Melbourne Victory look ready to improve on last season’s semi-final exit, as a year under arguably Australia’s best coach and new recruits combine to take Victory that one step closer.
Mark Milligan will don the captain’s armband in season 2013/14, succeeding Adrian Leijer. A natural leader and the most important player at the club, Milligan appeared to be a no-brainer to take charge this season. Linked to a move to Crystal Palace in the last transfer window, Milligan has only taken his game to another level under Ange Postecoglou and Melbourne. He will be relied upon to stop and start attacks, his importance can’t be understated.
Football is a harsh game sometimes, Leijer can probably attest to this. After struggling for form last season, Leijer will now focus on the playing side, which can hopefully take his game to another level. He will be a story to watch this season, with the likes of Nick Ansell, Jason Geria and Pablo Contreras challenging for a starting spot this season and breathing down his neck.
Contreras, James Troisi, Mitch Nichols and Kosta Barbarouses are among the names that have signed on the dotted line of a Victory contract for 2014/14 and beyond. The return of stars Adama Traore and Guilherme Finkler will almost act as new recruits, fresh after a long stint on the sidelines last season.
Contreras looms as the most important of the off-season signings. The shortcomings of the Victory defence have been long-documented, his signing should go some way to resolving that. The jury is very much out on the Chilean however, due to the fact he won’t have long to adapt to A-League football.
Nichols, Troisi and Barbarouses add much needed depth and experience. There is little doubt that Victory are well served for youth and for the future, the midfield/forward transfer triumvirate just add that much more to achieve in the short term.
It is hard to see much changing in terms of style and formation. While the personnel changed over these last months, the overall philosophy will not. The 4-3-3/4-2-2-2 formation will remain as the first choice, so will that pass and move style that drove Victory last season. There are numerous moves that can be made to change it up where needed, plenty of players that can chop-and-change along the front third and midfield.
Troisi will be needed as the first choice striker or ‘false nine’ position, similar to the one Marcos Flores occupied last season. Nichols can be a valuable utility that can play as a replacement for that no.6 position Billy Celeski made his own last season, or as a winger. Barbarouses is the like-for-like replacement for Marco Rojas.
There are no obvious weak points, looking at the squad on paper. However, there are no secure back-up plans for any form slumps from any of the back four, younger options (Galloway, Geria, Broxham) can take places there but they aren’t proven performers (with the possible exception of Broxham) yet, despite their potential. We can be pleasantly surprised though, who is to say Geria or Galloway can’t shine if they get called up?
Something that can prove a weakness for Victory is that there is no obvious plan B. You won’t always have it your way, what happens when it doesn’t go Victory’s way? You can imagine seeing Victory needing to hold on to a lead or ward off a surge in momentum in Gosford or ‘Wanderland’, will they be able to? It would be intriguing to see whether Victory can ‘park the bus’ or adapt when or if Plan A doesn’t work. Ultimately, that proved Victory’s undoing last season.
Things came together much quicker than expected last season, and now a perfect storm is brewing in Melbourne. A Grand Final berth surely must be the expectation from Ange and the fans.