The Victory shouldn’t be this mediocre, should they?

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Played 15, won five, drawn five, lost five, 20 goals scored, 21 goals conceded. Sitting in fifth on 20 points, Melbourne Victory are as close to bottom-placed Wellington as they are to second-placed Newcastle.

    The Victory are drifting through this season like a ship buffeted from either side by opposing winds, keeping them from making telling progress in either direction, an odd – and, the longer it goes on, frustrating – suspension in the doldrums.

    The generous nature of the top-six finals format means they are still on course for post-season football, but last night’s defeat to the Phoenix prevented them from jumping up into fourth ahead of Adelaide.

    The suspicion that the Victory would ‘wake up’, as it were, has floated away over the glassy waters. Yes, their winless run to begin the season was hugely under-representative of their actual strength as a team this season, but there is still something wrong with Kevin Muscat’s team, or indeed with Kevin Muscat. They shouldn’t be this mediocre. 

    A run of three straight wins in December, consecutive results that propelled them to third on the table, has been followed by back-to-back winless games against to two of the league’s bottom three clubs. The Victory aren’t generally in the business of ending others clubs’ winless streaks, but they did so for the Phoenix, losing 2-1 to a team that hadn’t tasted the sweet ambrosial nectar of success since early November.

    (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

    The Nix needed 30 shots to score their two goals, having gone down 1-0 to a shorthanded Victory who had seen Rhys Williams sent off – eventually thanks to the video assistant referee and via a peculiar process that I’ve neither the energy nor appetite to discuss – for a last-man foul on Andrija Kaludjerovic. In the end it was a mistake from Melbourne’s Lawrence Thomas and an own-goal that scratched out the Nix’s second win of the season.

    Marco Rojas’ departure was always going to be a difficult thing to make up, but Leroy George, currently one of the most productive attackers in the league, is about as good a compensation plan as could have been expected. The Dutchman leads the league in assists (seven – or eight, according to Fox Sports) and is second in chances created (48). He has played more balls into the box than any other player and is the fourth-most fouled person in the division. He’s also scored three goals.

    George is one of the league’s most active and potent attackers, just as Rojas was last season. If that’s not a like-for-like, then it’s pretty darn close, at least metrically.

    Who else did the Victory lose over the offseason and how have their replacements fared? Well, Mark Milligan is a definite upgrade on Rashid Mahazi, and the aforementioned Williams, recent decision-making notwithstanding, is probably an upgrade on Alan Baro, who also left.

    Kosta Barbarouses has filled Fahid Ben Khalfallah’s role, and to great effect of late too – the Kiwi has scored or assisted four of the Victory’s last six goals – and Thomas Deng’s return has added to the defensive cohort.

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    These last three imports have all been Victory players before. As far as the adjustment process goes, theirs should have been relatively simple. 

    Last season the Victory were in fourth place or higher in ten of the opening 15 rounds. This season they’ve been in the top four for one solitary week before slipping right back out.

    The inability of James Troisi to impact games in the same tangible manner he did last season is also an area of slight concern – although he is equal-first in the league for secondary assists, implying a higher degree of effectiveness further back in the attacking play. Besart Berisha is still scoring at a respectable rate, with six goals in 13 appearances. 

    The defence is another story. The Victory have allowed more total shots to be taken against them than any other team and so, in related news, have registered more blocks than any other team. Thomas is also second in saves made among A-League goalkeepers.

    On the other hand they rank in the middle for the metrics that indicate pressing: passes pressured, break-ups and interceptions. They also foul more often than any other team, and only Central Coast have suffered more red cards this season. A willingness to allow shots to fly in, a propensity to foul often and a certain middling sluggishness when it comes to the business of pressing and harrying all makes for a ho-hum defensive system. 

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    Having seen the Phoenix score their go-ahead goal in the 83rd minute Kevin Muscat, who was preparing to substitute Berisha before the goal, decided it would still be wise under the new circumstances to remove his striker and send on defensive midfielder Stefan Nigro.

