Henry, Hopkins & Vidosic on Melbourne Derby plus Smith on Wanderers’ progress

Impetus’ Kieran Yap and Jonathan Tay report on Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City’s media conferences ahead of Sunday’s big derby showdown, whilst Ben Gilby reports on Kat Smith’s thoughts ahead of Western Sydney Wanderers’ game tomorrow with unbeaten Western United (13/1/23).

Privitelli back, but Victory face tough test before a punishing schedule

by Kieran Yap

Above: Alex Chidiac wins possession against Melbourne City last season. Photo: Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory will welcome back Grand Final captain Lia Privitelli this weekend, and the timing could not be more perfect. Following the hard-fought draw against Perth Glory, they face the high-scoring Melbourne City in the traditional local derby.

The attacker’s return will be a big boost to Jeff Hopkins’ side. With Melina Ayres still injured and new signing Sarah Rowe readapting to the league, Privitelli’s leadership and finishing ability could make the difference. She scored an important goal against City in last season’s preliminary final and Victory are stronger with her in the side.

“Lia Privitelli is great,” Hopkins told the media. “We didn’t risk her over the last few weeks. She’ll be back with us this week and has trained the house down actually.

“She’s one that always responds well to these derby games. She’s been at the club exactly the time that I have and she really comes alive in these derby games, so I’m really glad to have her back in the squad.”

The draw against Glory ended a four-game winning streak. The injury-hit Victory survived a late Perth onslaught and Hopkins was disappointed with the result, though pleased with the performance.

“I think we were all very disappointed after the game,” said Hopkins. “Obviously being 1-0 up in the game and giving up a 1-0 lead you almost feel like you’ve lost the game. We’ve got to give a lot of credit to Perth and the way they turned things around in the second half.”

Hopkins highlighted the final ball into the box and better-timed runs into attack as areas that needed improvement. The week’s training gave him confidence his team could deliver against one of the league’s in-form sides.

“It’s been a very positive week of training. We’ve trained well, we’ve trained with real intensity and with most probably a bit of purpose. We’ve mentioned the derby a couple of times this week but the girls know what’s coming up this weekend.”

Their opposition this weekend is the highest-scoring team in the league. City surprisingly lost to Western Sydney last weekend but responded with a comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Adelaide United midweek.

“I’ve been really impressed with them,” said Hopkins. “They’re a passing team. They stick to their principles. They get the ball on the floor, and they want to play through the thirds.

“They have some really good senior players that are coming back from injury now, very experienced players at this level. But also they’ve got very very good young players. the intensity they play with and the enthusiasm they play with, sometimes makes them a little bit unpredictable.

Above: Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins speaking at today’s media conference. Image: Melbourne Victory.

“I’m expecting a very tough game on the weekend. They are a team that want to play, and they’ll want to impose their style of play on us. It’s down to us to come up with something that throws a spanner in the works and helps us to play the way we want to play.”

It shapes up as a compelling game against a potential finals foe, however, this week is just the first of a series of difficult challenges that Victory have no choice but to embrace.

After the derby, Victory will then play three times in eight days, including two interstate trips. They will only have one full day before heading to Western Sydney. This Round match was originally scheduled for Saturday but shifted to Sunday, giving the players less time to recover.

“It’s important that we don’t play these games in 35-40 degree heat,  putting them up at 3pm kick-offs just doesn’t work. It would have been nice to bring it forward to the morning of the same day.

“Now it’s put us at quite a disadvantage with the games coming up, but it’s something we’ll take in our stride. We travel to Western Sydney on Tuesday, we’ll play the game [and] we’ll recover on Monday.

“We’ll have a very light recovery session on Tuesday, and then travel to Sydney, play the game and our plans are to travel straight to Adelaide, train in Adelaide, and then we’ll come back after the game. It’s a testing week for us. Then we play Sydney on the following Thursday.

“If you ask the players, they want to play games. They want to be involved in the games. Training’s great but playing games is what it’s all about. We went through far worse through covid and we’ve come out of that much much stronger. We understand what our bodies can be put through and what we’re capable of doing.

Vidosic: The extra 26 hours helps us

Above: Melbourne City head coach Dario Vidosic at today’s media event. Image: Melbourne City.

by Jonathan Tay

Melbourne City, at the end of a hectic run of three matches in seven days, are staying positive through the busiest portion of their Liberty A-League season.

After road trips out to Western Sydney and Adelaide, their home Melbourne Derby against Victory – arguably the biggest of the three-game set – was postponed 26 hours to Sunday at 7 pm, due to forecasted warm weather on Saturday.

“It (the postponement) helps us,” head coach Dario Vidosic, speaking at his pre-match press conference, said. “It gives us an opportunity for a tactical session, where we don’t put too much load on the girls, where we could work through a couple things. We looked at and analysed Melbourne Victory, their strengths and weaknesses, where we can stop them and hurt them as well.

“If the game was played tomorrow we would have been ready regardless, but with the weather that’s forecast (36 degrees celsius), I think that’s the right decision to push the game back, especially with players already under fatigue, to put them out in those conditions again; player safety is always number one.”

After a shock loss to the Wanderers last weekend, Melbourne City were forced to quickly regroup, and overcame a struggling Adelaide on Wednesday in a 3-0 win.

