Melbourne Victory head coach Tony Popović expects his set of loyal fans to bring the heat in tomorrow’s Melbourne Derby at AAMI Park.
With over 20,000 people expected to attend the maiden fixture between these sides for the season, tempers are expected to flare off the field, particularly after Melbourne Victory’s active supporter group Original Style Melbourne were denied the opportunity to unveil a tifo as a result of it being rejected by Melbourne City.
Kick360 understands that the tifo was not derogatory and did not contravene any rules or regulations.
This off-field drama merely serves to accentuate the developing rivalry that has brewed between the sides as a result of City’s recent success as well as their triumphant demolitions of Victory last season having recorded both a 6-0 and a 7-0 win against their rivals en route to the domestic double.
While remaining relatively coy when questioned on the off-field tensions between the fanbases, Popović encouraged the Victory fans to arrive at AAMI Park in numbers and create a cacophony of noise to greet his side.
“We want our fans to embrace these matches, we want our fans to enjoy the game – all fans to enjoy it. We want passion, we want noise. We want a derby not just off the field, we want a derby on the field and we know that our fans will bring that to the game tomorrow…I certainly know that nothing will stop the passion of our fans tomorrow,” he said.
No stranger to the prospect of heated rivalries after coaching in many Sydney derbies during his period at the Western Sydney Wanderers, Victory’s head coach expects a hostile atmosphere in tomorrow night’s fixture and accepted that derbies indeed carry an added layer of importance for his side.
“In one sense it’s three points so you don’t get more or less for a derby game but it is a special game and we have to embrace that and we know the history of the derby in Melbourne,” he asserted.
“The recent history is very much in Melbourne City’s favour but we had the taste of a derby last week in Adelaide and we saw our great fans come to support us in big numbers but that was probably in the warm-up to what we want to see tomorrow…derbies should be full of passion on and off the field and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
After ostensibly hitting rock-bottom last season under Grant Brebner, new head coach Tony Popović has instilled a new lease of life in Victory’s team while inculcating a results-driven mentality punctuated by defensive solidity and strong work-rate across the pitch.
As a result, Victory head into Saturday night’s grudge match not with their tails between their legs, but rather with a sense that they can achieve an upset over last season’s Champions who have been less than convincing and vulnerable at times in the opening dawns of this season.
Although the bookies predict a win for the ‘home’ side, Victory head into the match second on the table with their sole blip being an anomalous defeat at the hands of Perth Glory that was undoubtedly influenced by an early red card to midfield metronome Rai Marchán.
Victory’s Spanish signing will likely return to the starting XI alongside Chris Ikonomidis who has gradually restored himself to full fitness after a long injury layoff and an interrupted pre-season that was interspersed with stints in hotel quarantine after playing with the Socceroos.
“[Ikonomidis] is available, we’ll see him again today and see what level he’s at but we’re all happy that he’s back training fully with the team,” said Popović pre-game.
Victory’s manager had less positive news on robust central defender Brendan Hamill who continues to recover from an injury sustained in the aforementioned loss against Perth Glory.
“[Hamill] is probably more touch and go, we were hoping that he had done a few more sessions prior to this big game. He’s not far away but it would be a difficult one for tomorrow.”
In the absence of Hamill, Roderick Miranda and Matt Špiranović are expected to assume the positions at the heart of Victory’s defence after starting their first match together in an away win against Adelaide United last weekend.
An imposing partnership given their respective heights, Popović expects their relationship to build as they continue to play with each other but was impressed by their showing in the drama-filled win.
“They gave us the composure and calmness [that we needed],” he said.
“Obviously last week it’s the first time they’ve played together, Roderick coming off a short layoff, a very limited pre-season and Matty (Špiranović) we know the history with Matty, how long he’s been out so it’s a partnership that needs time to build but they stepped up to a big game very well and tomorrow will be another big challenge and I’m sure they’re looking forward to that.”
Boosted by the return of this duo to full fitness, Melbourne Victory look set to unveil an almost full-strength XI with the sole selection dilemma likely being the question of who fills in at left back in place of Jason Davidson after the marauding defender was sent off for a second bookable offence late during last weekend’s win.
With much of Victory’s attacking verve and imagination emanating from the left hand-side in recent matches, Popović’s decision on who deputises at left back looms as a crucial one particularly given that whoever is tasked with this role will likely come head to head with powerful winger and Socceroo Andrew Nabbout.
“We haven’t quite decided on that yet but we have a few options that we could work with in terms of who will play left back. Obviously Jason’s not there and we’ve adapted so far with the changes we’ve had to make and I’m sure we’ll find a solution for tomorrow,” explained Popović.
This solution will either come in the form of Stefan Nigro who has started some FFA Cup games at left back or alternatively Leigh Broxham could retain his place in the starting XI after a strong showing in midfield last weekend.
Regardless of selection dilemmas, tomorrow night’s Melbourne Derby looms as a classic and hostile encounter where both sides will look demonstrate their title credentials to a free-to-air audience during Channel 10’s prime Saturday night slot.
Aside from what occurs on the field, much of the attention is set to be granted to the off-field performances of City and Victory’s fans as the league aims to resurrect active supporter culture in an attempt to re-galvanise the unique atmosphere that was synonymous with the A-League during its maiden years.
Never in need of an invitation to exemplify their passion, Melbourne Victory’s fans will look to take Popović’s words in their stride as they set a new standard across the league for support, regardless of any roadblocks that threaten to stand in their way.