Melbourne City have been knocked out of the Australia Cup by A-League rivals Sydney FC, going down 2-1 at AAMI Park.
The Sky Blues led 2-0 through goals to Patrick Wood and Joe Lolley before the all-time A-League goal-scorer Jamie Maclaren scored what would ultimately turn out to be a consolation for the home team.
Maclaren was particularly quiet throughout the match with his opportunity to open his account coming from a wayward pass from his opposition striker, Patrick Wood. The Melbourne City marksman, as we’ve come to expect over the years, took the chance and finished past fellow Socceroo Andrew Redmayne.
While it may have been nice for Maclaren himself to see the ball hit the back of the net, his quiet game and lack of opportunities could be part of a much larger problem for the 30-year-old and City’s ambitions for 2023-24. The striker has scored 86 goals in his last four seasons, contributing to much of City’s success.
Maclaren would be the first to admit he’s not the type of striker that drops into the midfield and links up the play in the style of Harry Kane. Instead, he is a classic poacher doing his business in the box, being in the right position and getting on the end of his teammates’ service – he’s made a career of it. The problem is that a lot of that service from last season has gone.
City had a combined 38 assists in 2022-23 with Valon Berisha, Marco Tilio, Mathew Leckie, Richard van der Venne, Andrew Nabbout and Florin Berenguer all contributing five assists each. Sounds great, right? Good, even spread across the team for their No.9 to feast on.
And herein lies the problem: four of those players – or 20 assists – have since left the premiers, and of the remaining two, Andrew Nabbout could miss the entire campaign, and Leckie is currently recovering from a knee injury, meaning he could miss the start of this season.
To compound things further, Jordan Bos (three) and Aiden O’Neill (two) were the other players to provide multiple assists last season, both of whom have moved to European clubs to further their careers.
That’s a lot of service to replace for Maclaren to thrive on for the upcoming season which starts for City against Western United.
There’s no doubt that after being thrashed 6-1 by Central Coast Mariners in last season’s Grand Final some changes were necessary, however to put it in context, the Grand Final loss was only City’s fourth defeat of the entire season.
City have brought in as many as 12 new players with a mix of youth, European journeymen and A-League stalwarts such as Terry Antonis and Steven Ugarkovic. Whether these players can gel and find that consistency with the players that remain from last season, only time will tell.
Clearly, with a prolific striker such as Jamie Maclaren, City need to play to his strengths and get him some quality ball or suffer the consequences.
There’s no doubt that as part of the City Football Group, a mediocre season just won’t do for Melbourne City and their owners.
But what will become of the A-League’s all-time leading goal scorer if he’s not being served?