Friday night takeaway: What we learned from Victory v Wanderers

Melbourne Victory’s opening match of the A-League season could not have been scripted better with the title contenders ruthless in their 4-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday.

Matthieu Delpierre and Besart Berisha immediately endeared themselves to their new home crowd with goals, while long-time favorites Leigh Broxham and Archie Thompson added to their own tally. Here are the teams’ Top Five takeaways from the match...

Melbourne Victory

1. Movement

Victory’s movement off the ball and ability to take its chances far more regularly (a stark contrast to last season) ultimately decided the bout in a highly one-sided way. It was largely to the movement of the wingers and Berisha – getting in behind the Wanderers back four with ease and at will – which really told. There was a focus on shifting the ball quickly, wide and then back centrally with the aim of dragging their opponents around, which proved successful in the opening half-hour particularly.

Kosta Barbarouses came into his own as the game went on and really benefited from having a central striker around, while Thompson was somewhere near his best again and used for mass effect with play often down the right instead of his left wing. Gui Finkler played his part, particularly for his ability to draw holding midfielders Iacopo La Rocca and Mateo Poljak in, so that defenders were exposed with Victory’s attacking trident constantly running at them.

2. Defence

Led by Delpierre, the defence looked an entirely different preposition from recent years, and even contributed to the first goal of the A-League season. New fullback Daniel Georgievski had a rough initiation, getting a glimpse of the physical side of the league, but on first reflection he may prove to be an upgrade on Adama Traore.

Jason Geria was even dribbling past the Wanderers, and admittedly while not really put under the hammer, had his best game for the club. Apart from the one slip-up under a tricky curling high ball that ultimately led to Mark Bridge’s goal, the defence did not give an inch. That is not to say they did not have some considerable help…

3. Valeri and Broxham run the show

Quiet and understated but Carl Valeri will prove to be Victory’s signing of the season should he maintain the form he showed on Friday. Lining up with Broxham in midfield, Valeri was able to do as he pleased in midfield as he won the ball back to allow the forward half to do its work effectively.

Broxham pushed forward and with great effect as witnessed by his bolt to the top-left corner from inside the penalty area to really shut out Western Sydney.

4. Selection issues

But this is an overwhelming positive. In almost every position (bar Berisha), there is a like-for-like and ready replacement waiting in the squad. There is no question that when Mark Milligan is available, he starts. So where does that leave Broxham? It would take a very brave coach to drop him to the bench, but with him being versatile and in form, perhaps a return to full-back awaits.

Fahid Ben Khalfallah waits in the wings if Barbarouses slumps, as does Nick Ansell for Adrian Leijer when he returns to full fitness. In this, one can already see the changes that Melbourne have made.

5. Perfect start

This was a perfect team performance that showcased all of Victory’s strengths and it will leave fans salivating and imagining what they can do to the rest of the competition. A ‘clasico’ against Adelaide United at the picturesque Adelaide Oval is up next on Friday night.

Western Sydney Wanderers

1. Accurate reflection?

Tony Popovic has paradoxically had the both the curse and blessing of having no real off-season, leading his side to an Asian Champions League final.

While playing is a great preparation for a season he also has had the challenge that no other club has had - having to balance the squad and not being able to play his best XI regularly. With both his first choice centre-backs unavailable, and his striker, it is hard to imagine this was an accurate reflection of where they are at.

2. Shape

What was clear is that not much has changed for the Wanderers, structurally at least. They still aim to be compact and to keep the lines between midfield and defence tight while looking to break through to Bridge and Brendon Santalab.

Barely anything went right for them, including penalty shouts that should have been given (more on that next), but they did not play up to their strengths and that led to Victory dictating and putting the game away early.

3. Denied a clear penalty

This was hard to argue otherwise, most notably in the first half when Delpierre clattered into Santalab from behind near the six-yard box and Victory got away with one. It was not a game changer as Wanderers ultimately were not good enough on the night, and gave up penalty later on for a handball that Berisha put away for a 2-0 lead.

4. Reactive

Apart from a small time in the first half, Wanderers never really applied pressure for a sustained period. Their usually strong and successful approach had no effect and when the game was out of reach, following Archie Thompson’s goal, they simply went through the motions.

This begs the question whether they need to be more proactive in their approach. With the A-League constantly evolving tactically, and the level of overseas recruits rising, clubs have raised the bar and will be hunting the Wanderers. A fit Tomi Juric, Vitor Saba and new signing Nikita Rukavytsya will go some way to making Popovic’s side more threatening than they were here.

5. This week

They will have the challenge of facing Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night for the high stakes Sydney derby. The nightmarish opening night should spur them to a far better performance. Expect the match to be a close one and their last for a little while before taking a two-week hiatus for their ACL final.