A thoroughly productive winter sees Melbourne Victory in imposing shape ahead of the looming A-League campaign.
Victory’s title defence did not go to plan. After a strong start, the then champions endured a run of five straight matches without a win around the halfway point of the season. Following that, Kevin Muscat’s team never regained continuity and enjoyed only sporadic success, with the campaign coming to a heartbreaking conclusion in week one of the finals.
Having lost a number of stars that were imperative to the double-success of 2014-15, the club has not only replaced, but in many cases, improved upon those names.
Victory look ominous in the final-third despite losing the likes of championship heroes Gui Finkler, Kosta Barbarouses and Archie Thompson. Mitch Austin has joined, while James Troisi and Marco Rojas have both returned from ill-fated stints overseas, and the partnership between the latter two forwards is already looking menacing.
Both players were on the scoresheet in Victory’s FFA Cup quarter-final win over Bentleigh Greens and produced a brilliant combination goal in a closed friendly against Sydney FC a number of weeks earlier, a sure sign of things to come from what could prove to be the league’s most lethal double-act.
— Melbourne Victory (@gomvfc) September 7, 2016
Between Austin and Fahid Ben Khalfallah, the Victory will enjoy tactical diversity on the left-hand side, blessed with a choice between pace and incisive creativity.
Particularly after the club’s bid to sign former Chelsea star Michael Essien broke down at the 11th hour, Victory could find themselves short of depth across midfield, more so in the defensive posts.
Muscat will be banking on captain Carl Valeri and his ability to stay fit after missing a large portion of last season with a mystery brain condition. As a result, Victory struggled and looked down on drive and solidity through the middle. Oliver Bozanic felt his absence more than most, forced to play a more defensive role rather than as a box-to-box midfielder, as was intended.
New addition Alan Baro and seasoned campaigner Leigh Broxham will both be able to play in the No.6 role when called upon, but the hopes of success rest with the captain. A fit Valeri means composure in midfield as well as a freed-up Bozanic, equalling a more dynamic Victory.
Melbourne Victory is a club that expects nothing other than success, and with the abundance of talent Muscat has been able to gather, there should be little excuse for them not to make a serious play on both the championship and the premiership.
Along with geographical neighbours Melbourne City, Sydney FC and Perth Glory, Victory possess a standout squad that challenges the overall quality of the 2014-15 team that romped to the double.
Further still, they are not involved in the Asian Champions League so will not feel the added weight of international travel.
Fans will stop short of labelling their team as title favourite, but there is little doubt that only the golden toilet seat will do.