Having played in the Melbourne and Sydney A-League derbies, Richard Garcia says the harbour city stoush has edged ahead as the fiercest in the country.
Garcia's Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers will square off with everything on the line at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night: the Sky Blues are clinging to their finals hopes and the Wanderers are hoping to preserve their top-two position.
While the Melbourne derby has an extra two years of history, Garcia says there's an extra layer of tension in Sydney, where the two clubs boast similar levels of support and are divided by distinct geographic boundaries.
"They're actually pretty similar derbies, but while all the fans have a similar outlook on the other, I think it's now a bit more fierce here," he said. "It's a bit more cutthroat in Sydney. But being involved in the Melbourne derby last year, and then involved in this one, they're definitely two big games and it's fantastic to see that kind of passion and atmosphere in Australian sport.
"I think it's rarely seen when two sets of fans are fiercely against each other . . . everyone is really up for the games."
Garcia still carries the scars of battle – literally – that demonstrate how rabid Sydney derbies have become.
Following this season's opening derby, he tweeted a picture of a massive split on his leg after Wanderers' defender Jerome Polenz landed a gruesome tackle, sparking a brief online spat between the pair after Polenz cheekily replied with a picture of a crying child.
The Sky Blues have endured a torrid derby run since winning the first clash early last season; they have taken a solitary point from their past four showdowns. However, Garcia says the poor record means nothing come Saturday.
"It's more about us getting the three points, because there's only six games left and we need as many points as we can," he said. "Points on the board are bigger than the derby itself because our main focus is to be in the six. That means winning games."
Few would bet against Sydney, given their ability to produce wildly different performances week to week, something the players are sick of hearing about.
"We've got to be more consistent – one week we play well, the next we seem to ease off," Garcia said. "We all know that, we've spoken about that at length and we're working hard to try and put that right. We're slowly getting better at backing things up and now is the important time to do it, in the run to the finals and, hopefully, the play-offs."
Garcia, 32, made his comeback from injury last weekend in the 2-1 loss to Central Coast, scoring an excellent equaliser after coming off the bench.
"It's good to be back from an annoying, niggly injury and scoring goals," he said. "I want to continue that run. When you're coming off the bench, the one thing you're trying to do is have a big impact. It was unfortunate we didn't get the result, but it makes this game even bigger than it already was, which is fantastic."
Garcia revealed the injury that had kept him sidelined for the past month was only meant to be a short-term problem.
"I had some scar tissue in my calf and it was just a matter of pinpointing and getting rid of it, but that took longer than we expected," he said. "We had to get to the exact point of the scar to dissolve the [scar]. I tried to come back a couple of times and it's one of those where you feel pretty good but, when you're at full pelt, you can feel it. In the end, we finally managed to find it with an injection which healed it."
Sebastian Ryall looks set to resume for the Sky Blues after recovering from a calf injury, which would finally end the rotation of fill-in youngsters at right back.
Meanwhile, teammate Hagi Gligor says the derby will be the biggest game of his short career.
"A lot of the boys here have talked about it, have experienced it and throughout the whole season it's the one game I wanted to play in," he said. "Derby games are always great to watch, but if I get the opportunity, it would be unbelievable."
Elsewhere, Central Coast Mariners' junior Dejan Pandurevic has won the Australian edition of Nike's The Chance, the competition that launched the careers of Melbourne Victory's Tom Rogic and Brisbane Roar's Devante Clut.