    Needless to say, in hindsight this was an odd decision and sticks out now as fairly emblematic of Muscat’s reluctance or inability to make on-the-fly adjustments in-game. When his system is clearly offering up a result that is less than the sum of its parts why persist stodgily with it, especially when matches so audibly call for sudden changes? His candidacy as the national team coach has withered away over the last few months. 

    The Victory are 18 points behind Sydney FC, the team they pretty well kept admirable pace with for much of last season and lost only narrowly to in the grand final. They won’t catch Sydney in the regular season this year – no team will – but there is still plenty of time for them to make up ground on the other teams above them. They’ll have to rig up the sails, with all hands on deck, to push through those flanking winds though, and that will mean ripping themselves out of their current middling form.

    I’m still convinced they have the talent and energy to do it. At least I think I am.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (34)

    • January 12th 2018 @ 7:50am
      Nemesis said | January 12th 2018 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      “A run of three straight wins in December ..has been followed by back-to-back defeats”

      This is an ALT-Fact.

      You can have your own opinions.
      You cannot have your own facts.

      • January 12th 2018 @ 8:01am
        Kangajets said | January 12th 2018 @ 8:01am | ! Report

        A draw to ccm and a loss to Wellington he means .

        I thought when Melbourne Victory beat Newcastle they were back ,, looking energetic and dangerous in attack .

        I hear from victory fans , why isn’t theoharus playing ?

        Who knows

        I’m sure they will be in the last 4 , vying for a grand final spot .

        • January 12th 2018 @ 9:49am
          Nemesis said | January 12th 2018 @ 9:49am | ! Report

          Well a draw and a loss is not the same as back-to-back defeats.

          In fact, the facts will show:

          MVFC has the same W/D/L record as Newcastle Jets over the past 3, 4 & 5 matches.

          Facts to be used to create whatever narrative the writer wants. But, you must use facts, otherwise writers should stick to writing fiction; not sport analysis.

          • January 12th 2018 @ 9:54am
            Bruce said | January 12th 2018 @ 9:54am | ! Report

            Nemesis

            I didn’t write the article

            • January 12th 2018 @ 10:17am
              Nemesis said | January 12th 2018 @ 10:17am | ! Report

              @Bruce

              I never said you wrote the article. In fact, I’ve not even responded to you… Bruce.

              Unless, you are posting under 2 names: Kangajets and Bruce?

              • January 12th 2018 @ 10:40am
                Kangajets said | January 12th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

                Yes. Correct

                Was having trouble using kangajets, I think the mods have me on a yellow card .

              • January 12th 2018 @ 12:32pm
                marcel said | January 12th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

                K…too much positivity on your posts..and a preference for talking about the actual game…that’s what has upset the Mods

              • January 12th 2018 @ 1:38pm
                Kangajets said | January 12th 2018 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

                ?

              • January 12th 2018 @ 10:44am
                Bruce said | January 12th 2018 @ 10:44am | ! Report

                Yes correct

                My posts are on delay or something. Who knows

              • January 12th 2018 @ 3:59pm
                Lionheart said | January 12th 2018 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

                Bruce? I prefered Petratos.

              • January 12th 2018 @ 4:55pm
                Kangajets said | January 12th 2018 @ 4:55pm | ! Report

                Lionheart

                Haha

                Bruce prefers petratos too

                If I get the yellow card from the mods I will come back as Rodriguez

      • January 12th 2018 @ 9:34am
        Jeff dustby said | January 12th 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        Fact – your team ain’t good

        • January 12th 2018 @ 9:46am
          Nemesis said | January 12th 2018 @ 9:46am | ! Report

          “ain’t good” is an adjectival phrase. All adjectives are subjective and are not facts.

          • January 12th 2018 @ 10:40am
            Cool N Cold said | January 12th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

            ““ain’t good” is an adjectival phrase. All adjectives are subjective and are not facts.”

            Very good argument!

            This triggers thoughts. Are really all adjectives subjective?

            Maybe! Maybe not!

            Leigh Broxham is shorter than Lawrence Thomas. Is the adjective (short) here subjective?

            That brings the thinking to “measurement”.

            In this context, the measurement is the ranking.

