Sydney plant the seed of doubt
If Vitezslav Lavicka's objective was to plant the seed of doubt in the Melbourne Victory camp, kudos to him on a job well done.
Whichever way you looked at the Melbourne Victory vs Sydney FC fixture at the weekend, it was always going to be a Major Semi-Final/Grand Final dress rehearsal for Sydney, and a shot at redemption for the Victory after their 3-0 drubbing by the Sky Blues back in Round 10.
In that clash, Sydney proved that they could make the Victory defence look second rate with a scintillating attacking display, sending three goals past Glen Moss inside the opening 20 minutes. But the question remained: could they defend for a full 90 minutes against a Victory attack on red alert?
With the Victory keen to make Kevin Muscat's 500th league game a memorable one, and with key defender Simon Colosimo absent from the line-up, the conditions were perfect to establish Sydney's title credentials.
On Saturday night, Sydney adopted a typical 'away game' approach; defensively-minded with the ability to counter-attack with speed and purpose. Their backline and midfield operated with such discipline it was like watching a school of salmon swimming through the sea - fluid movements, all in sync.
While they were on the back foot for large parts of the game and were held goalless, it was Sydney - not Melbourne - who managed to produce two of the best chances of the game. On both occasions, they had the Victory defence at their mercy.
Lavicka has now managed to employ two varying styles - a slightly attacking style in the first and defensive in the second - in the two matches against Melbourne and get the exact result he wanted on both occasions. And despite losing out in the possession and shots on goal stats, Sydney appeared calm and composed with their game plan.
Lavicka - and his team - must now be brimming with a great deal of confidence knowing that they can play either system and still cause Victory some concern.
Ernie Merrick will be aware of this and of the fact that his side have failed to register a single goal against their rivals on two occasions - both at home - and particularly in a game where they threw absolutely everything at Clint Bolton's goal. Their attacks yielded very little in the way of goals, but plenty in terms of frustration and, possibly, worry.
Barring Gold Coast splitting the two teams in the league ladder, these two will meet for a fourth and fifth time in February. Leading up to the fixture, Melbourne will be sure to play down the fact that Sydney have the mental edge over them in their own backyard. They may say it's only us in the media making a big deal out of it and that nobody at the club is worried about it. They may also point to the fact that they totally outplayed Sydney (stats-wise) in the weekend's game, generating an abundance of chances compared to Sydney's two or three.
The two teams will meet one last time before the finals in Round 27, this time at the Sydney Football Stadium. If Victory are to reclaim any portion of the psychological advantage they once possessed over Sydney, they need to prove that they can cause Sydney's defence to bleed.