Consistent grand final star Besart Berisha at training on Thursday.
By TAS MAVRIDIS
This grand final is certain to be a memorable one.
Fairytale v Redemption
The Newcastle Jets finished the 2016-17 campaign on the bottom of the table, with Ernie Merrick’s arrival seeing a dramatic shift in fortunes.
The Jets had not played in a finals series since 2009-10 and now go into the Grand Final with a home ground advantage.
On the other hand, the Victory will be looking to redeem themselves after last season’s heartbreaking penalty shootout loss in the Grand Final against Sydney FC.
The Victory haven’t consistently performed at the level expected of them this season, however with quality players such as Leroy George and consistent Grand Final star Besart Berisha, Melbourne will fancy their chance at reversing last year’s result.
Master v Apprentice
Another storyline to come out of this Grand Final is the history between the two head coaches, Ernie Merrick and Kevin Muscat.
Merrick was in charge of Victory as they took home the A-League premiership/championship double in 2006-07 and 2008-09, with Kevin Muscat being the captain of that Victory side.
Muscat has since gone on to win a title as Victory coach, while this Grand Final will be Merrick’s first since 2009-10 when his Victory went down to Sydney FC on penalties.
Roy O’Donovan of the Jets contests a header with Matias Sanchez of the Victory during the round 19 meeting between the sides.
Last time they met
Newcastle Jets 2 – Melbourne Victory 0 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Skipper Nigel Boogaard’s header from a Dimitri Petratos free kick followed by Riley McGree’s first goal for the Jets was enough to seal the 3 points for Newcastle.
The Jets won both meetings between the sides at McDonald Jones Stadium this season, and for many years despite their struggles seemed to have the wood over the Victory at home.
However this will be the first meeting between the sides in a Grand Final, with the Victory boasting more experience on the final day of the season.
Newcastle have already been forced into one change from the side that beat Melbourne City in the Semi Final, with first choice goalkeeper Jack Duncan ruled out.
This will see Glen Moss take the gloves in the Grand Final, with the Jets signing Ivan Necevski as a substitute.
In the outfield, the Jets will likely line up in the same formation as their semi-final with four defenders, three in midfield and three up front.
Roy O’Donovan will likely take up the central striking role with plenty of creative options in the form of Dimi Petratos, Ronald Vargas and Riley McGree, who will be full of confidence after his “scorpion” goal from last weekend made headlines around the world.
Man of the match Daniel Georgievski of the Victory heads the ball during last year’s grand final.
The defensive pairing of Nigel Boogaard and Nikolai Topor-Stanley will provide a sense of calm, while left back Daniel Georgievski will look to reprise his man of the match performance from last season’s Grand Final when he was playing for the Victory.
Melbourne were forced into a crucial pre-match change with star centre-back Rhys Williams forced out through injury. Muscat will likely field Thomas Deng in central defense alongside James Donachie, with Leigh Broxham and Stefan Nigro in the wide defensive roles.
The rest of the team practically selects itself for Muscat, with the midfield pairing of Terry Antonis and Carl Valeri protecting the back four and feeding Leroy George, James Troisi, Kosta Barbarouses and Besart Berisha.
Christian Theoharous is still facing uncertainty as to whether he will be fit to play after a scything tackle from Sydney defender Luke Wilkshire cut the young Victory winger down, so Muscat’s attacking options off the bench could be limited to Kenny Athiu and Jai Ingham.
Dimitri Petratos and James Troisi compete for the ball.
Key player match-ups
Besart Berisha v Roy O’Donovan
Each of these central strikers will post significant threats to the opposing defences, while both are known for their ultra-competitive nature on the field, which has seen them get in trouble with referees.
O’Donovan has had an injury riddled first campaign in the Hunter but has still managed to score nine goals from his 14 appearances, forming a formidable attacking trio alongside Dimi Petratos and the now departed Andrew Nabbout for much of the season.
Besart Berisha on the other hand is a proven winner who always seems to pop up when his side needs him most – he has scored in each of his four A-League Grand Finals, winning three.
Despite tapering off this season Berisha has still managed to score 14 goals, including a last-minute winner in the elimination final against Adelaide United.
James Troisi v Dimi Petratos
These two Australian internationals will be responsible for crafting opportunities for their wider players and central strikers.
Both will also be fighting for similar positions in Australia’s World Cup squad, so with Socceroos coach Bert Van Marwijk in attendance this could potentially shape as a critical battle for the upcoming World Cup.
Petratos has had a remarkable campaign scoring 10 goals and recording 11 assists after his move from Brisbane Roar via Korean outfit Ulsan Hyundai.
Troisi hasn’t quite hit his straps this season with only three goals and five assists, however his goal in the semi-final should give him confidence.
Despite their record at McDonald Jones Stadium, given Victory’s win over runaway leaders Sydney FC and their Grand Final experience I am tipping the Melbourne Victory to win 3-2