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Melbourne derby to provide early glimpse of title credentials

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Expert
8th October, 2019
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A Melbourne derby will make for a fascinating marquee fixture to kick-off Round 1 of the A-League season, as well as an exciting launchpad for Victory and City.

Both teams come into this season with new coaches and perhaps new identities.

For Victory, this marks the first A-League season of the post-Kevin Muscat era. In Marco Kurz, they have a coach with a solid pedigree in the league.

An expectant fanbase will be desperate to see their team return to the top of the tree this season, and Kurz has strengthened the side to be in a position to do so.

The return of Adama Traore, Robbie Kruse and Andrew Nabbout, with the additional experience provided by Jakob Poulsen – who could prove one of the signings of the season – and Migjen Basha in midfield, plus Tim Hoogland in the heart of the defence makes Kurz’s first Victory team an impressive one.

Good enough to catch Perth Glory and Sydney FC? Not definitively, but they would have to be disappointed with anything less than a second-place finish.

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But what about City? They have promised much since the transition from the red and white of Heart to their adopted City blue, but by and large been underwhelming.

Surely for City, this season-opening derby has to be about more than just getting one over their major rivals.

It needs to be the platform for a significant title challenge.

The switch from Heart to City cost the club its identity and arguably many fans, and their run to the FFA Cup final – while not the most challenging – offered glimpses of genuine quality under new coach Erick Mombaerts.

The Frenchman arrives with a reputation for being a bit eccentric, but with big promises to develop a much more potent football identity.

So far, from what we have seen in the FFA Cup, Mombaerts’ side will play an attacking brand, with creative duties handed to his compatriot Florin Berenguer, as well as Craig Noone and Jamie Maclaren.

Jamie Maclaren

(Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)

Boasting a mix of youth and tried-and-tested experience, this squad has the potential to upset the established order.

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One gets the feeling Mombaerts is still working out what his best team is and the absence of his two Uruguayan imports, Adrian Luna and Javier Cabrera, means there are plenty of unknown quantities – no mean feat in the A-League.

No doubt a major focus this season will be continuing to provide a sound pathway for emerging players.

With Maclaren unavailable for Round 1 due to Socceroos duty, Mombaerts has already hinted he could look to the club’s youth team to plug the gap, with 19-year-old Moudi Najjar and 16-year-old Raphael Rodrigues – son of former Adelaide United gun Cristiano – possible replacements.

Mombaerts would much rather have Maclaren available, but a willingness to play youth ahead of shoehorning a more experienced player into an unfamiliar position would be a welcome change.

Still, while the City faithful have become accustomed to seeing some of the country’s most promising players get regular minutes, it is silverware they truly crave.

Melbourne City fans

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

The additions of the aforementioned Uruguayans and Noone, plus Josh Brillante in midfield, and Scott Galloway and Richard Windbichler in defence means Moembarts has a team well equipped for the season ahead.

These two Melbourne rivals share similar ambitions but have taken different paths in the quest to achieve them.

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Saturday night’s derby will provide a fitting opening to what we all hope will be one of the most entertaining A-League seasons yet.