The Wanderers first-up ACL win surprised many. The 3-1 victory over Kashima goes against all the form they’ve displayed in the A-League this season – where they have the same amount of wins after 16 games.
With the final chapter in this season’s Sydney Derby Trilogy in Parramatta on Saturday, can Western Sydney continue their days-old run of form? Or will it be back to business as usual against a team eyeing a deep finals run?
HEAD TO HEAD – After the Sky Blues’ impressive come from behind win in the first derby of the season, honours are even. Both teams have won 3 of the 8 fixtures played and fans will be desperate for bragging rights. The Wanderers haven’t won a derby this season.
In all three of Western Sydney’s previous derby wins, they’ve kept a clean sheet – something Sydney haven’t done against their neighbours since October 2012.
LEAGUE FORM – Sydney FC haven’t lost in 2015, taking home an impressive 11 points from their last 5 games. The nature of their last win in particular, a 4-2 come from behind against Central Coast, gives an indication of their hunger at the moment, and their ability to change a game very quickly.
The Wanderers have the most well-advertised form in the league, sitting rock bottom with a total of 4 points from their last 5. The nature of the loss to Adelaide stung, but they’ve been far from convincing either way.
They might be riding high on the back of the ACL victory, but if that can outweigh exhaustion and deliver league form remains to be seen.
TOOTHLESS WANDERERS – The biggest problem for the Wanderers, apart from winning, has been finding the back of the net. They’ve scored a total of 12 goals this season - after 16 games. While they’ve only conceded one more than Sydney (23), that counts for little when you can’t actually score any at the other end.
In the three weeks since his return from a long injury layoff, Brendan Santalab got himself to the top of WS scoring charts with a total of 2. Tomi Juric, despite playing significantly more games, and being lauded as a game-changing striker, has just as many, as does regular starter Mark Bridge.
Nikita Rukavytsya and Labinot Haliti, also common attacking options, have one each. With Santalab out for the season as quickly as he came back after reaggrevating his shoulder injury, the question many will ask is where will the goals come from? The return of Romeo Castelen is good news, but it will be even better if he sparks a creative revival.
The Wanderers have only scored more than once on two occasions this whole league season – but one of those times was against their local rivals. They know how to score against the Sky Blues.
Sydney FC, on the other hand, have no shortage of attacking options. Marc Janko is a contender for the golden boot with 10, and Shane Smeltz (6) is enjoying a renaissance period of form, scything through defences and scoring with regularity.
That means that Sydney FC have, with those 2 strikers alone, scored four times as many goals as the Wanderers attacking trio. With the solid Matthew Spiranovic out suspended, the Wanderers defence will be under extra pressure.
THE CURSE OF PIRTEK – After becoming a fortress over 2 years, the Wanderers have not won a single game at Pirtek Stadium this season. Their only win came in Penrith, and while the crowds have kept turning out and the atmosphere hasn’t slumped as far as some thought it would, there’s little doubt that no team in the league fears heading to the west of Sydney anymore.
ACL IMPACT – The win over Kashima could affect Saturday in a number of ways. Given that the Wanderers have dropped many points from winning positions this year, the psychological impact of scoring twice in the last 10 minutes of a game and winning it cannot be underestimated. Combine this with more minutes for creative spark Nick Kalmar and there are positives to be taken, provided the team can recover from the international travel and 3-day turnaround.
IN CONCLUSION – Sydney’s Rhyan Grant has been the latest player to claim that ‘form counts for nothing in a derby’, but there’s no denying that Sydney will be expecting to win against an opponent who has been inconsistent at best.
This could be the week that Western Sydney finally start clicking, and that the host of opportunities they create will actually be converted – but people have been saying that every week. Even if they do take their chances, a diminished backline and two rampant Sydney strikers means they'll have to take more than one if they expect to win. Keeping a clean sheet will be difficult.
PREDICTION – Expect a host of goals. It’ll be entertaining, if not slightly underwhelming for both teams at the final whistle. 2-2.