Season preview – Melbourne Victory

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Melbourne Victory’s 2014/15 campaign is being billed as the one that may see them take the next leap as the club seeks to redress the disappointments of falling at the penultimate hurdle in both the 2012/13 and 2013/14 editions.

A number of squad and formation adjustments may just be the tweaks needed as the two-time champions aim to make it three.

Victory’s 2013/14 season

Melbourne made a valiant run to the preliminary final, before being beaten 1-0 by the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp.

It qualified for the Asian Champions League courtesy of a win against Muangthong United and eventually finished third in a challenging group that saw it claim the scalp of Guangzhou Evergrande.

Kevin Muscat took over the side three rounds in following Ange Postecoglou’s appointment as Socceroos boss and led the team to fourth in the overall standings.

Many people’s fears of a post Postecoglou slump were arrested after the former Victory skipper took over at the helm and opted to alter very little of his predecessors plans.

The distinct 4-2-2-2 facilitated some joy when the likes of Kosta Barbarouses and James Troisi were allowed to get at defenders, although it seemed impractical and rigid at times in the face of a tactically astute backline.

This was reflected in them rounding out the season netting 42 times, but at the same time also conceding 43.

Transfer activity

Victory have been busy during the offseason and their full dealings are listed below.

Arrivals:

  • Besart Berisha (Brisbane Roar)
  • Carl Valeri (Ternana- Italy)
  • Mathieu Delpierre (FC Utrecht- Netherlands)
  • Daniel Georgievski (Steaua Bucuresti- Romania)
  • Fahid Ben Khalfallah (Troyes- France)

Departures:

  • Pablo Contreras (Retired)
  • James Jeggo (Adelaide United)
  • Tom Rogic (Celtic- Scotland (loan return)
  • James Troisi (Atalanta- Italy (loan return)
  • Adama Traore (Vitoria de Guimaraes- Portugal)
  • Francesco Stella (released)

Full Melbourne Victory squad, squad numbers listed in brackets:

Goalkeepers: Nathan Coe, Lawrence Thomas

Defenders: Daniel Georgievski, Matthieu Delpierre, Dylan Murnane, Jason Geria, Adrian Leijer, Nick Ansell, Scott Galloway

Midfielders: Rashid Mahazi, Carl Valeri, Jesse Makarounas, Mark Milligan, Leigh Broxham, Gui Finkler, Jordan Brown, Fahid Ben Khalfallah

Forwards: Connor Pain, Andrew Nabbout, Besart Berisha, Archie Thompson, Kosta Barbarouses

The Victory have responded to last season’s defensive vulnerabilities by bolstering their stocks. Frenchman Matthieu Delpierre and Macedonia international Daniel Georgievski will add further strength, while the pair’s promising outings to date bode well.

Fahid Ben Khalfallah’s versatility across the centre and defensive third gives Muscat an additional option in the absence of the departed Adama Traore.

Muscat has added to the centre of the park, thanks largely to Carl Valeri’s capturing and Mark Milligan staying at AAMI Park. The two experienced Socceroos will compliment younger players, such as Nick Ansell, Scott Galloway and Jason Geria behind them.

Besart Berisha needs no introduction for A-League fans and his pre-season partnering with livewire Connor Pain has worked well so far. Gui Finkler’s guile and ability from set pieces have the potential to thrill once again.

A 4-2-3-1 appears to be Muscat’s preferred system, permitting balance and a genuine centre forward. He will be relying on the likes of Pain, Thompson and Barbarouses to inflict misery on oppositions with their pace, alongside Berisha and Finkler who will look to do damage centrally.

Valeri and Milligan’s anchoring roles will help to shield the back four that may consist of Leijer, Delpierre, Gallaway and Georgievski.

Expected Starting XI:

Formataion (4-2-3-1) - Coe; Geria, Leijer, Delpierre, Georgievski; Valeri/Ben Khalfallah, Milligan; Barbarouses, Finkler, Thompson/Pain; Berisha

The FFA Cup/scheduling

Melbourne has negotiated the potential banana skins of Bayswater City and Tuggeranong United in convincing fashion.

The matches provided a chance for fans and the coach alike an opportunity to see the club’s new signings in action, whom have so far been impressive.

A sturdier test and a third consecutive away trip awaits when they travel to face Kenny Lowe’s Perth Glory in a quarter final bout on October 29 in the Western Australian capital.

An Asian Champions League free season should mean that this commitment will not overly disturb the A-League season momentum.

Blockbuster matches in the first three rounds (including Western Sydney Wanderers, Adelaide United and Melbourne City) will ensure that the Victorians will need to hit the ground running.

Where will Victory finish?

Melbourne’s fate will rest on its defensive acuity. It appears at least on paper that this will come to fruition – and with this in mind, the rest of the pitch is sound. Midfield distribution from the likes of Valeri and Milligan will bring the attacking quartet into the game where it matters most.

The competition’s progression places the onus and pressure on them to be counted. Nothing less than a top four finish will suffice for the outfit Kevin Muscat insists has what it takes to claim the crown come May next year.

Shaun Moran

Follow Shaun on Twitter @MoranShaun

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