Customarily played between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City as their last fixture before December 25, the Christmas Derby is a highlight of the A-League calendar.
Staged in front of average crowds of 25,125, Victory lead the yuletide series four wins to three – with the 2018-19 iteration the first in the tradition’s history to result in a draw.
And although Western United’s entry to the competition in 2019-20 has added a Victorian stablemate for the two clubs, Melbourne City captain Scott Jamieson is a firm believer that City versus Victory remains the biggest game in town.
“It’s the original Victorian derby,” Jamieson told The New Daily.
“And the Christmas Derby at AAMI Park has always been great.
“It’s a really special atmosphere – how a football game should be played. That’s down to the two sets of fans, two tribes, trying to get one over the other.
“Obviously coming into the holiday time everyone’s gearing up for Christmas Day, and what’s better than coming out to a game of football and cheering on two teams that are trying to get three points.”
Sure, the original is good, but it’s not always the best! 😏😏😏@AdamandSymon show us some examples ahead of Saturday’s #MelbDerby! Tickets via Ticketek. 🎫 https://t.co/erUu7m75gj pic.twitter.com/PDj8bCEgd3
— Melbourne City FC 🏙️ (@MelbourneCity) December 17, 2019
For Victory, however, a poor run of form to begin the season means that Saturday’s contest carries with it the foreboding air.
A ghost of Christmas derby past not encountered since the 2011-12 campaign looms overhead.
Back then, in what was the first staging of the fixture in its now-traditional timeslot, Melbourne Heart – which entered the A-League as an expansion side the year earlier – defeated Victory 3-2.
Having already undergone a sputtering start to the season, it was the first of three straight losses that ultimately cost Mehmet Durakovic his job.
Results failed to subsequently improve and Victory missed finals for just the second time.
Such failure is one the heavyweights are yet to repeat.
Ange Postecolgou finished third in 2012-13 and Kevin Muscat – after taking charge following his mentor’s ascension to the Socceroos job – led Victory to two championships before an amicable split at the end of last season.
Despite not being a ‘sexy’ hire, it was thought Muscat’s replacement Marco Kurz would, as an A-League tested coach perceived as outperforming the resources available to him at Adelaide United, prove a safe pair of hands as Victory entered a new era.
Such hopes, however, have yet failed to materialise.
Instead, the four-time champions are experiencing early season sputters once again, sitting eighth on the table and looking uninspiring on the pitch.
“We’re not looking for top two or something like that,” a frank Ola Toivonen said last week.
“We’re realistic. The most important thing is to get sixth place, so that’s what we’re aiming for at the moment.”
While a win would go a long way toward salvaging its season, a loss on Saturday could see Victory – where premierships and championships are an expectation and not an aspiration – end 2019 on the bottom of the A-League table.
An unwelcome lump of coal under the tree.
But with a Round 12 bye and the transfer window opening on January 1, the circumstances, if they were once again so inclined, for making a coaching change would be serendipitous.
Thus, while it is always the person not in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done in it, saturnine speculation on Kurz’s tenure is inevitable.
“Look … I understand the question, but I cannot answer it,” Kurz responded when asked about his tenure post-Wellington.
“I’m not the person who is in the position to speak about the coach.
“We know [the Christmas Derby] is a big game. It’s not only three points, but with a good result, we can find ourselves back in a good way. That’s our clear goal.”
— The New Daily (@TheNewDailyAu) December 16, 2019
In contrast to its cross-town rivals, City enter Saturday flying under new coach Erick Mombaerts; sitting in second position after downing Newcastle Jets 4-0 last week in the Hunter.
Nonetheless, City isn’t taking the derby for granted.
“It doesn’t bother us one bit where [Victory] sit,” Jamieson said.
“I think the table goes out the window and their form will go out the window for the game.
“I think that’s a unique way of how the derby plays out.
“In relation to where they sit in the table? We don’t talk about it at our football club. We don’t worry about Victory and their troubles.
“I like giving it to Victory even if they’re coming first. It doesn’t matter to me if they’re near the bottom of the table.
“But what matters most to us is continuing on from what we did on the weekend, putting in a really good shift and winning the game and giving our fans some real festive cheer to go on and have a big second part of the season.”
A-LEAGUE – ROUND 11
Friday: Western Sydney Wanderers v Western United, Bankwest Stadium, 7.30pm
Saturday: Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC, Westpac Stadium, 2.45pm; Melbourne City v Melbourne Victory, 5pm; Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets, HBF Park, 7.30pm
Sunday: Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United, Central Coast Stadium, 6pm
Bye: Brisbane Roar
W-LEAGUE – ROUND 5
Thursday: Melbourne City (1) v Perth Glory (0), ABD Stadium
Friday: Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney United, Bankwest Stadium, 5pm; Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar, Epping Stadium, 5pm
Sunday: Adelaide United v Canberra United, Marden Sports Complex, 4pm
Bye: Newcastle Jets