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Will Milligan be the man for the Asian Cup?

Mark Milligan needs to hold fast at the back. (Peter Macalpine - Flickr)
Roar Pro
26th October, 2014
17

It might have been forgotten in the wake of what happened after half-time, but the Melbourne Victory midfield was bossed around in the first half of Saturday’s Melbourne Derby.

Apart from getting free for the first goal, Gui Finkler was well held and Aaron Mooy ran the show against two of Australia’s best central defensive midfielders – Carl Valeri and Victory captain Mark Milligan.

As a Victory fan, to be level at half-time felt like robbery of the highest order.

True, successful teams take their chances, and Victory deservedly won after running rampant in the second half.

But the first half may have given Ange Postecoglou some things to ponder about a man who has been one of the first names on the Socceroos teamsheet for the past few years – the aforementioned Milligan.

This article makes two assumptions about Postecoglou’s tactics for the upcoming Asian Cup. One, he is going to keep playing two central midfielders behind an attacking midfielder (most likely Marco Bresciano or Massimo Luongo). Two, one of them will be national captain Mile Jedinak.

But, considering the rather uninspiring recent results of the national team, will the second still be Milligan? A perusal of A-League ranks reveals three potential candidates who might feel capable of answering that question.

The first is the man who held Gui Finkler so well in the first half – Erik Paartalu. Touted since his Brisbane Roar days as a potential Socceroo and recipient of two caps, Paartalu offers height and strength against often undersized Asian midfields and can nip the occasional goal. Substituted last night, he will also need to provide more 90-minute efforts to get on the team sheet.

The second is the man who replaced Milligan when he went down injured at the World Cup – Matt McKay. Experienced, and an A-League premiership captain, McKay has also been a regular presence in the Socceroos, but rarely at centre midfield. More creative than often given credit for, he was a member of the team that lost 1-0 in the 2011 Asian Cup final.

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Third is none other than Milligan’s partner in crime at the Melbourne Victory. Alas, it’s not Leigh Broxham… it’s Carl Valeri. The most experienced of the quartet with 52 caps, Valeri recently returned to the Socceroos fold after injury and has been in excellent form this season. However, he offers less attacking potency than Milligan, which may count against him.

All of this is not necessarily a campaign for Mark Milligan to be dropped – indeed, he has rarely let the Socceroos down and has been arguably Melbourne Victory’s best player since he joined the club in January 2012. And suggesting that Ange Postecoglou dare change a rare fulcrum of stability one game before the Asian Cup is risky, if not downright reckless.

But the centre of midfield is an area in which solid and experienced alternatives do exist. Could a change in the engine room allow the Socceroos to find an extra gear?