Speaking on their away games, Vidosic reflected, “It’s always difficult when you start the first of three games in the week with not the greatest result. I was calm after the game; it was more so us, I think we forced the issue and went away from controlling the play like in the first half.

“We learned from that, we spoke about it, and it was probably good that we could stay together in Adelaide a few extra days, where we could sit down with groups of people and watch. In Adelaide, [it’s] a tough game, hard place to go: I learned before the game that they hadn’t lost three games in a row for three and a half years, so that’s a fantastic way to bounce back.

“We’re still adapting, we lost two players who were up for player of the month (Maria Rojas and Emina Ekic). It takes time to adapt to new people in new positions, so we’ll slowly keep building and be ready to put our best foot forward in the derby.

“We come back with confidence. The message was, we played seven very good games, we had one where we were poor. It seems like doom and gloom straight after full-time, but we can’t take away what the girls have achieved so far and the football they’ve displayed. Now we look forward to playing another good team in a derby which, not only we look forward to, but all of Australia looks forward to.”

Above: Bryleeh Henry speaking to the media on Friday. Image: Melbourne City.

Bryleeh Henry, also speaking ahead of the match, added, “It’s a lot. I don’t think we’ve had that quick of a turnaround this season, but I think we reacted really well.

“It was hectic, but it was good we had that time together; normally everyone goes back and dwells on the game themselves when you have a game like that, so I think it was good we had that time to sit down, talk about it, get everything out there and move on and get ready for the next game.”

Both Henry and Vidosic were asked about the opening scorer for their side against the Reds, Daniela Galic. The 16-year-old has wowed A-League fans in her debut season, with support for Senior Matildas call-ups being murmured for the young midfielder.

Henry has been similarly impressed. “Daniela’s great; for her age, I can’t imagine what she’ll be like in a couple years, whether she’s still here or she goes overseas,” the City forward gushed. “Technical, very smart, she’s doing so [well] here, and over the past couple months with the Young Matildas and in the NPL, and I can’t wait to see where things go for her.”

Her boss Vidosic though, was more circumspect, wanting to play down the hype. He explained, “Every week she’s learning; it’s her first season professionally playing against women and at such a tender age at 16, she’s been really good. She’s still got lots of things she needs to develop and learn, and that will happen day-by-day as we work with her.

“We sit down individually with not just her, but all the players and we analyse games and movements in training, and what to do in certain positions. She might be a little bit lucky; she plays a similar position to what I played for a long time, so there’s wisdom that I can pass down to her. But she’s got her own qualities and she’s at this level for a reason: we saw what she’s done at the under-20’s World Cup with the Young Matildas and now what she’s doing in this league as well.

Above: Dani Galic – City’s 16-year-old sensation in action last weekend. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.

“My advice to Dani and all the young girls is: don’t pay attention to anything that is written. It’s obviously nice to read that and she does deserve it; [but] the most important thing is just to continue to work. If you start reading into a lot of things, then sometimes you lose that focus. You just want to be a better player than the day before, through hard work, a willingness to learn and stay back, practicing on different things, and being present. Without hard work it’s very hard to achieve your dreams, but a lot of our young ones, they’ve got a bright future ahead of them.”

On a personal note, Henry was also asked about her decision to join Melbourne City this season. She’s thrived since making the move down south, notching three goals and two assists thus far. The attacker said, “I’m absolutely loving it, I think I did make the right decision. I’m loving the season I’m having so far, and I love the girls, the club, everything’s great.

“I was close to coming a couple seasons ago, so working with Rado (Vidosic, former City head coach) in that Young Matildas space and then what he’s done with this team over the past two years, I think he’s been a massive influence.”

Their opponents for this weekend, Melbourne Victory, come in off a run of good results, with four wins and a draw from their last five games. After labouring early in the campaign, Victory seem to have steadied themselves, and will present as one of City’s toughest opponents to date this season.

The Sky Blues though will stick to their guns. Asked about his gameplan coming into Sunday, Vidosic affirmed, “I think the same as usual, we want to control the game, we want to dictate the terms and the pace of the game, we want to control the transitions. If we have the ball, the chances of being hurt are much less, and then when we don’t have it we want to hunt and get it back very quickly.

“That’s how we play, and we won’t change for anyone. We’ll work around someone’s strengths and weaknesses and that changes on a week-to-week basis depending who we’re playing. They’re a good team, they’re coming in confident, they come off a long break so they’ve had time to recover and prepare for us. They’ve had extended periods on the training pitch, whereas we’ve just had the one. But we have our style of play and we’re comfortable in that way and we can’t wait to play.”

WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS v WESTERN UNITED:

Above: Kat SMmth speaking to the media today. Image: Western Sydney Wanderers.

by Ben Gilby

Western Sydney Wanderers head coach Kat Smith believes that last week’s superb maiden victory over Melbourne City is the culmination of a steady improvement in the team’s form.

“It was a real collective effort. It’s nice when all the pieces come together. We’ve been competitive every week since round three. We knew we couldn’t turn things around from the get-go. It was the type of performance that we’ve been building to.

“Now that performance needs to be a benchmark and we need to do it more. We’re facing another good team (Western United). We’re ready to match them on Saturday.”

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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