            So, should anyone say Brisbane Roar is not good. It is a fact because the current standing is one from the bottom. This is a fact. One may argue that this is not a fact because the season has not ended. Then maybe this is a temporary fact.

            Thank you for the art of words.

            • January 12th 2018 @ 4:38pm
              R King said | January 12th 2018 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

              I like the way you think. 🙂

          • January 13th 2018 @ 3:14am
            not so super said | January 13th 2018 @ 3:14am | ! Report

            still doesnt hid from the fact but thanks for imsulting my Afro heritage

            • January 13th 2018 @ 1:00pm
              R King said | January 13th 2018 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

              Who insulted your heritage? Have I missed something?

    • January 12th 2018 @ 8:05am
      Buddy said | January 12th 2018 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      Every team has its ups and downs. It appears to me that many people just expect Sydney Fc and Melbourne Victory tombe at the top of the tree every year and for the most part, one or the other has obliged since day one. We have seen the sky blues have some terrible seasons and the changes that have ensued and perhaps this is a turning point for Victory in 2018 that they need to be looking elsewhere and making changes to propel them back in the right direction. On the other hand, when I look around the League I see teams that have improved this year and in the right mood and perhaps with a bit of good fortune can beat anyone else in the league on any given day. On Tuesday night it was widely acknowledged that CCM should have scored 3 or 4 before the Jets fired up and last week the Jets looked as though they would topple the table leaders at Allianz. On a very specific note, I was a great admirer of Delpierre during his time at Victory and I saw so much stability and calmness that he brought to the team. He always seemed to be in control and exuded confidence and since his retirement that has not been replicated.

      • January 12th 2018 @ 9:13am
        punter said | January 12th 2018 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        You are correct Buddy, teams will go up & down & MV, too big, to well run to be mediocre for long.
        Valeri is poor, Broxham is poor, Berisha on the wane, still good, but not great, Triosi having a poor season, but never discount this club.

    • January 12th 2018 @ 11:00am
      Richo said | January 12th 2018 @ 11:00am | ! Report

      Victory are very, very easy to defend against.

      Berisha is good, but slow. So, they can’t play any through balls to him. He always lines up offside anyway.

      So, they have to play wide.

      Kosta is going okay, but again easy to defend against because he is always looking to play a short pass, then get in behind again. When he does play it in to the box it is to Berisha (if he is onside v three or four defenders).

      George is totally over-rated. He is fat, slow and doesn’t defend. His passing into the box and chances created stats are elevated because he takes the free kicks and corners. Plus, as he is so slow, he plays a lot of early balls into the box, where if Berisha is onside he is against three or four defenders.

      He has everyone excited because he occasionally gets past a defender with a bit of skill. However, most of the time the ball goes near him, it ends up in being turned over.

      As he and Berisha are so slow or out of position, Troisi is starved of genuine options to create chances.

      Victory dominate possession in most games they play, but because of the above they just aren’t creating any decent chances or scoring enough.

      Hence they are middle of the table and likely to remain there while George continues to play.

    • January 12th 2018 @ 11:41am
      Kris said | January 12th 2018 @ 11:41am | ! Report

      When your entire ethos is based on counter-attack there will always be issues if teams don’t come at you.

      Victory are pretty limited going forward. The want balls over the top for the 3 front men to run onto, make them play in front of you and build-up and they are not much of a threat.

      Flip-side of counter-attacking as plan A is that you invite opponents to attack you, end up playing too deep, and when you extend that invitation opponents WILL attack you. When you invite opponents to attack Geria and Thomas and some random from the crowd at left back, you WILL concede.

      All the love for Rhys Williams is a byproduct of him doing most of the defending by himself and doing a LOT of it. Never has a defender had as much opportunity to stand out.

      • January 12th 2018 @ 12:32pm
        Kangajets said | January 12th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

        What I like about Williams is his ability to bring the ball out from the back and run with it and set up attacking options,,,…I guess a similar role that Ned Zelic played for the Socceroos.

