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A-League stakes high for Melbourne City

AAP logoAAP 8/12/2016 Ben McKay

It's too early in the season to call Melbourne City's table-topping A-League clash with Sydney FC a do-or-die affair, but City coach John van 't Schip certainly knows the stakes will be high.

Win, and City will firm as championship fancies, with two defeats of leaders Sydney in two weeks after their FFA Cup final triumph.

Lose, and van 't Schip's side will fall nine points behind the rampaging Sky Blues.

It's why the Dutchman has elevated the ANZ Stadium match on Friday night to the same status as their Cup decider nine days ago.

"It's a big game. This is a final as well," he said on Thursday.

"We know where we are and they are.

"It's first against second and we think we can improve still on our game we had against them last week.

"It's not as easy as said, but we are as full of confidence that we can get a result there."

What gives van 't Schip confidence is his stable of so-called 'big-game players', headed by Tim Cahill.

The Socceroo was the sole name on the scorer's list from the Cup final and has been cleared by van 't Schip to play at ANZ Stadium despite missing at least one training session this week.

"We've been managing Tim and he's managing himself," he said.

"(Whether) we're starting him or he comes one ... we'll make that decision together with Tim."

Of his senior players, only Osama Malik (quad) is unavailable, with Ivan Franjic confirmed to be back in the side after being rested from the Brisbane clash last Saturday.

Aided by the Cup clash and their ladder position, there's now genuine excitement when City and Sydney lock horns.

For City, the sky blue derby is up there with their stoushes with Brisbane and cross-town rivals Victory - which coincidentally bookend this fixture.

To van 't Schip, it's another sign of progression for a club that not too long ago, many sides didn't take too seriously.

"We want those kind of games. We want to build those kind of games that we play against Victory, Brisbane and Sydney," he said.

"People are looking forward to that and players are looking forward to that.

"We know we have players that are up to it.

"We have players that can play big games, that can deal with emotions."

STATS THAT MATTER

* City have the wood over Sydney in recent fixtures. The Sky Blues haven't beaten City in their last four matches and haven't won at home since December 2013.

* Both sides have plenty of routes to goal - Sydney have eight goalscorers from just nine games while City has seven, headed by golden boot race leader Bruno Fornaroli (seven goals).

* City have conceded the most fouls (166) of any A-League team this season but Sydney (157) aren't much better, in eighth on the fouls table.

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