City press for third spot as Valkanis sweats on Jakobsen injury

For Michael Valkanis and Melbourne City, every game from here on in is a final.


City are certain to make the play-offs, but in which position is yet to be determined.

With four rounds remaining the light blues are in third spot, holding a three-point break over Brisbane, who were controversially beaten in Adelaide last weekend.

Just 24 hours earlier City had delivered their best league result of the season with a 4-0 hammering of Newcastle Jets, with goals from Tim Cahill, Bruno Fornaroli (two) and Nick Fitzgerald, who had come off the bench just before he struck.

The latter is a strong chance to start against Western Sydney in Friday night’s A-League clash at Spotless Stadium in Cahill’s absence.

The veteran striker is with the Socceroos for their World Cup qualifiers against Iraq in Tehran and the UAE in Sydney next week, but will be back for City’s run-in to the play-offs.

Goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis returns from his lengthy suspension for sledging Melbourne Victory striker Besart Berisha, but it would be surprising if Valkanis opted to leave out stand-in Thomas Sorensen as the Danish veteran has performed with aplomb since he got his chance back between the posts. It was only Sorensen’s dismissal in the first game of the season that gave Bouzanis his chance in the first place.

Another Dane, key defender Michael Jakobsen, was due to travel with the squad to Sydney but Valkanis and his assistants will leave it as late as possible to make a decision on whether he can play.

Jakobsen (calf) has missed several games now – in fact Valkanis has only had him available for one full game since he replaced John van ‘t Schip – and he is loathe to do anything that may compromise his fitness for the finals series.

The coach’s main decision is on how to set up in forward areas now that Cahill is missing.

His absence will allow Bruno Fornaroli to be the focal point of attack, particularly if Valkanis opts to pick two wingers, Fitzgerald and Bruce Kamau, in a traditional 4-3-3.

However, if he only picks one he is likely to play on the lefthand side, using Ivan Franjic as a right winger when the team is attacking, utilising a back three with a midfield overload.

In that structure, when City are defending, Franjic slots in as a right back.

“We have been working all season on being flexible and playing in different ways depending on the opposition, the situation in the game and what is required,” said Valkanis.

“We will consider all the options after training in Sydney. For us now every game is vital as we need to finish as high up the ladder as we can.

“It was an excellent result last week, and Brisbane’s loss helped us, but there are still four games to go and we need to build momentum so that we carry that into the finals.”

Finishing third for City could make all the difference.

It would mean they have a home elimination final in the first week, then, if they win that, they would face Victory in the semi-final, meaning they wouldn’t have to travel.

If they could beat Victory then they would likely have to journey to Sydney to face the premiers in the grand final.

But if something unforseen occurred, and Sydney lost to the lower ranked team in the semi-final and City qualified for the title-decider, then they would host it. That is a scenario that is unlikely to happen, but City want to be prepared if they get the chance.