Runaway W-League leaders Melbourne City can cement their status as premiership favourites if they beat Melbourne Victory in the derby on Sunday afternoon.
Melbourne Victory can set a new club record if they beat City by winning their fifth game in a row as they look to consolidate fourth place on the ladder and a finals berth.
The stakes couldn't be higher, and that's the way both clubs would like it.
Victory’s Natasha Dowie passes the ball under pressure from Melbourne City players during round five. Credit:Getty Images
City, under Rado Vidosic, remains unbeaten all season.
The women from Bundoora have eight wins and a draw from their nine games, a record that almost rivals the super team who won all their matches in the 2015-16 season en route to a grand final triumph in the club's first campaign in the league.
Victory, who won last year's Premiers Plate, had a sticky start – their preparations compromised by playing in the inaugural Asian Champions League tournament – but they have been on a roll in recent weeks as coach Jeff Hopkins has led them up the table from an unpromising position.
City had half a dozen players away on duty with the Matildas for the Olympic qualifying tournament while Victory had only Jenna McCormick, the former Adelaide Crows AFLW player, who has switched back to her first sport, soccer, with such great success, and goalkeeper Teagan Micah.
Victory has therefore had a smoother preparation for this game, but Vidosic is hopeful that his star players will come back fit and in the mood to continue where they left off.
Emily van Egmond proved the Matildas saviour on Thursday night when she slammed home a late goal to give Australia the draw they needed against China to ensure they topped their Olympic qualifying group. Vidosic is confident she can play a similar role against Victory.
He says she has changed her game since joining City and that has made her a more explosive, dangerous player.
Emily van Egmond, left, in action for the Matildas on Thursday. Credit:Getty Images
"One thing I asked her to do is to be more intensive. When you look at the way she played at the Jets [her previous W-League club] it was all one paced. She's very skilful, she likes to be on the ball, but when she finished her commitment on the ball she was finished [in the move]," he said.
"So we challenged her to get more involved, change the pace, be more explosive, get more involved. It came to a moment where one game she had over 90 touches, she was everywhere.
"The biggest thing in her involvement with the Matildas was that she didn't play as a six [defensive midfielder], she played as a 10 [attacking midfielder].
"That is her role to a tee … she can hurt opponents more if she is closer to the goal, she can score goals, set up goals."
He believes van Egmond can get better still.
"Physically she is top, she is very professional, but that is something she will need to work on to become even better," he said.
Vidosic was smarting last year, his first in charge of a women's team, when City did not make the finals.
He has changed his approach this season and it has paid dividends. He is older (58) than many coaches and he says that has helped him develop different relationships with his players.
Melbourne City coach Rado Vidosic.Credit:Getty Images
"I am more experienced than younger coaches, so my relationship with them is more like a father, so I call them 'sweetie', I give them hug and I kiss them, so I have a different relationship than maybe some younger coaches. Maybe that helps our relationship," he joked.
City won the previous meeting this season 1-0, dominating possession but having to rely on a late Yukari Kinga winner.
Hopkins said that game changed the season for his team.
"It was a very important game for us. It was a turning point for us," he said. "We realised in that game more than any other game before that we probably needed to make changes in what we were doing, the way we were playing … to play with more attacking threat, to get more players forward.
"We changed our formation and we maybe changed our mentality a little bit from there as well.
"Five games since then, we've been unbeaten, four wins and a draw – and consistently getting better and better.
"It's going to be a good test for us to see where we've come to against what's arguably the best team in the league. They're the most consistent team and they're sitting top of the pile and obviously there's that bit of extra spice with it being the derby as well."
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