Why Sydney FC, City will storm into A-League grand final


If there is any logic left in this crazy A-League season that kicked off more than 10 months ago, then Sydney FC and Melbourne City should prevail in today's semi-finals and set up a grand final showdown.

The two teams from Australia's biggest cities have dominated this truncated competition and deserve to play off for the championship at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday.

To do that, however, Sydney and City must overcome the considerable threats from Perth Glory and Western United respectively in a double-header at the same Parramatta venue that will be open to a limited number of spectators.

Champions Sydney lost their mojo and performed poorly since the resumption of the competition in July, winning only one of six matches.

The Sky Blues' struggles may be attributed to the fact that they won the premiership too early and had little to play for in the latter stages of the competition.

Coach Steve Corica must have been at his wits' end to explain the dramatic drop in form and he would be hoping that the lure of another grand final and the smell in the air of another championship will be the tonic his players need to remove all the cobwebs that have crept into their game.

Feared strikers Adam Le Fondre and Kosta Barbarouses, who have been rather quiet of late, must be itching to get back in the groove.

Make no mistake, if Sydney regain the zip that made them such an efficient and often irresistible force in the first half of the championship, Perth would know they were in a football match.

Tony Popovic's side have not been the same since marquee man Diego Castro opted out of the season's restart at the height of the pandemic.

The beaten grand finalists have laboured for points since their mid-season spell that netted them wins galore.

However, they showed enough resilience in their 1-0 victory over Wellington Phoenix in the elimination final to suggest that they are excellently placed to cause an upset should Sydney's woes continue.

Midfielder Neil Kilkenny is probably Perth's key man with his drive and energy. He has had one hell of a season and he seems to have assumed the responsibility of running the show since Castro's departure.

Having said that, I expect Sydney to get up mainly because of their individual quality and big-match experience.

Sydney also have a distinct head-to-head advantage, having won 25 times to Glory's nine in 43 matches.

City and Western have form and momentum going into their much-expected derby.

Frenchman Erick Mombaerts's men are playing with the confidence and panache of a team that knows they are strong enough to seal their first championship, even though they will have to do it without full-back Scott Jamieson who left the team's Sydney hub to be with his partner when she delivered the couple's first child.

It would take a dose of bravery to bet against them, now that top scorer Jamie Maclaren is in a purple patch of form.

City's impressive 3-1 victory over Western only a week ago will give them a mental edge over their rookie rivals, who have in Alessandro Diamanti a playmaker who can make and score goals with consummate ease.

The Italian maestro has been a huge success in his debut season in the A-League. His distribution is so immaculate he probably could find a needle in a haystack. 

He surprised many people by adapting very easily to Australia's tough conditions although he did tell me recently that in the first few matches he found that some of his young teammates were not on his wavelength.

Coach Mark Rudan is also well served in attack by goal poacher extraordinaire Besart Berisha and effervescent winger Max Burgess.

And at the back, veteran Andrew Durante has been as commanding and influential as he has always been in a splendid career that is drawing to a close.

After helping Newcastle Jets win the A-League in 2008, there would be no better way to go out than by leading his latest club into the grand final or, even better, winning it.

I'm afraid Western might find slick City a bridge too far for them unless Diamanti the magician can pull a rabbit out of the hat.