Coach Kevin Muscat has brought back two fan favourites this season – Marco Rojas and James Troisi – as he looks to take Melbourne Victory back to the top of the HyundaI A-League.
Victory look to have recruited strongly even though they missed out on two guest marquee targets in Alessandro Diamanti and Michael Essien, plus Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler departed for Wellington Phoenix, with defenders Alan Baro and James Donachie also moving to AAMI Park.
Having gone through pre-season undefeated, Victory are in ominous form heading into the A-League season opener away to Brisbane Roar.
The burning questions
- With captain Carl Valeri back to full fitness following a season interrupted by illness last term, will Victory be able to control games better than in 2015-16?
- Is Fahid Ben Khalfallah set to be squeezed out of the starting line-up following the arrival of Troisi, Rojas and Mitch Austin?
- Can Baro fill the large shoes of ex-Victory centre-back Mathieu Delpierre?
Lessons learnt from last season
Having won the double in 2014-15, Victory’s forward set-up was too set in stone last season with Besart Berisha, Finkler, Ben Khalfallah and Barbarouses locked into starting positions.
Troisi and Rojas should reinvigorate the attacking third of Muscat’s XI and can play in multiple positions, while Austin, Jai Ingham and up-and-coming teenager Sebastian Pasquali should push the starters throughout the campaign.
Muscat’s men face a tough start to 2016-17 with games against three of last season’s top four clubs – Roar, Melbourne City and Adelaide United – to begin the season.
A run of five matches out of six in Victoria from November 26 to January 2 could be a critical period for Victory, while the 2015 FFA Cup winners are hoping to go all the way to the final (November 29) again after reaching the last eight.
With two home matches against each of last season’s bottom three clubs – Central Coast Mariners, Wellington Phoenix and Newcastle Jets – Victory can be happy with plenty of elements of the new campaign’s draw.
March could be Victory’s toughest month, with trips to Sydney FC and Brisbane split by a home match against Perth Glory.
Despite finishing sixth last season, Victory had the equal second-best defence and with Valeri back, plus Baro and Donachie looking good in pre-season, Muscat’s side should be tough to break down again.
Marquee striker Berisha should also have more support this campaign, with Rojas and Troisi looking sharp since returning to the Big V.
The departure of former skipper Mark Milligan left a big hole last term – especially when Valeri was out due.
With Essien declining the opportunity to join Victory as a guest marquee and questions surrounding Oliver Bozanic’s defensive midfield suitability, Muscat may lack the solid pairing in the middle of the park he needs.
Since Ange Postecoglou took over at AAMI Park prior to Muscat’s tenure, Victory have tried to dominate possession, and they show no signs of changing.
Austin, Troisi and Rojas provide more pace to Victory’s attack than in previous years, while the former’s willingness to cross the ball from the left is different to Ben Khalfallah and Barbarouses’ wing play.
Sebastian Pasquali. The 16-year-old attacking midfielder arguably stole the show when Victory drew 1-1 with Juventus during July’s International Champions Cup.
While Muscat insists the teenager’s developing body isn’t ready for regular senior football, Pasquali is likely to impress whenever given an opportunity in Victory colours.
For clubs like Victory, nothing less than silverware is effectively a failure and Muscat’s recruitment – alongside football operations manager Paul Trimboli – backs up that notion.
The Big V’s squad should again be considered one of the strongest in the A-League, with Rojas and Troisi early nominees for recruit of the campaign.