      • January 12th 2018 @ 1:00pm
        Nemesis said | January 12th 2018 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

        Muscat won the ALeague Premiership, Championship, FFA Cup & made the Ro16 of the Asian Champions League all within the space of 12 months.

        If you think he did this playing counter attacking football, you are delusional.

        Muscat has formed a game plan that’s meant to be based on what Ange Postecoglou started at MVFC. It’s worked in the past. It’s not working now. That’s football.

    • January 12th 2018 @ 1:01pm
      Fadida said | January 12th 2018 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

      I think their recruitment/squad management is poor. Throw in a few players past their best and others underperforming and they are where they are

      Thomas – decent keeper
      Geria – hasn’t pushed on to the level we’d hoped
      Williams – good signing though best days are gone
      Deng – high hopes
      Broxham – too many games at fullback. Big weakness, reduces attacking threat
      Valeri – in decline
      Milligan – not reaching previous levels
      Sanchez – is he better than local players
      Austin – even when for not a starter
      Ingham – as above
      Barbarouses – getting better, but still below previous levels
      Berisha – has scored 6 but clearly on the decline. His lack of pace is hurting their style of play. Lives offside to compensate for loss of speed
      Troisi- well below his best. Well below.
      The young guys are all showing potential but need to be trusted to play more.

      The signing of Antonis could be the start of a refresh but they desperately need an injection of quality in attack and at fullback.

      • January 12th 2018 @ 1:04pm
        Nemesis said | January 12th 2018 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

        So, not 1 decent footballer, but still beat Newcastle easily a couple of weeks ago & sitting mid-table.

        The rest of the ALeague, besides Sydney, must be utterly rubbish.

        • January 12th 2018 @ 1:31pm
          Fadida said | January 12th 2018 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

          Read it again Fuss. I’ve clearly said that their better players are generally below their best level, for a variety of reasons.

          For some that means they are now at a good, rather than very good level. I’m sure you’ve said a similar thing this season.

          Others just aren’t good enough.

          It all adds up to sitting where they currently are. Should the better players off form lift their games that may change.

          • January 12th 2018 @ 1:55pm
            Nemesis said | January 12th 2018 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

            I think the team has played extremely well 4 matches prior to NIX.

            Nix match, is forgettable because we had a player sent off after 10 mins, but still took an undeserved lead.

            Rest of season?

            Only 1 match MV got totally smashed – albeit playing with 1 less man for 60 minutes (Jets away).

            All other matches, no different to the opposition.

            We won some we could’ve drawn.
            We drew some which we could’ve lost.
            We drew some we could’ve won.
            We lost 3 we could’ve drawn (Syd, City, AUFC)

            Team is playing about the same level as they played in the final 15 matches last season. But, we had a good opening 12 matches, so everyone forgets who average MV was at the end.

            • January 12th 2018 @ 2:19pm
              Kangajets said | January 12th 2018 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

              Nemesis

              Like I said earlier, Mel Victory will be in the top 4 come semi finals ,, anything can happen in knockout games .

              • Roar Rookie

                January 12th 2018 @ 2:38pm
                Grobbelaar said | January 12th 2018 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

                I agree – anyone can make the top 6, and from there, it’s possible to end up in the semis.

        • January 13th 2018 @ 3:28pm
          Worried said | January 13th 2018 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

          They beat ??? a Newcastle side that had six (6) first 11 players unavailable for the match played in Melbourne.
          Hardly worth crowing about !!!

    • Roar Rookie

      January 12th 2018 @ 2:45pm
      Grobbelaar said | January 12th 2018 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

      I think it’s worth mentioning that the pint-sized utility for the Victory, Leigh Broxham, is about to play his 250th game against the Glory (on his 30th birthday no less).

      He started back in season 2 (representing 12 consecutive seasons with the one club).

      I wonder if there is any other A-League player out there who has chalked up 12 consecutive seasons with the one club?

      If that weren’t remarkable enough, that a player of such modest ability has such a record (which might actually be a record outright), is even more remarkable. One could say he has been serviceable. He certainly has been durable.

      Congratulations to Leigh, and I hope he can celebrate a victory on the day.

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