ACL Preview: Victory v Yokohama F Marinos
Past five matches (in all competitions):
It's been a tough start to Group G for these two teams. The Victory surrendered a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 away to Guangzhou Evergrande on matchday one, and also led 1-0 at home to Jeonbuk, but fell 2-1 behind and were ultimately fortunate to snatch a point in that one last time out. Yokohama meanwhile suffered a 3-0 loss away to Jeonbuk first up, before getting a point off Guangzhou in a credible 1-1 draw at home. Both teams know they must win on Tuesday night to have a realistic chance of progressing to the knockout stages. While Yokohama have made a breezy start to the new J-League season, winning all three of their domestic matches so far, Victory face a tough battle to hold on to second spot, having climbed above Western Sydney and into the coveted top two with a win away to Perth Glory on Saturday night.
The big issue:
Victory - Squad depth is going to prove crucial to Victory over the coming weeks. Muscat has made significant changes from A-League to ACL matches, and it was clear from the starting XI he picked to play Perth that he is prioritising the home front. And that makes sense - Victory need to secure a top-two finish to guarantee they will be contesting the ACL again next season. That means we are likely to see fringe players James Jeggo and Jesse Makarounas, while there will certainly be a reshuffle at the back with Adama Traore ruled out.
Yokohama - Speaking at the pre-match press conference on Monday, Marinos coach Yasuhiro Higuchi said his team's intention was to control possession, keep it tight and attempt to stifle Victory's pace and threat in attack. Controlling possession will be important for the visitors, and to do so they need to nullify the likes of Tom Rogic and Mark Milligan, if the Socceroo pair start at AAMI Park. If Muscat opts for any of Jeggo, Rashid Mahazi or Leigh Broxham as a midfield two, expect the Japanese visitors to test them thoroughly.
The game breaker:
If Rogic starts on Tuesday, he's due a performance. The playmaker, on loan from Celtic, was signed by Victory to provide him with playing team ahead of the World Cup and to assist in the club's ACL campaign. Last week at home to Jeonbuk he struggled to make an impact on the game and was withdrawn with 17 minutes remaining. If the hosts are to see enough of the ball in advanced areas to win the game, the former Central Coast man must be on song.
Prediction: Victory 1-2 Yokohama.
Unfortunately for Victory supporters, we expect Muscat to err on the side of selection caution and put out closer to a second string again against Yokohama. The simple fact remains that claiming second and getting back in the ACL next season, hopefully with a slightly more settled and convincing squad, is a bigger priority than escaping from the group in 2014. And while the visitors are sure to make changes of their own, we expect them to have too much for the Victory to deal with.