Melbourne Victory captain Carl Valeri fights for the ball with Sydney FC star Milos Ninkovic.
Hyundai A-League Grand Finals can be decided by moments of magic. They can provide the platform for special players.
Therefore, releasing – and containing – those players becomes a major focus for the respective coaches.
Naturally, much of the pre-game spotlight will fall on the goalscorers.
Can Besart Berisha take his grand final goals tally to nine or will it be the Brazilian Bobo’s night to shine?
And can the members of their support casts in the front third – Rojas, Troisi, Holosko and Brosque – make a telling impact in the season’s defining game?
But while the marksmen are no doubt important, the key clash in Sunday’s grand final might well happen a bit further back.
CARL VALERI v MILOS NINKOVIC
In the wash-up after Sunday’s blockbuster Big Blue, the victor of this battle within the war may well have a winner’s medal around his neck.
It’s that crucial.
Ninkovic has been Sydney FC’s main attacking supply line this season, providing 11 assists and netting nine goals.
He was a worthy and widely-tipped winner of the Johnny Warren Medal on Monday night.
There’s no doubt that if you can stop Ninkovic, you go a long way to blunting Sydney FC.
The problem is, no-one has really managed it!
But in their skipper Carl Valeri, Victory might just have the man for the job.
Twelve years in Italy and over 50 caps for the Socceroos have given him plenty of experience against top-class players.
He has been a talismanic leader for his side this season, starting 26 of their 28 games and never being substituted.
His stats for tackles, interceptions, aerial duels and blocks are all impressive.
His role is often to pick up the opposition’s key playmaker.
And it’ll never be more crucial for him to do that than on Sunday night.
TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
But Valeri can’t do the job alone.
Sydney FC boss Graham Arnold employed an extremely effective 2 v 1 approach against Diego Castro last week.
Whenever Perth’s super-Spaniard got the ball, he was immediately set upon by two Sydney players.
Castro’s effectiveness was reduced and he drifted onto the fringes of the game on a pitch that also worked against his genius.
Kevin Muscat can learn plenty from that in his side’s quest to shackle Ninkovic.
While Valeri will be the man charged with picking him up most often, he should always have assistance from his nearest team-mate.
That might be one of the fullbacks, midfield partner Leigh Broxham, or even a retreating attacker.
It doesn’t really matter who it is, as long as it’s someone.
YOU JUST CAN’T RELAX
However, Ninkovic has become used to working in tight spaces.
Recognising his obvious threat, other clubs have doubled-teamed him this season without ever really completely nullifying him.
And it might take just one moment of magic to break the grand final wide open.
On a shifting surface, Ninkovic can wriggle free and burst forward or produce a sublime pass to an attacker.
And without the ball, he’s one of the hardest workers in the Sky Blues squad; he’s actually made more tackles than Valeri himself!
IT’S NOT JUST NINKO
And while Ninkovic has been Sydney FC’s standout player, they’re anything but a one-man team.
Unsung heroes Josh Brillante and Brandon O’Neill have allowed the Serbian the freedom to exploit space in midfield by patrolling the areas behind him.
And the bullets supplied by “Ninko” have been eagerly fired home by the likes of Bobo, Brosque and Holosko.
Even if Valeri can significantly – or even partially – contain Ninkovic, the Victory defence can’t switch off for a second with such dangerous attackers sniffing around.