They’re the defending champions and the favourites to take out another title. Joey Ratcliffe runs the rule over Melbourne Victory in another 2015-16 A-League season preview.
Manager: Kevin Muscat
Captain: Carl Valeri
Ins: Danny Vukovic (Perth Glory), Oliver Bozanic (FC Luzern), Giancarlo Gallifuoco (Swansea)
Outs: Mark Milligan (Baniyas), Andrew Nabbout (released), Nathan Coe (released)
Last Season: 1st
2014-15 was… A massive success. They didn’t run away with the league as, for most of the season, it was one of the tightest in history. Victory had to win it in the last game after a five-way battle with Perth, Sydney, Wellington and Adelaide ended in the boys in Navy Blue winning the Premiership.
The writing was on the wall when Besart Berisha debuted in the opening game of the season, a 4-1 win at home against the Western Sydney Wanderers, who had made the Grand Final in the previous season.
They spent much of the season in second place as Perth Glory led the field before their salary cap scandal. Perth were banished from the finals and it was mostly downhill for them from then on and, usually, a punishment like that would put an asterisk on the eventual champions.
However, as was the quality of Victory last season, they won on their own merits and only a brave man would argue that Perth were a truly better side than the Victorians.
2014-15 will be… Much of the same from Melbourne after retaining their potent forward players Guilherme Finkler, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Berisha and Kosta Barbarouses.
That four, when played together, are one of the best forward lines in A-League history – if not the best. In last year’s Grand Final, when Victory thumped Sydney FC 3-0, their forward line was on song.
They were led that day by Mark Milligan, and not just with the armband. A keystone in midfield is crucial to such a dynamic frontline and Milligan’s departure leaves a massive hole in their squad. However, with the addition of Oliver Bozanic and the increased role of new captain Carl Valeri, the Victory should be almost unbeatable.
Kevin Muscat, helped under the tutelage of Socceroo’s manager Ange Postecoglou, has been an impressive tactician – on and off the field. The Victory legend will only grow as he gains another year under his belt.
Key Player: Fahid Ben Khalfallah.
An argument could be forward that Bozanic will be their key player as replacing Milligan is the most important hole to fill in their squad. However, for most of last season, their success was built on the outlet of the Tunisian Khalfallah. His presence and technique would build attacks with such pace and ferocity and opposing teams often failed to counteract him.
This season will be no different. Khalfallah could have easily left Victory after tough contract negotiations, but after coming to a resolution and keeping him under the cap, manager Muscat will be able to use the tricky winger to the same potential.
What, or whom, do Melbourne Victory need? A strong midfield. With the brute force of their front three supported by the creativity of their playmaker Finkler, Victory need two sturdy players to support their backline and provide the necessary transitional play.
Valeri is the obvious candidate alongside Bozanic and Leigh Broxham. Last year, with the injury to dominant centre-back Matthieu Delpierre, Broxham had to slip into the backline instead of the usual centre positions.
If Muscat can keep a preferred backline fit, Valeri, Bozanic, Broxham and Rashid Mahazi should be the four players that fill the two spots that will drive the Victory motor and allow the front four to flourish.
The Blog FC Predicted Finish: 1st