In what is undoubtedly match of the round, Melbourne Victory head north to face Premiers-elect Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night. (7:45pm AEDT, 6:45pm local.)
This blockbuster clash comes at a somewhat inopportune time for Melbourne Victory, as their gruelling schedule appears to be beginning to take a toll. Criticism of Kevin Muscat has come as it appears a ‘rotation policy’ has come into place. But to expect the same or best XI was naive and was never going to happen as Victory have had to back up from a trip to Perth and a match against Central Coast. On the flip side, Victory’s younger brigade is getting a chance against quality opposition.
Brisbane is in control of their destiny, and has been for the majority of the season, if not for all season. The occasion seems perfect for them as the opportunity to wrap up the Premier’s Plate presents itself at home against a recent rival. They would not want to leave much to chance, as they have a tricky run home where they play Melbourne Heart (H), Western Sydney (A) and Central Coast (H).
The ins and outs
Victory’s side is yet to be finalised at this point in time, as several players still recover from the Tuesday clash with Yokohama F. Marinos. Adama Traore is unavailable as he continues to deal with a knee injury. Mark Milligan, Tom Rogic and Gui Finkler should take starting places after coming off the bench and missing respectively on Tuesday. Nick Ansell didn’t train on Friday, while Pablo Contreras didn’t finish the session.
Brisbane Roar will be without Besart Berisha (suspension), and now without Jade North (hamstring) and Ivan Franjic (ankle), as reported by Marco Montverde on Friday. Jean Carlos Solorzano will make his return from injury, while Corey Brown (appendix) is out for a month. Montverde also reported Mike Mulvey’s forced changes, with Henrique replacing Berisha, Shane Steffanuto lining-up at centre-back and Diogo Ferreira coming in for Brown.
The 90 minutes
This fixture never fails to deliver and leaves plenty of talking points for days after, more of the same should be on show on Saturday. Roar should enter favourites on their home turf, while Victory might need to brace for a similar onslaught as the one they were under against Yokohama.
Going forward, Victory are undeniable, but signs that Kevin Muscat is going more practical are there. Both Jason Geria and Scott Galloway will have important roles if that’s the case, to provide Lawrence Thomas a target to go long to should he opt to go wide, as they occasionally sit far down field at goal-kicks. Victory’s attack will be better the quicker it is and are a smart counter-attacking team.
Brisbane are well-tuned and flexible, and have ensured they will get on with life when Berisha leaves at the end of the season. Defence may be a worry, as they miss first-choice players. It will be an even game as witnessed by the first thirty minutes of the Roar’s eventual 3-0 win the last time they met. Both side’s strengths and approaches are similar, with difference systems and formations in place. Execution and adapting as the game wears on will be the telling factor.
With fixtures coming thick and fast for Victory over the past weeks, Victory are dealing with sore bodies. Muscat will name his team tomorrow, with Traore the only player unavailable.
“That’s part of the process, we’re in our fifth game in sixteen days tomorrow night, there’s bodies that are generally sore. Adama is the only one, at this stage, ruled out. The rest we’ll assess in the morning, there won’t be any risks taken with anyone, we’ll need a fit team out there.” Muscat said.
After being rested on Tuesday, Muscat indicated captain Milligan and Rogic will play.
“Tommy and Millsy didn’t play, so they will bring a certain freshness to the team, but Nick is a little different, we’ll assess him in the morning.”
Courtesy of a red card last week, Victory recruit Berisha spared himself an awkward meeting with his future club, not that Muscat took much notice.
“He’s obviously a very good player, and despite the fact he’s not playing, they’ll still have a very good team out there, they’ve won without him. That’s not my focus by any stretch of the imagination.”
Muscat did not seem all too daunted by meeting the Roar, and wasn’t all too keen to be a witness to any Roar celebrations.
“They’ve almost been given the trophy to be honest, we consider them the Premier’s Plate holders. The last time we played them here, for most of the first half, we were good. Then they gave us a bit of a touch up. We’ll go over there, and look to bring three points back.”
“It’s going to be difficult, but it’s a challenge we’re relishing. With each game that’s gone on in this period, you get written off a little bit more. I assume we’ll be written off for this one as well.”
“We’re going to have to concentrate for 90 minutes and play some good football to bring back three points. Which will set us up, we’ve had a very good points return in recent games. There is a real willingness to go on and finish the competition strongly.”
“I wouldn’t want to be standing there after the game with them being presented with the plate, I wouldn’t want to be in that situation. That’s not the motivation to go there and win, we want to finish as high as we can. Maybe they will be under a little bit of pressure to try and win the competition in front of their home fans. We’ll be real aggressive in the way we want to attack that game tomorrow night.”