Despite a spot in the Youth League Grand Final being all but sealed with weeks to go in the competition, City were forced to wait until the season’s final round to find out who their opponents in the contest would be.
Ultimately, as many observers had predicted at the beginning of the season, it was the West Sydney Wanderers who emerged from the Y-League’s Group B, the Red and Black defeating the Newcastle Jets 3-0 in the final round of the regular season to secure their progression.
The Grand Final will be City’s first meeting with the Wanderers this season, the structure of the Y-League dictating that the winners of Group A – City – and the winners of Group B – the Wanderers – meet to determine the competitions winner in lieu of a finals series.
Despite needing a win on the season’s final day to secure qualification to the Grand Final, the Wanderers at one stage looked like they would waltz through Group B, winning five straight games to start the season.
An 8-0 thrashing of newly entered Y-League side Canberra United marked the beginning of their campaign, which was followed by a 2-0 over Central Coast, a 3-1 win over Sydney FC, a 5-3 win over the Newcastle Jets in Round 4 and another demolition of Canberra United, this time 6-3, in Round 5.
That run of results meant that at the season’s half way point Head Coach Arthur Diles’ side was 10 points clear atop Group B – with an astounding 24 goals scored in that period.
However, the Wanderers form would nosedive following their Round 6 bye, with consecutive losses to the Mariners and Sydney followed by a Round 9 bye meaning that they had to win their last contest against the Jets to progress to the Grand Final.
On paper however, this dip in form would appear to be an aberration, with the Wanderers squad possessing one of the best resumes in Australian Youth Football.
The Red and Black possess a squad containing eight Australian U19 representatives in Mathieu Cordier, Kosta Grozos, Fabian Monge, Tass Mourdoukoutas, Tate Russell, Marc TokichIf, John Roberts and Moudi Najjar – who scored three goals in two matches for Australia at last November’s AFC U19 Championship Qualifiers.
It also features Y-League top scorer Abraham Majok, who netted nine times this season, including a hattrick in the Red and Black’s must-win Round 10 game.
With the talent assembled by the Wanderers, City Y-League Head Coach and Head of Academy Joe Palatsides is looking forward to a good contest:
“When you look at it closely there’s probably a lot of U20 internationals in the West Sydney and Melbourne City line-ups
“It all bodes well for a real exciting game amongst some of the most talented players and it’s going to be a game that’s well worth watching.
“Most of the people involved in Australian youth football will be watching this weekend.”
Despite the arrival of Josep Gombau as coach of the Wanderers Senior side, Palatsides doesn’t believe that there has been a significant changing of philosophy from that of outgoing coach Tony Popovic to the new Gombau regime:
“I don’t think that they would have changed much,” Palatsides said
“I think Josep probably is more looking at the first team before his style infiltrates into the whole organisation.
“There is a pattern in the way they play, in terms of trying to play out from the back, they aren’t as direct as what some other teams are,
“They’re a footballing playing team, like us, I don’t think they would have changed their style up too much with Gambau.”
One area that will cause a great concern to Palatsides and his staff is the Wanderers attack, one that led the competition this year with 29 goals, an average of 4.1 goals a game.
Palatsides readily identifies defending as an area his side needs to be locked into if they are to come out on top:
“We’ve scored quite a few goals this year as well, but one of the areas we need to improve on, is that defensively we’re really strong,“ he said
“Because they have some quality players up front.
“Today the boys are getting to see some video of their attacking prowess and the players that are involved in that area of the ground.
“I think Lachlan Scott is up there, Majok’s scored quite a few goals and I think Mohammed Adam on the left as well, so we know the players, we know they’re good players.
“Defensively we’re going to have to be strong as a unit, not just as a back four but as an entire defensive unit make sure that supply to their attack is sparse.
“They’ve got the quality to make something out of nothing and that’s something that we need to be aware of.”
The Grand Final will also represent a reunion of sorts for a handful of players on the pitch, with City’s Ramy Najjarine a former Wanderers talent whilst the Wanderers Jordan Hall and John Roberts got their start at City.
And Palatsides is also looking forward to catching up with his former players:
“I assume Jordy [Hall] knows how we play, so that may be a bit of inside information,” Palatsides laughed
“I think with previous players [Hall and Roberts] they really want to get one over their previous teammates, and our boys will want to get one over on them as well.
“It’s going to be good fun seeing them, because they all left on good terms
“There’s a mutual respect between the players and the coaching staff that’s at a very high level.”
Saturday's Y-League Grand Final against Western Sydney will be played at McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle. Kick-off 2pm