by Jeremy Walker
Ahead of this Saturday’s mouth-watering first round clash between the Sky Blues and Melbourne Victory, we preview the key player-matchups as the likes of Joe Lolley and Luís Nani prepare for battle at the new Allianz Stadium.
The key battles…
Luís Nani vs Diego Caballo
Ex-Manchester United winger Luís Nani boasts an impressive resume as he makes his Isuzu UTE A-League debut on Saturday evening – previously winning four Premier League titles, one UEFA Champions League and one EURO Championship. The elusive attacker has already netted several times in Victory’s pre-season and Sky Blues Head Coach Steve Corica is sure to remind the Sydney FC defence of his elegant dribbling and prolific goal-scoring abilities.
Steve Corica on Luís Nani: “He looks like he could play on the right-hand side so it’s more Diego’s side, but you know they could chop and change as well.
“I think everyone knows how good a player he is, I’m looking forward to seeing him play as well but yeah, we have to stop him.”
Sky Blues new left back signing Diego Caballo will also make his first A-League bow on Saturday night, joining from CE Sabadell FC in the Spanish third tier – formerly of Real Madrid CF, Deportivo La Coruña and Valencia CF. The Salamanca-born fullback will have to be alert of Nani – utilising his pace and defensive aggression to prevent the Portuguese star from advancing into scoring positions. The defender is also expected to drift into midfield to receive passes and help transition the team from defence to attack.
Adam Le Fondre vs Roderick Miranda
With the Sky Blues brining in wingers Róbert Mak and Joe Lolley from Ferencváros and Nottingham Forest respectively during the off-season, veteran striker Adam Le Fondre will be eager to profit from the creativity of the new signings. The deadly finisher has scored 51 A-League goals in just 85 matches and will again look to use his deft touch and sound attacking position against Victory’s Roderick Miranda.
The former Wolverhampton, Olympiacos and Benfica defender has elevated Melbourne Victory’s defensive qualities from centre back – with aggression being one of the Portuguese’s best attributes. Miranda stands 6’4 tall and helped the Victorian side to concede only 25 goals in 26 games in last season’s A-League regular season and the star centre-half will attempt to thwart Le Fondre’s attacking prowess – seeking to take last season’s best defensive record into the new campaign.
Alex Wilkinson vs Nicholas D’Agostino
Sky Blues centre back and captain Alex Wilkinson is set to closely mark Victory’s striker Nicholas D’Agostino this Saturday – with the pacey Melbourne attacker finishing as the club’s top scorer on 10 A-League goals last campaign – recently representing the Olyroos at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Steve Corica said: “I think they have a very good attack, you know Ikonomidis, Brimmer, D’Agostino as well.
“They’re all very good players and I think we really need to be nice and tight on them and stopping them from getting in positions to score.”
The clinical Victory centre-forward is fit after recovering from a shoulder operation, netting twice in the first half of a 3-2 pre-season friendly loss against the Central Coast Mariners in late September.
Back at Allianz, Wilkinson will look to help restore the Sky Blues’ defensive prowess of recent Championship-winning seasons against Victory on Saturday night as new Sydney signings Róbert Mak and Joe Lolley prepare to alight the revamped Sydney attack.