MELBOURNE, Aug 25 (Reuters) - A-League newcomers Western United will bid to continue their fairytale run in the Australian top flight when they meet a well-rested Melbourne City in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
United, 0-3 against City this season, will also have to overcome the toll of a heavy schedule since the July resumption to book a spot in Sunday’s title-deciding ‘Grand Final’ against either Sydney FC or Perth Glory.
With a slew of first-choice players rested, Mark Rudan’s United lost 3-1 to City last Wednesday in the final regular season match but bounced back to beat Brisbane Roar 1-0 in Sunday’s playoff.
“I don’t believe we’ve had the ability to play our strongest team, particularly the last two times we’ve played them,” Rudan told reporters on a video call on Tuesday.
“So it’s a different kettle of fish.”
Debutants United have won acclaim along with five of their last seven matches and will hope to emulate the Western Sydney Wanderers, who reached the 2012/13 Grand Final in their maiden A-League season under Tony Popovic.
City, however, will feel their time has come after four fruitless trips to the semis.
Fired by 22 goals from Golden Boot winner Jamie McLaren, Erick Mombaerts’ team finished second on the table, the best regular season finish for the Manchester City-owned outfit, earning them extra days off before the semi-final.
They have also played four fewer games than United since the restart so should have energy to burn.
Not that Rudan showed any concern.
“We enjoy playing games rather than not playing games. We’ve got continuity,” he said.
“Brisbane didn’t play for 13 days before they played against us. So I do believe it’s in our favour.”
With COVID-19 having squeezed the playoffs schedule, United and City clash in the first match of a semi-finals double-header at Parramatta Stadium before champions Sydney FC meet Glory in a rematch of last year’s Grand Final.
Sydney beat Glory 4-1 in a shootout in Perth for their fourth title, leaving Popovic heartbroken after a fourth defeat in the decider, following three lost Grand Finals in four seasons with the Wanderers.
The Sky Blues sealed a fourth Premiers Plate a month ago by guaranteeing top spot at the end of the regular season but Steve Corica’s men have been winless from their last five games, which included defeats to City and United.
Glory saw off a fatigued Wellington Phoenix 1-0 in the first playoff on Saturday but staggered into the postseason leaking goals.
Popovic took no comfort from Sydney’s struggles since the restart.
“I see them still as the best team,” he said on Tuesday.
“We expect them to be firing for this game.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford
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