Welcome to a game like no other. Nothing compares to a grand final — not a semi-final, not a derby. The knowledge of what’s at stake, the feeling that you have to seize the moment, all weigh heavily on the mind, especially in your first grand final.
When Melbourne City and Sydney FC line up at AAMI Park on Sunday, I can tell you that every player will be nervous. It’s what you do with those nerves that counts, and experience helps you to channel it the right way, especially in the vital first 15-20 minutes.
That experience is one of the things that makes me feel Sydney FC have the edge over Melbourne City on Sunday. That might not surprise you as I captained Sydney, but this is based on logic more than just hope.
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Adam Le Fondre has been massive for Sydney FC since his return. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Both teams are missing important players due to the Socceroos’ recent World Cup qualifiers, but the loss of Jamie Maclaren — winner of the Golden Boot and a proven goalscorer — is huge for City. It’s compounded by Curtis Good and Connor Metcalfe also being in the same situation.
Sydney have their own absences, and in Rhyan Grant, Andrew Redmayne and Dylan McGowan they are missing three key men. But I feel that squad has the depth to cover for them in a way that City doesn’t.
The exception to that is Andrew Nabbout, the City player who most alarms me for the ability he has to produce something spectacular. He’s the one player who could cause damage out of nothing, which is why City have been working so hard to get him fit — especially with Craig Noone also struggling with injury.
City will point to the talent of their youngsters Marco Tilio and Stefan Colokovski, and they were good in the semi-final. But I can’t stress enough that the grand final is different. As a young player, if things don’t go your way at the start, it’s easy to go into your shell. The game can pass you by.
If you look at the two sides who started last season’s grand final, Sydney could have eight of that XI start on Sunday if Milos Ninkovic is fit. City, by contrast, are likely to have just four. Admittedly four more came off the bench, but it’s that ingrained big-match experience that makes me favour Sydney.
Bobo celebrates a goal with teammates during the A-League semi-final against Adelaide United. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
That, and the return of Adam Le Fondre. I think you can see a clear difference in how Sydney played for the first 21 games of the season, and their form since.
Before “Alfie” came back from his time in India Sydney had won one game in six, and only eight all season. Since then, they’ve won six in a row and he’s scored four goals.
To be fair to the man alongside him, Bobo’s signing in February has also been hugely beneficial for Sydney, with 12 goals in 22 games. He and Alfie have dovetailed really well — the classic, big No. 9 and the smaller man who likes to make runs in behind or pull out wide.
Still, it’s going to be a tight contest on Sunday. Grand finals usually are.
With 50% capacity and COVID-19 restrictions making it almost impossible for Sydneysiders to head for Melbourne, City will have the lift of a noisy home crowd in a fantastic stadium.
But I still sense another Sydney title coming. In a game like no other, theirs is a team that knows how to win.
Alex Brosque was captain of Sydney FC from 2014 until he retired in 2019.
Originally published asLogic alone, it’s easy to find a case for the Sky Blues
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