’ve got a lot of time and a lot respect for Rado [Vidosic] as a coach,’’ Melbourne Victory coach Jeff Hopkins said.
‘’Our front three especially can cause them a number of problems with them playing a back three as well will be an advantage to us. We will also try to isolate certain players in those 1v1s which is where I see this being a big strength for us.’’
Victory will be without new recruit Natalie Tathem, whose debut for the club only lasted 20 minutes last week before she was forced off due to injury. A medial ligament strain will see her miss the season and will be required to undergo surgery.
‘’At the moment we’re just making sure she’s okay and that she’s looked after,’’ Hopkins said.
‘’We’ve got Amy Jackson who will most likely come in and cover that position, Mindy Barbieri as well can drop in there so we’re not really desperate to cover that.’’
Barbieri made her return to football last week after missing the 2019/20 season after rupturing her ACL.
The 20-year-old says the road to recovery helped her mature as both a player and a person and looks forward to undertaking a leadership role in a very young side.
‘’With the virus in play it was very hard to get my rehab going but I was lucky with the right people I had behind me I was able to get my rehab done throughout the year,” she said.
‘The biggest thing was learning to be patient as a player and learning who I was a person was my biggest thing.
”Starting at 15, I was lucky to have a lot of good role models and to be honest it’s quite surreal to think I’m only 20 but I’m one of the more experienced players in the club. But this is showing how many new players we can bring in and how good we are at adapting.”
City, meanwhile, could be buoyed by the much-anticipated return of Alex Chidiac who trained for the first time on Saturday since finishing her 14 days in quarantine.
Despite a slow start to the season head coach Rado Vidosic remains patient and ‘realistic’ about his side in the early rounds after an interrupted pre-season.
‘’We just need to be patient and be reasonable with what the situation is atm. We need to be realistic in the situation we’re in and once we reach Rounds 4 or 5 we can be judged on the personnel and performances more,’’ he said.
‘’Every derby has always been tough and to be honest it is a good opportunity to turn things around but we are still not 100 per cent ready.
‘’Victory had most of its players training all pre-season and we’ve still got players in hotel quarantine so we just need to be realistic, we can’t ask for too much from our girls.’’
Sunday’s Melbourne derby will be played at CB Smith Reserve in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
Featured Image – Melbourne Victory FC