Melbourne City are remaining tight-lipped, but talks are underway with Adelaide United over a straight swap that would see Reds centre-back Osama Malik move to Melbourne, with City’s pinch-hitting forward David Williams crossing to Adelaide.
Malik has been a defensive mainstay for United in recent seasons, while Williams has been in and out of John van ‘t Schip’s starting line-up.
City need defensive cover as first-choice centre-half Connor Chapman is out with a long-term medial ligament injury sustained in City’s win over Newcastle in December.
The deal between the two clubs is likely to go ahead sooner rather than later as the FIFA transfer window began on January 1.
City are bidding to get back on to the winners’ list when they take on Sydney FC at AAMI Park on Saturday evening after their four-game winning streak was snapped in Brisbane last week.
City’s progress up the table has coincided with the return from injury of several experienced players who, if not ready for a return to first-team action for 90 minutes, are queuing up for spots on the bench.
They are also putting the pressure on youngsters at training, adding to the intensity of competition for places in City’s starting 11 for Saturday night’s home clash with Sydney FC.
That competition gets more intense this weekend as former Socceroo full-back Michael Zullo, who has barely featured since joining in the off-season, comes back into consideration.
Zullo’s past few years have been plagued by injury but the left-sided full-back or wide midfielder – who spent several years in the Dutch Eredivisie with Utrecht before returning to Australia to reboot his career – is now available for selection.
Van ‘t Schip suggested it wasn’t likely Zullo would be in from the start, but he is happy that the diminutive but quick player is ready to put selection pressure on youngster Ben Garrucio, who has been playing there in recent weeks.
“He is fully recovered, he’s trained now a few weeks with the team, and passed some big tests. He has trained with the group in the past few days. He looks good, now it’s about getting him playing in games. It’s a matter of him waiting his chance.”
Also available are youngster Jacob Melling, who could step back into a midfield slot previously occupied by the suspended Paulo Retre, and veterans Robert Koren and Aaron Hughes, both of whom are now ready for 90 minutes.
Sydney are fourth on the table, behind City only on goal difference.
Graham Arnold’s side will be without injured captain Alex Brosque but van ‘t Schip is expecting a typically bruising encounter with the league’s other “sky blues”.
“Graham Arnold knows how to get his team on to the pitch organised. They are very good in breaking down the opponents’ game, they are compact. They press aggressively, they try not to let the opponent play their game.”
City were out of sorts in the first half against Brisbane, their coach conceded, but pressed hard for an equaliser once Bruno Fornaroli had got them back in the game against the Roar.
They only conceded the third goal in stoppage time when goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen went up to assist the attack at a corner and Henrique broke away to guide the ball into an empty net.
Although it cost his team a goal, van ‘t Schip won’t be telling Sorensen to stick in his goal area again in similar circumstances.
“Losing 2-1 or trying to get to 2-2 … it creates panic, he got his head on the ball, you have to create panic,” van ‘t Schip said with a smile.
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