The acquisition of Tim Cahill has the A-League buzzing ahead of season 12. With the weight of expectation on his shoulders, can the veteran’s presence inspire Melbourne City to a maiden title?
It was all about the partnership of Aaron Mooy and Bruno Fornaroli. The pair illuminated a number of contests with their undeniable quality, underlining City’s best, most exciting campaign to date.
The Uruguayan was the spearhead of an attack that managed a competition high 63 goals in the home and away season. With two rounds remaining, top spot was still up for grabs, but a late fade denied City who eventually slumped to a fourth placed finish.
A home elimination final against Perth Glory followed, with City easily dispatching the Diego Castro-less side 2-0, but that was as good as it got. A 4-1 loss to eventual premiers Adelaide United followed, as John van’t Schip’s side were left to rue not being able to secure a top two spot.
Firepower: The aforementioned arrival of Cahill as guest marquee is the most illustrious in a long list of off-season additions for City. An attack that already boasted Bruno Fornaroli has been strengthened further with fellow South American imports Nicolas Colazo and Fernando Brandan. Former Adelaide United winger Bruce Kamau adds another dimension with his speed and guile in tight areas.
Control: The void left by Aaron Mooy is to be filled by returning Socceroos Luke Brattan and Neil Kilkenny. Early signs suggest that more often than not, City will monopolise possession. Kilkenny’s clever ball retention and creativity is complimented by Brattan’s aggressive attack-minded style, akin to that of Mooy in some facets of his game. Anthony Caceres would start for the majority of A-League clubs, further underlining City’s strength in midfield depth.
Defensive solidity: It has remained as an ongoing concern for van’t Schip’s side in recent years, but significant steps have been made to resolve the issue. Veteran goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen now has a sturdy defence ahead of him. Danish central defender Michael Jakobsen looks to be a commanding figure to replace the departing Alex Wilkinson, while Ivan Franjic is set to return to action in November. Manny Muscat provides a great depth option with vast A-League experience, while Joshua Rose is expected to provide pace and quality in wide areas when called upon.
It's the first week of the @ALeague season and this is how we are feeling!
RT if you are ready for Round 1 on Saturday! pic.twitter.com/zStEW2GEqP
— Melbourne City FC (@MelbourneCity) October 2, 2016
Cahill factor: While the guest marquee spot was an option available to all teams, City are the only teams to take advantage of it. Their cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory had a move for Alessandro Diamanti rejected by Football Federation Australia (FFA), while negotiations with Michael Essien broke down when a deal seemed imminent. Beside his obvious quality as a footballer, his presence will improve City’s matchday atmosphere.
Questions surrounding a fragile mentality were remedied in part as City charged towards the finals series. It is a problem that should be helped further by bringing in strong figures such as Cahill, Brattan and Jakobsen.
Despite the arrival of the Danish defender, concerns remain. Osama Malik has shown himself to be a solid cog in a well oiled machine, but hardly a match-winner. Similarly so for Connor Chapman, who is a more natural defender than Malik, but is still developing his game as a 21-year-old.
Franjic will not be apart of calculations until November, and if Jakobsen goes down injured, that team suddenly looks extremely top-heavy and could be exposed by the better sides in the division.
Expected XI (4-2-2-2): Sorensen (GK), Franjic, Malik, Jakobsen, Rose, Brattan, Kilkenny, Brandan, Colazo, Cahill, Fornaroli.
Prediction – Champions
Barring catastrophe, smart recruitment suggests a top two finish and grand final appearance is a formality. Apart from noticeable quality on the pitch, City have brought in strong characters – a necessity for any title hopeful.
However, local rivals Melbourne Victory will provide a stern test, as will the likes of Sydney FC and Perth Glory. An influx of quality additions all over the country has ensured season 12 will be the most competitive yet.
The favourites tag has not sat well with the club in the past, but it should not matter now. The fans expect silverware, and the players are primed for it. The time is now for Melbourne City.