Another round of COVID-related postponements meant there were only two A-League Men games this weekend, and which one you saw depended on where you watched.
After coming off one of the greatest seasons in club history, which saw them run away with the Champions and Premiers trophies, Melbourne City look like a really ominous side again this year.
They have already demolished South Melbourne in the FFA Cup (3-0), and Brisbane Roar (2-1) in the A-League in the season opener on Friday night.
The biggest departure this season would have to be Craig Noone, who left the club to explore new pastures at Macarthur FC.
He was a very influential player, and was one of the main reasons got City got to where they did.
The biggest inclusion would be Socceroo Andrew Nabbout, who left Perth Glory to come to AAMI Park. He is an extremely talented player who will give City so much run up forward, and will assist Marco Tilio, Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Leckie in scoring many, many goals, and setting up many more for wild cards Scott Galloway, Stefan Colacovski and Scott Jamieson.
City’s biggest strength would have to be their ability to turn a change of possession into a scoring opportunity. The defensive strength of Nuno Reis to make a turnover in the defensive half is amazing on its own, but City often try to run the ball down to their offensive half, instead of the short kick to one another game style that many teams employ to slow down play.
City rely on fast ball movement, and that usually pays off. Nathaniel Atkinson is a master of this, and often uses his body to win a loose ball. Curtis Good is also a very reliable defender. After missing nearly four years with injury, he is back to his best, complimenting Tom Glover and Nuno Reis in defence.
A weakness of City would be their inability to maintain pressure in the last 30-odd minutes of a game. Twice this year, against the Roar and Adelaide United, they have conceded 3 goals in total.
Why is this? It’s not because their backs are understocked, and it’s not because they don’t have a good goalkeeper – Olyroo keeper Tom Glover would have absolutely none of that. So what is it?
The answer is not all that clear. City always seem fatigued in the last 30 minutes, but they have some of the best young talent in the whole competition, with Tilio and Colacovski being the number one subs.
There is only one answer to this. The opposition are playing too many death players. For those of you who don’t know what the heck that means, a death player is a player (usually a striker, or midfielder) who creates many chances in the last 20 minutes of the game, if the team need a quick goal.
The most famous example is Newcastle’s Valentino Yuel. Whenever he comes on, the crowd at McDonald-Jones Stadium go absolutely nuts. They love him there, as he always scores.
City have twice been ambushed by Yuel-Like players. That would be the only logical explanation, as everything else seems unrealistic.
What do they do about this? I suggest playing Atkinson. He is their youngest defender, won the Joe Marston Medal for best on ground in the 2021 grand final, and has been described by a Paramount commentator as ‘just screaming [to be a] World Cup player’. Yet he hasn’t been able to force his way into the starting line-up for their first two matches. He could well be the key to another premiership… if he can get on the park.
Does City have what it takes to go back to back? Absolutely they do. They have been at the top end of the ladder for many years now, and will be determined to one-up their Sydney FC rivals again.
Scott Jamieson will be trying his heart out to win another grand final, and with incredible goals like that beauty against Sydney in the Grand Final last year, deserves another piece of silverware, or two.
I really can’t see City slipping down the ladder this year. They have some of the best players in the whole league, with the likes of Maclaren, Leckie, Galloway, and Tilio being world-class game after game.
If they can get Atkinson can get on the field, it’s hard to see them not winning the premiership. Heck, their subs alone could take down Western United!