Title favourites Melbourne City shape as the perfect yardstick for Western United’s early A-League Men progress under new coach John Aloisi.
The two sides enter Saturday night’s derby in mixed form but know each other’s strengths well, having met several times during pre-season when their preparation and travel options were limited by Victoria’s lockdown restrictions.
Their respective coaches are even more familiar, with Aloisi noting this week he shares a “respectful rivalry” with City boss and fellow former Socceroo Patrick Kisnorbo.
Aloisi briefly coached Kisnorbo eight years ago at the club formerly known as Melbourne Heart.
But there will be no time for niceties between the pair when United attempt to build on last week’s 1-0 win over Perth Glory – their first of the season.
Now in their third ALM season, United haven’t enjoyed much success against reigning champions City, who have taken the points in five of the clubs’ six previous meetings.
“They’re still the benchmark and they won it last season, so the boys are excited to face one of the best sides in the competition and see where we’re at,” Aloisi said.
“From the first minute to the last minute we will give it everything.
“It depends on the way we perform and we know that City are a good side, so we’re expect a tough game.”
United face two fixtures in four days, with an FFA Cup round of 32 tie against Wellington Phoenix to come on Tuesday, and Aloisi confirmed he will rotate his squad.
He faces a tough decision on who to start up front against City at AAMI Park after substitute Dylan Wenzel-Halls’ first goal for United proved the match-winner against Perth.
Aleksandar Prijovic had been preferred in the starting line-up but the former Brisbane striker had the biggest impact.
“I want players to come in and perform because you can win and lose games in the last 15 minutes, and when you’ve got players that can make an impact that helps,” Aloisi said.
“Wenzel-Halls, we know if he does start of comes in off the bench, that he’ll be ready to go.
“When a player gets their first goal they do get confidence and as a former striker I know how much it helps.”
City held off Brisbane in round one before conceding a late equaliser in last week’s 2-2 draw with Adelaide.
Kisnorbo, who has Stefan Colakovski and Nathaniel Atkinson available after both overcame minor injury concerns, rejected Aloisi’s suggestion that City are the favourites to be knocked off.
“We were the champions last year. This year’s completely different, everyone’s (on the same footing),” Kisnorbo said.
“So for me, I don’t look at it like that. I look at it as another game, another chance to improve and get better.”