Victory’s not-so-secret weapon key to unlocking Derby

It’s a conundrum Melbourne Victory Head Coach Tony Popovic has rarely had to face in the 2021/22 A-League Men season.

Heading into Saturday’s home Melbourne Derby against cross-town rivals City at AAMI Park, The Boss will have a near-full squad to select from in a bid to overcome the ladder-leaders.

The top-four clash holds significant ramifications on both club’s fortunes, Victory looking to catch up with the top-two sides and City hoping to extend their lead at the top.

It sets up a huge night.

Entering the season, Victory’s depth was heralded as a strength with the introduction of the likes of Chris Ikonomidis, Josh Brillante, Jason Davidson, Matt Spiranovic, Nick D’Agostino and Roderick Miranda.

Through fitness, suspension, fixture crunches and national team call-ups, the squad’s depth has been tested throughout a hectic season.

But with a month left in the season and the Derby rapidly approaching, Robbie Kruse and Matt Acton are the team’s only confirmed outs.

Down back, Popovic will be forced to choose from Miranda, Spiranovic and Brendan Hamill for the two central defensive posts.

In the middle, Rai Marchan has been the unlucky omission in favour of Brillante, Leigh Broxham and Jake Brimmer in the last few fixtures.

Up front, D’Agostino and Ben Folami’s return from Socceroos’ honours injects further quality to an attacking third already possessing Ikonomidis, Marco Rojas and Francesco Margiotta, who shone in the Adelaide away win.

Melbourne-based clubs swamp the upper echelons of the league table with just weeks to go in the season, meaning Saturday could well be a finals preview and the perfect chance to establish a competitive edge.

In the two Derby fixtures earlier this season, Victory hit the front on both occasions before walking away with shared spoils.

With the full cavalry back to put on a show in front of a roaring home crowd, Saturday could be Victory’s best opportunity yet to lay claim over Melbourne.