With seven of the starting 11 players for the Olyroos at the Olympics, the City group’s powerhouse dynasty doesn’t look to be slowing down.
Andrew Nabbout’s arrival at Melbourne City comes as a huge surprise.
Having been announced as a signing for Perth Glory only three weeks ago, the border restrictions on WA meant that the move out west for Nabbout and his family was no longer viable, resulting in the contract being mutually terminated.
I’d started thinking about potential clubs that might be interested in Nabbout (both Perth and Western Sydney Wanderers would have been excellent choices for Nabbout), only for City to announce that they would be picking him up for the 2020-21 season alongside Nathaniel Atkinson, who found himself in the same situation.
Andrew Nabbout has always been a polarising figure in the A-League, but this is why he’s a solid pick-up for City.
Nabbout has a high defensive work rate in the press and would often be seen sprinting forward to press the goalkeeper or pressing the ball as it moves from one side to the other flank. This pressing at Victory wasn’t particularly effective, partly because it seemed like he would be the only one pressing hard and in general Victory didn’t press very high as a team.
On the other hand, City is a team that likes to press high in a coordinated and organised fashion. He’ll provide a significant boost of energy to the press and will benefit from an organised pressing structure system that will follow up alongside and behind him.
Nabbout arrives as Lachlan Wales departs the club. When he played on the right flank, Wales’ main role was two-fold: stretch the play on the right and provide an option in transition to attack directly.
The grand final was a perfect example of this, where Wales stayed high and on the right, ready to receive long balls over the top that he would run on to. One of the main criticisms of Wales was his lack of consistency in his final product and it’s a fair criticism as he ended the season with no goals and only three assists (one of which was a corner delivery).
Nabbout arrives as a ready-made replacement for this direct right-sided attacking role. He’s good at picking up the ball to feet then driving the ball forwards, and his pace means that he can run onto long balls in behind. There will certainly be questions about whether he will be more effective than Wales, but Nabbout has an absolute cannon of a shot that has got results in the past. His crossing hasn’t been particularly effective this season with Victory, but with Jamie Maclaren and midfielders that burst into the box as targets, we’ll see some more effectiveness from him.
Versatility up front
While his preferred position is on the right flank, Nabbout is also comfortable playing anywhere across the front line, on both flanks or as a striker up front.
Towards the end of the season he played as the lone striker for Victory, where he played multiple roles, challenging for aerial balls as a target man, running into the channels to provide options in behind, coming short to help link play and to drive the ball forward, and providing a presence in the box. He’ll provide a good rotation option for Jamie Maclaren up top, and can also swap wings during a game to change up the attack.
This versatility also fits in with how City players will rotate their positions with clever movement. He’s comfortable coming off the wing to link play, make runs in behind in on goal, and take up positions in space centrally and then combine with teammates or drive forwards.
One concern about Nabbout is his ability to play within a structured attacking plan.
At Victory, it often looked like he had to do everything for the team – press on his own, come deep and drift into space to bring the ball forward and take most of the shots for his team. The lack of coordinated moving parts around him at Victory meant even the quality of Ola Toivonen struggled in the Victory system.
It meant that he had to take on a lot of the attacking responsibility, but this was when Nabbout performed at his best. In the absence of strong, sustained attacking pressure, he was able to progress the ball quite effectively on his own, even if the end result of the plays may have been lower quality shots from distance or him ending up in a cul-de-sac.
While he’s likely to receive more attacking support at City, the main man is clearly Jamie Maclaren and chance creation comes about through much more structured attacking moves. Can Nabbout adjust to a system where he plays in support of Maclaren, and can he work effectively within the well defined City game plan?
Finally, let’s not forget that A-League sides are not in any particular power to sign whoever they want, especially with the ongoing pay negotiations. Nabbout comes to City as a local lad who is already settled in Melbourne, has plenty of experience in the A-League and has nine appearances for the Socceroos, including at the World Cup in 2018. If Patrick Kisnorbo can drill Nabbout to fit the City style, City will have a dangerous attacking option for their system.