Melbourne Victory 2015/16 season preview
Victory were a cut above the rest last season, a multi-talented, complete team that demolished its rivals. A one-sided 3-0 grand final over Sydney FC, and an equally one-sided semi-final 3-0 win over Melbourne City, emphasized the gulf between it and its rivals.
Little has changed in the past six months to suggest that it won’t be the same case this time around. Victory has not lost in pre-season, has reached the FFA Cup semi-finals and has kept the vast majority of its squad intact. Mark Milligan has joined Bani Yas but he has been replaced by fellow Socceroo Oliver Bozanic, a terrific player in his own right. Kevin Muscat enjoys great depth in every position and has arguably strengthened his goalkeeping position with the signing of Danny Vukovic. Victory may well be on track for more silverware.
Michael Alesich: “I don't think anything but a double of the premiership and grand final will be accepted by most fans. We've retained a large number of the core group that completed the season in style and the early signs from the Cup matches have been extremely promising. The ACL being a previous hurdle, I'm thinking that with a good amount of depth from the youth we'll be able to finish well into the finals of that as well. Our new skipper, Carl Valeri, was the quiet achiever of last season often working hard around the midfield shadowing and complementing Milligan in his role. Stepping into the new role he's already controlling the midfield alongside both Finkler and newcomer Bozanic.
Why they’ll do well
They have playmakers and goal-scorers in abundance. Berisha and Thompson are lethal finishers, while Gui Finkler and Fahid Ben Khalfallah are both freaks, Bozanic is crafty and Kosta Barbarouses a wing wizard. They are sound in the middle of the field with Carl Valeri and Leigh Broxham, have options at centre back with Nick Ansell, Matthieu Delpierre, Giancarlo Gallifuoco and they have maybe the best shot-stopper in the competition with Vukovic. There is also a sprinkling of youth coming through in Rashid Mahazi and Thomas Deng. Kevin Muscat is no longer a rookie coach and knows what needs to be done for success. This is a team that knows how to win, is high on confidence and is ready to go.
Why they’ll do badly
Other teams will have studied Muscat’s men and will act accordingly. It’s unlikely Victory will enjoy the time and space they had on the ball so often last season. Milligan is gone and will surely leave a hole. Thompson and Ansell are injured for the first few rounds and the likes of Sydney FC and Melbourne City will come at them hard. Victory are now marked men and every team they face will be desperate to take them down.
The big questions
Can they back up after such an outstanding year?
Teams have done it before, but often they say defending a title is harder than winning one. Some players might be just a little bit more comfortable and lacking full motivation.
Is age a concern?
Berisha is 30, Finkler is 30, Valeri is 31, Delpierre is 34, Thompson is 36 and Khalfallah is 32. Are these key six players getting a little too long in the legs to go through another tough 27 rounds? We’ll know soon enough.
Will the Champions League impact on them?
We’ve seen in the past how an Asian Champions League campaign can throw the spanner in the works of an A-League season. It is a hard juggling act to balance and Muscat will need to be wily to know when to rest players and when to rotate his squad.
Key player: Besart Berisha
Without a doubt Berisha is the best striker in Australia. Wherever he goes he scores goals and wins, which his record backs up. So far he has collected two premierships, three championships and the Golden Boot award during his time in the A-League. The ultra-passionate, ultra-aggressive Albanian averages just over a goal every two games in the competition. If he maintains that average again, Victory will be near impossible to stop.
What they’ll be saying come April
This is one of the all-time great A-League teams with very few flaws.
We back them for more silverware - 1st.
Oliver Bozanic (free),
George Howard (promoted)
Danny Vukovic (Perth Glory)
Jordan Brown (released)
Nathan Coe (released)
Mark Milligan (Bani Yas)
Andrew Nabbout (released)