The Lions of Makati. The Sparks of Manila.
The third Capital Derby promises to have implications on the current PFL playoffs race. Despite the appearance of the league table, Meralco Manila needs to keep up with Ceres Negros and their 5 games behind in order to fully secure the mountaintop. On the other hand,Kaya FC Makati would secure their lead above Global Cebu with a win, which would be crucial in the seeding of the Playoffs.
How should both teams approach this nervy derby then?
Meralco has proven to be a solid outfit. They have been sharing the load defensively, resulting in a total of 7 clean sheets in 20 games. On attack, however, this distribution has a lesser spread. 21 out of their 35 goals came from their attack minded players, Including the Younghusbands at the first half of the season. This means that stifling their attacking players like Minniecon, Tacagni and Dizon is a key to halting their momentum.
The other avenue of Meralco’s attack is the set piece. Whether free-kicks, corners or long throws to the box by Tyler Matas, their set piece strength works, as evidenced by the 6 goals already scored by defenders Joaco Cañas and Milan Nikolic. This means they can effectively counter Kaya’s physical defense via these static plays.
The small spread in attack could also be said on Kaya though, with league-leading Jordan Mintah and Robert Mendy accounting for 23 of Kaya’s 39 goals alone. However, this high output masks the potency in goal of the Lions’ midfield. The majority of their remaining goals have come from the mids with Miguel Tanton, Adam Reed, Eric Giganto and Jovin Bedic chipping 3 goals each. This means that Kaya also has a great shooting threat outside the box and away from the defensive prowess of Meralco’s back three.
Stylistically, both teams would most likely battle the most in midfield. Meralco favors a slow, methodical dissection that starts from Anto Gonzales and Simon Greatwich to pick out breakthroughs from the wing-backs and forwards. Kaya should nullify this with physical pressing, a specialty, and breaking at speed through Meralco’s remaing weakness, the exposed wings. As the last derby showed, the speed of Kaya’s attack coupled with their direct passing posed concerns and almost drew the game, if not for a controversial penalty non-call.
However, Kaya cannot rely on the air alone. Meralco’s defence is largely adept in dealing with aerial balls, with Nikolic a proven aerial stopper. It would be more prudent to exploit the gaps in the wings left behind the aggressive wingbacks of Meralco.
Meralco’s attack has a much simpler job. The physical defence of Kaya up the field masks the relative weakness of their defensive core, Alfred Osei and Masanari Omura. Breaking through the crunch tackles and gang defending will expose Kaya, coupled by the attacking bias of their fullbacks such as the Soriano brothers and Kenshiro Daniels. The Sparks’ attack is certainly capable of beating them to the punch when given the chance.
Both teams have enough assets to draw each other in this particular game. However, the big picture reveals both teams cannot afford to drop points at this juncture. This Capital Derby maybe the first game that swings the Inaugural PFL Title.