Sydney FC make statement with win over City

Sydney FC 3-0 Melbourne City

By Jonathan Tay (4/2/23)

Above: Cortnee Vine jumps for joy with Madison Hayley after scoring for Sydney FC. Photo: Keep Up.

The Sydney FC juggernaut continued to roll on, with a 3-0 win over Melbourne City at Allianz Stadium. Sarah Hunter’s beautiful long-range strike opened the scoring, before Cortnee Vine and Madison Haley added to Sydney’s tally with second-half goals. 

Here’s three thoughts on another dominant display from the Sky Blues on Saturday. 

Separating the contenders and pretenders

In the lead-up to Saturday’s game, both Sydney FC and Melbourne City spoke about their determination to back themselves and stick to their own game. More than most, each side can claim to have a distinct style of play: City particularly ball-dominant and possession-based in principle, whilst Sydney have shown themselves to be the premier counter-attacking team in the competition. 

City head coach Dario Vidosic made particular note of Sydney’s threat in his pre-match press conference, remarking, “In transition, they’re (Sydney FC) one of the best teams; the firepower they have up front and the speed. They’ve got people that can score goals, create, and they’re dangerous.”

Madison Haley, speaking before the match, asserted, “We’re confident in what we do, and when we wear this badge, we know a lot of expectation is there, but we’re ready to take on that pressure. I think City play a 3-5-2 (formation). We haven’t encountered a team who play like that this season, (but) we won’t change who we are.”

The Melbournians, presented with a unique 3-4-3 / 4-2-3-1 hybrid formation, with Katie Bowen floating between defence and midfield, depending on the game situation. The reasoning seemed to be to attempt to throw their opponents off-guard and to provide greater control in the centre of the park.

It was all for nought though, as they struggled to deal with the intensity of the Sky Blues’ press, and were far too laborious in their build-up. City were constantly on the backfoot; unable to play through the aggression of Sydney’s forwards, and too panicked to find the right options when they did have the ball. 

Conversely, Mackenzie Hawkesby and Sarah Hunter were excellent for Sydney FC, and frequently found time and space against a ragged and overrun City midfield. Cortnee Vine looks to be back in form, and had plenty of joy down the right of Melbourne’s exposed defence, from where she notched a goal and an assist. The last two games have shown the Sydneysiders at their high-flying best, and they are once again looking to be the team to beat for the title this season. 

Haley worth the hype

After an imperious display in Sydney’s dismantling of Melbourne Victory last match-round (earning ALW player of the week nominations), Madison Haley backed it up with another commanding performance against fellow Victorians, City, this weekend. The American created three chances and had five shots against Melbourne City, to go along with her goal and assist. 

It’s been clear Haley is in a different weight class to the majority of defences she has come up against in the A-League, and she has shown she has the makings of a complete forward in her. Currently second in the golden boot race with seven goals, scoring is just one of many tools in the 23-year-old’s arsenal. 

Comfortable receiving with her back to goal, as well as dropping deeper to offer as an option, Haley has the power to run at defenders, and the playmaking to find runners in between the lines. Her strength, composure, and gravity opens up space for teammates, and she has the footballing sense to understand when to hold and when to release for others.

On Saturday, she imposed her will throughout the game, forcing a turnover before laying off for Hunter to put Sydney into the lead. For her own tally, she started and ended the sequence, initially finding a streaking Hawkesby in midfield, before racing into the box, and beating the City defence to get on the end of Vine’s centering ball.

Before the turn of the year, Sydney head coach Ante Juric said, “The two things that caught my eye with Madi is that she holds the ball up and puts people into play, but she’s an exceptional finisher too. She works well in our team and she actually fits perfectly with what we do. She’ll only get better and better too.”

On the basis of her season thus far, she will be one to watch when she returns home to the US’ NWSL competition, with bags of potential to take her career even further.

City searching for offence

At the other end of the game, City look to have slowed significantly in the scoring department. After coming out of the gates racking up goals for fun to begin the campaign, they have had to work much harder for much less attacking production in recent times. 

It’s difficult not to point to the losses of Maria Rojas and Emina Ekic as a noticeable inflection point in their season to date. After averaging an expected goals (xG) of 2.68 per game in their first five matches, they have since only mustered an average of 1.07 xG over their next seven games.

We have now seen Hannah Wilkinson play two more games than the 35-year-old Rojas, and the contrast in their fortunes has been stark; the New Zealander having recorded just two goals in her seven matches. Outside of a sharp-angled effort saved in the third minute against Sydney, Wilkinson was not a noticeable part of this game, and has been unable to offer the creativity and 1-on-1 ability that Rojas displayed earlier in-season.

Wilkinson, of course, is not alone in being singled out for blame, with Rhianna Pollicina also slowing down recently, and Daniela Galic naturally regressing from the hot creative start she had, as could be expected for a 16-year-old playing in her first professional go-round. Melbourne City will be relieved the Costa Rican Rojas is due to return from national team duties to their squad soon, hoping she can resuscitate their flagging offence.

Additionally, Melbourne will be excitedly welcoming back young starlet Holly McNamara into the fold again, after her breakthrough 21/22 season was cut short by an ACL injury. The 20-year-old forward will have opportunities during the upcoming international break to feature in a few planned friendlies. 

Vidosic added, “[Holly’s] working hard and she’s itching to get back. She wants to put her name up for World Cup selection, and the way she’s looking I think she’s going to really make people take notice. 

“It’s not just exciting for us, but for the whole league, because she is one of those that brings people into the stadium and gets you off your seat. It’s not just me asking the question, I think the ladies in the team are asking, “when can we unleash Holly?”.

Teams: SYDNEY FC (4-3-3): Franco; Rule, McLean, Tobin, Fenton; Hollman, Hunter, Hawkesby; Ibini, Haley, Vine. Substitutes: Offer (GK), Stanic-Floody, Lowe, de la Harpe, Badawiya.

Goalscorers: Hunter 27’, Vine 47’, Haley 71’.

MELBOURNE CITY (3-4-3): James (GK); Checker, Bowen, Blissett; Torpey, McKenna, Davidson, Grosso; Pollicina, Henry, Wilkinson. Substitutes: Hrehoresin (GK), Accardo, Galic, Malone, Karic.

Referee: Rebecca Durcau.

Attendance: 3,654.

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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