Third time the charm for Melbourne Victory in Asia?
Tonight Melbourne Victory will become only the second Australian side to compete in the Asian Champions League for a third time when they take on 2008 Champions Gamba Osaka at Expo 70 Stadium. Unlike Adelaide United, the only other team to achieve this feat, the Victory have never made it out of the group stage of Asia’s premier competition.
Yet on the eve of stepping onto the continental stage once again, Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick seemed quite nonplussed about his side’s relative lack of success in Asia.
”It has never been a source of motivation for me,” explained the 58-year-old.
“Having a team that does well in the domestic competition is first of all your primary aim.
“But I have to say I would love to do well with this team in Asia, to show that Melbourne Victory is a team that could be a force in Asia. That is more for the club than me.”
Yet surely it would be unacceptable for a club with Melbourne Victory’s resources and squad to find itself out at the group stage for the third time in a row?
Having said that, while the ACL remains the only real blight on his impressive record as coach of the Victory, I don’t expect Merrick’s time to be brought to a premature end if the Victory fail at the first hurdle again.
The real test of whether the Scotsman will receive a new contract will come in the A-League next season.
Meanwhile, a strong start to their ACL campaign will be crucial to the Victory as right now the Australian teams have a big advantage over their East Asian counterparts – match fitness.
With the J-League, K-League and Chinese Super League all yet to kick off, you can expect Victory’s opponents to tire as the opening fixtures go on.
At the same time Melbourne’s players should be slightly refreshed having enjoyed a two break on the back of a challenging and long season and, if their workloads have been managed right, should be able to push Gamba physically until the final whistle.
A point that’s made all the more important as match fitness will also become a concern for the two time A-League champions as the group stage goes on and a lack of regular competitive football takes its toll.
If Merrick’s men fail to garner positive results in their opening games, I fear their third ACL campaign will end just as its predecessors did – in disappointment.