From Bad To Worse: Can Melbourne Victory's Season Be Saved?
Things have gone from bad to worse for the 4-time Australian champs, dead-last on the ladder and staring down the barrel of a second consecutive season without finals.
In Saturday's loss to Brisbane, Melbourne conceded 3 goals in the first 17 minutes of their 5-2 belting, entrenching their place at the foot of the table, and with no real signs of resurgence within this one-time A-League giant.
In fact, it wasn't so long ago that this storied club was the pride of the competition, contesting 3 Grand Finals in 4 seasons between 2015 and 2018, while also winning an FFA cup, as well progressing out of the group stage in the Asian Champions League during that time-span.
Just five games in to the new season however and the alarm bells are blaring, with the Victory slotted in as just a 4.8% chance of winning this year's Grand Final according to the Stats Insider Futures model. Their dramatic slump begs the question: Just what's gone so horribly wrong with the former champs?
With the signings of Callum McManaman, Ben Folami and French striker Rudy Gestede, many believed the Victory would create chances aplenty this season and score goals for fun. While that trio of new faces have been injured, they've still had the likes of Robbie Kruse and Marco Rojas to create and finish chances, which surprisingly they haven’t, costing the Victory in abundance.
Victory’s shot-conversation rate has been atrocious so far, lacking any semblance of ruthlessness near goal. They've recorded the lowest shots on target in the league so far (20) while failing to put away the few chances they are generating. They've missed 9 of their 12 'big chances' this season, while their 0.20 goals per shot on target is the league's 2nd worst mark.
Having the lowest total shots in the league (57) as well as 3 out of their 5 goals all arriving courtesy of Jack Brimmer in midfield, is evidence of a malfunctioning attack and which needs some major strategic modifications if they're to get back on track.
The lack of presence and grit in the centre of the park has been a major issue for Melbourne Victory in the early part of the season. While Jacob Butterfield and Jake Brimmer are promising young players, they've both been guilty of allowing too much time and space for the opposition to dictate and control the tempo of the game. Even with the addition of the tough and experienced Leigh Broxham in the midfield, the heart of the Victory line-up still appears lightweight and too easily bossed around by opponents.
They've been beaten in tackles in all but one game this season, amassing the second-lowest tackles per game (15.2), demonstrating a pronounced lack of aggression and grit where it matters most.
While some clubs are able to compensate for being run over in midfield with a more controlled game when in possession, this isn't something we can say about the 2021 Melbourne Victory team to this point. They don't have a single player in the league's top-15 when it comes to accurate passes, while the club leading the league for accurate long passes is more reflective of a desperate team searching for bail-out options rather than a methodical approach to their play.
The open-secret behind every successful team is a rock-solid defence, as seen by Sydney FC who've won 3 of the last 4 A-League titles largely off the back of their fortress-like rear-guard.
Unfortunately for Melbourne, their back-4 is sorely lacking, with flashy centre-back additions Ryan Shotton and Dylan Ryan struggling mightily, regularly carved apart and left over-exposed by an aforementioned, flimsy midfield.
The Victory have already conceded 10 goals this season and are lucky the damage hasn't been more extensive. While the 76 shots they've conceded is a highly-alarming number, only 25 have been on target, which has been a somewhat lucky-break for Max Crocombe between the posts. The Kiwi international has looked out of his depth through his first five games with the club, sporting the league's very worst save percentage (.560) among starting goalkeepers.
Can they get back to the “Old Victory”?
Of course they can. The season is still young, while their talent is too obvious, and their fire-power stocks sufficiently resourced to be languishing so worryingly.
With that said, Melbourne ought to get their act together soon, or risk falling completely out of touch with the top-6.
Tomorrow night's clash with the Western Sydney Wanderers in Parramatta will provide a great guide as to how they respond to their weekend humiliation, and whether coach Grant Brebner has implemented the appropriate tactical modifications.
It's early, but the spotlight is burning brightly upon this former schoolyard bully.
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