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Out-of-sorts Sky Blues say Asian Champions League no distraction ahead of derby

Up to it: Alex Brosque says Sydney FC are ready to compete in two competitions. Photo: Getty Images Ahead of the most mouth-watering Asian Champions League group stage an Australian team is ever likely to see, Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold and captain Alex Brosque have promised the tournament won’t compromise their A-League aspirations.

After taking just one point in their past four A-League games, the Sky Blues could have used a softer draw to ease themselves back into title contention.

Instead, they have a hugely-anticipated Sydney derby this Saturday, followed by a match against Melbourne Victory. In between, their ACL campaign starts in Japan.

While Sydney once trumpeted the aspiration of being the premium club in Asia, they are the undisputed minnows of their group, headlined by reigning ACL champions Guangzhou Evergrande and their collection of South American megastars.

But they are no certainty of getting out of the group stages, with arguably Asia’s biggest and most famous club, Urawa Red Diamonds, representing Japan and the most successful club in ACL history, three-time continental champions Pohang Steelers, occupying Korea’s slot.

But while Sydney have been struggling with their form, and could even be out of the top six by the end of the weekend, Brosque is confident they are capable of balancing the demands of two tournaments.

“The top teams in Europe do it and do it well, every single year. We see ourselves as a big club and if we want to be a big club then we have to be able to challenge on both fronts and I think we believe we’re good enough to do that,” he said.

“We’re not looking behind us at who is trying to chase us on the ladder, we’re looking forward. We’re ruing those missed opportunities in the past few weeks, knowing just one win from the past four weeks would have us in third spot right now. That side of it is disappointing.

“But we know how quick things change in the A-League. Every team seems to be able to have two-three wins and you’re back in form and you’re flying again. This is a big month for us and if we can get back on track then things will be looking good.”

Arnold even believed that the hectic schedule could serve to re-energise the group heading into the final months of the domestic season.

“It’s what footballers play for, used to play games and we’ve got a lot of games coming up in a short period and the Asian Champions League is something refreshing. It’s something a little different,” he said.

“You get the opportunity to travel away to Asia but to play against different opposition. In the A-League, you play against the same position over and over. It’s a whole new challenge having to come up against three very good teams in Urawa Reds, Guangzhou Evergrande and Phand Steelers. It’s a great test.”

The decision to leave Filip Holosko and Jacques Faty out of the ACL squad has generated plenty of debate – especially leaving the Slovakian marquee out. Arnold explained that he was “touch and go” for the Sydney derby after missing the 2-1 loss to Perth Glory with a hamstring strain.

“It’s not easy for foreigners to come to Australia. The grounds are extremely hard; the surfaces on nearly all stadiums are different. Filip is a big, powerful man. He’s 90 kilograms of muscle and his game relies on power,” Arnold said.

“He’s struggled [physically] and we’ve had to manage him carefully over the first six months he’s been in Australia so that we don’t break him. We spoke to Filip at length and I made the decision.

“We could have probably played Filip on Saturday, against the Wanderers, then backed him up against Urawa Reds and he’d be out for six weeks. That’s the reality of it, so we need to try and keep him fresh, focused and fit and to have his eyes firmly on the A-League.”

Brosque, who said he pulled up fine from his first start since Boxing Day, reckoned his teammates would be fired up for what lay ahead – although he wishes they were always this motivated.

“The result on the weekend was extremely disappointing, as have been the last couple of results. It’s not hard to get the boys up for a week like this week,” he said.

“Getting up for the Wanderers is easy but those games only come around three times per year. You have to be able to perform in all the other games. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. For me that was what was most disappointing last week but I’m confident the boys will be right.”

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