Champions know how to win games. There’s little doubt that Melbourne City are the outright W-League Champions of the 2019-20 season. Still, Sydney FC put City through their paces, and we’ll talk about that soon. What needs to be said though is City went back to the drawing board over the winter, came out with the strongest list the W-League has seen in a long, long, long time and went on to set the benchmark for the pack to chase. Complete class.
In front of an empty stand and captive tv audience, the difference between the two teams on Grand Final day was an uncharacteristic goalkeeping clanger and enthusiasm from Steph Catley. A tense battle, full of moments and grit. Grit being the key element in an otherwise tactical battle, where chances weren’t exactly flowing but challenges were.
On paper, both teams looked to their tried and tested line ups. Melbourne City with quality across the park, two internationals on the bench and showing how a team with a back three can really excel. While Sydney selected the more defensive midfield that withstood the test against Melbourne Victory in the semi-final.
Sydney FC fired out of the gates. Producing a high tempo, with an organised press and a higher line that caught many by surprise following matches where that urgency was missing. With three naturally defensive midfielders, the grubby work of containing Emily Van Egmond, Yukari Kinga and Aivi Luik was achieved. The shock of controlling play in the opening minutes, saw early surges and Sydney’s front three forcing 1v1 situations with City’s defenders.
The momentum shifted when City capitalised on the counter. Down the flanks was the only area the Melbourne side could breathe. Catley had provided a hint of what was to come moments earlier with a thunderous run, finding the ball wide and cutting in with pace. However, in the 16th minute, a one-two with Van Egmond saw the left-back find space behind her opposing fullback and strike an effort at goal. Unfortunately, Aubrey Bledsoe’s one slip up of the season happened in the Grand Final, against this City side. The fumble gifted Catley a goal and City the lead.
— Twitter Moments Australia (@MomentsAU) March 21, 2020
With a foot now in the door, City found the confidence that had earlier eluded the Premiers. Moving the ball with more pace, often searching and finding success down the left flank. However, the disruption Sydney’s block in midfield caused along with the ever-reliable last-ditch efforts from their centre back duo caused massive disruptions to the usually composed City midfield combinations.
The tag-team effort of Lindsey Agnew and Veronica Latsko was vital for Sydney to keep Ellie Carpenter and the right side of the field quiet for much of the match. Only towards the end of the game, Carpenter was given a little more opportunity to run with the ball and create 1v1 situations. While she woke up a little more in the second half, with increased involvement, Carpenter produced just the one truly breathtaking moment. Running half of the pitch to meet head to head with a backtracking Ellie Brush, who did just enough to force Carpenter to go too far wide.
Wrestling back the early promise, Sydney parked City deep in their own half towards the end of the opening half. Gaps opened up, but a mixture of City doing just enough and hesitation killed any hope of an equaliser by half time. A contentious non-call for a handball in the box only put more salt in Sydney’s bowl of Weet-Bix.
In terms of momentum and opportunities, the second half was almost a carbon copy of the first. Sydney with the early promise, for City to then gain control and produce crafty moments in the box, only for Sydney to put in a late surge to try and pull out a miracle.
Hesitation killed Sydney’s attack, while a lack of killer instinct was a further nail in their coffin. A pickle of a decision was to substitute Remy Siemsen at the hour mark. It was clear Sydney needed more speed up top, Princess Ibini’s inclusion a no-brainer. However, with three defensive midfielders still on the pitch and Siemsen really working well as a target player, it was a baffling move. Once off the park, there were a handful of times Sydney had unpicked City, looked for a centre forward to not find anyone there. The chase for an equaliser appeared to dampen at Siemsen’s early dismissal.
Chances in the middle of the half had Melbourne City dancing in the box, leaving many gasping while they had gained the upper hand. However, this is a side who will always look good on the counter. As Sydney pushed further forward in a race against the clock, City created their chances. One key instance saw Kyah Simon hit with complacency when she received a return ball in behind the defence to go against Bledsloe, only to place the shot where every keeper wishes it.
Scary moments for Sydney’s defence almost proved costly twice. Earlier in the first half, Alanna Kennedy’s hospital pass to Bledsoe saw the American pull out a magnificent save to deny Claire Emslie. While in extra time, Milica Mijatovic pounced on a loose touch by Bledsoe in front of goal and nearly doubled the lead that should’ve kick-started the celebrations early.
Normally I wouldn’t single out a player for Player of the Match. The “critics” awarded it to Catley. Given her winner, as well as her general threat and liveliness, that’s who the award goes to. However, I have another contender. Veronica Latsko.
In attack and defence, Latsko was excellent for Sydney. The only icing on the cake could’ve been finding the equaliser. She nearly did, producing the line breaking run to hand Ibini a shot on a platter, that just wasn’t finished well enough to beat Lydia Williams. The winger was tasked with the job to keep Carpenter quiet. She worked with Agnew as if it wasn’t the duo’s third match in Sky Blue together while being a constant option in attack. Latsko is my (perhaps biased) pick for Player of the Match.
For lengths of the season, particularly as it has wound to its conclusion, Melbourne City have looked like the untouchables. For good reason. However, the Grand Final was a reminder they remain in sight. City were contained for large parts, despite Sydney’s ability to do so to the detriment of their ability to attack. For now, this Melbourne City side can go down as one of the W-League greats, with two trophies as reward.
— Melbourne City FC (at 🏡) (@MelbourneCity) March 21, 2020
Now we wait and see what the offseason brings. Strange things are happening in the world right now, so be safe, wash your hands and catch up on some classic W-League matches while confined to your house.
Watch Ante Juric’s post-match press conference.
Catch up on our W-League coverage.
Article originally published on Molly’s Football Rants and is republished with permission.