“They want to smash us, we want to smash them!” – Does a smashing Melbourne Derby await? Who is watching for it?

The 41st iteration of the A-League Men’s Melbourne Derby set to once again take centre stage, Melbourne City attacker Valon Berisha and newly-signed Melbourne Victory defender Damien Da Silva hope the occasion will be a smashing occasion – for all the right reasons. 

Observed in a purely footballing vacuum, Saturday evening’s fixture between Melbourne’s two shades of blue shapes as an affair that could potentially come to define either side’s seasons. Increasingly running away at the top of the league’s table, City could extend their lead over the chasing pack into double digits with a win and favourable results elsewhere, all the while still retaining. Victory, meanwhile, will enter AAMI Park languishing at the foot of the ALM table and potentially set to fall ten points back of the finals places should they not take anything from the game. In a season defined by its parity and one win being able to turn a team’s campaign around, the four-time ALM champions risk becoming the first outfit to not have a clear path to turning their season around. 

Intriguing, right? More than enough to, combined with the general pageantry of a derby fixture, hang a narrative off. If only. Both clubs and league administrators the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) wish that was the case. 

This is a game that cannot simply be analysed through the prism of what will happen on the pitch or the ramifications it will have on the table. Not this one. Not after what happened last time. Because in case you’ve been living under a rock, the 40th edition of the Melbourne Derby technically remains ongoing, serving as that game in hand that both City and Victory possess. The fixture needs to be completed after it was suspended at the 22nd-minute mark after Victory supporters stormed the pitch, injured five people and sent City goalkeeper Tom Glover to the hospital after hurling a metal bucket into his face. 

Varying degrees of bans and police charges were quickly handed out to the perpetrators of the riotous scenes in the days and weeks that followed, while Victory was hit with heavy sanctions from Football Australia. It is thanks to those sanctions that support during this fixture – nominally a Victory home game – will be muted to an even greater degree than the host’s abject form would normally suggest; active support one of the main targets of the penalties handed down by the national federation in its role as regulator and Victory themselves withdrawing recognition and support of the various sub-groups that had members on the field. 

It all creates a situation wherein there is a football match with major ramifications and feelings occurring but a significant majority will be observing to see if another powder keg is ignited. And it’s not even November.  

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As expected, both Berisha and Da Silva played a bat straight enough to make Geoffrey Boycott proud when asked for their thoughts on that episode, as well as any worries they may have about history repeating on Saturday evening, which is especially fair on the latter’s part given that he was a member of Ligue 1 side Lyon at the time: “I wasn’t here so it’s not for me to speak about that. I saw something, it was not good for sure. But we are thinking about the next game.”

“Our mood is always the same,” said Berisha when it was his turn to face the question. We want to keep on winning games. We are, right now, doing really well in front of goal. We’ve scored a lot of goals in the last few games. I hope we keep on going like this. 

“Every time we play a derby there’s something extra in it for both teams. I hope we can represent ourselves in the best way and get the win. 

“No, not really. We are concentrating on the game. [The pitch invasion] is the past. We move forward and whatever happened, the decision has been from [Football Australia] and all that. We are just concentrating on the game and just want to get the win.”

Of course, while having a teammate concussed by a metallic missile hurled by a bucket-hatted hooligan is a new experience for Berisha, playing in derbies that have a habit of getting agro isn’t. The 30-year-old, on loan at City from Ligue 1 side Reims, has played in some pretty big rivalries during his stints across the German, French, and Italian top flights, with one, in particular, standing out. 

“Roma against Lazio is the biggest one because of the crowd,” he said. “It’s a full stadium and the ultras are crazy on both sides. It makes it more exciting. I like these kinds of games. These are the games we want to play. When it’s a good crowd and both sides are eager to win. I wake up for these big games.”

For his part, Da Silva has played in some rather notable backyard brawls during his career in France, including the Derby Normand with Caen, the Derby de la Bretagne with Rennes, and the Derby Rhône-Alpes with Lyon. 

“I love derbies. I loved the derbies I played in France,” he said. “They’re special matches. I want to win those kinds of matches. I don’t know about the Melbourne derby of Melbourne but people have told me that it’s a big derby and I’m excited about that. The most important thing for us is to win the derby.

“I played in many derbies with Rennes against Nantes. We won a lot of games! I was lucky about that. With Lyon too, against Etienne was a big derby in France. I love that. It was a special game. It’s not the same as other games. So, I want to win these games.”

Winning Saturday’s game will prove easier said than done for Da Silva and his new teammates, though. While the cliche that the form guide needs to be thrown out the window for derbies does carry a kernel of truth within it, City’s recent run of games suggests that it will take both a monumental day at the office from their rivals and a down day from themselves to result in an upset. 

Coach Rado Vidosic’s side has scored 13 goals across their last three games and won their last two, with the side looking like it is beginning to click into place under the veteran coach and his attempts to instil more creative freedom and licence to roam into a system well-entrenched under Erick Mombaerts and Patrick Kisnorbo. 

Victory, in contrast, has lost three of their last five against a single one, and last week suffered a 1-0 defeat against a Newcastle Jets side that had been defeated 4-0 previously this season. 

And according to Berisha, looking to write his legacy in a rivalry that another Berisha helped define, they shouldn’t be able to expect much sympathy if they go down early. Although previous drubbings in 2020-21 probably gave them that hint already.  

“As a player, you want to win every game,” said the Kosovo international. “You want to win every training session. If you have that mindset already then it’s easy to go into games and already have ultimately that in your body. A lot of players have it here. We want to win every game. Even when we score six goals, we want to score seven or eight. That’s what’s driving us. We are not happy with ourselves, we want to improve personally and as a team. 

“They want to smash us, we want to smash them! 7-0 speaks for itself. But also against Western and beat them 4-0, it could have been more. That’s what we want, we don’t want to stop. Especially in these games, when we score we want to go for the second and the third. If you’re happy with one, they’re always going to get some chances and in football, if you don’t take yours, they’re going to take theirs.”

Having made his debut just last week against the Jets, all signs are that Da Silva is in for a baptism of fire in his first home game at AAMI Park. If Beka Mikeltadze wasn’t bad enough, Jame Maclaren, Mat Leckie, Marco Tilio, Richard van der Venne, Andrew Nabbout, and Berisha himself don’t exactly constitute an easing into things. 

“I will give the maximum to stop them,” he said. “It’s a good team. I want to face the big teams. I will give the maximum and we will see. We know it will be difficult.”

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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