Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Melbourne Derby Preview

Arise, arise ye sons and daughters of Melbourne, for the Derby is at hand.

This Saturday will see the two Victorian rivals take the field at Aami Park Etihad Stadium to determine, for good and all (or at least for the next few weeks), which club holds sway over the city of Melbourne - Victory or Heart.

Please do not buy an antique flint-lock rifle to challenge rival fans to formation firing contests. It turns out antique firearms are really expensive. And illegal.
Victory have historically been one of the most dominant clubs since the competition's inception; the Navy Blues have won two Premiership/Championship Doubles under former manager Ernie Merrick, and were thwarted to a third by Classico rivals Sydney FC. However, recent times haven't been nearly so prosperous. Brisbane and Central Coast have supplanted the former giants as top tier title contenders; the reigning Champions have dominated the A-League through an incredibly effective style of possession football. Merrick was found wanting, with former youth coach Durakovic promoted to the hot seat, and former captain Kevin Muscat as his assisstant.

Heart are the league's newest members. The Red and Whites sought to distinguish themselves from their more established rivals through a Continental style of football. There have been setbacks and losses along the way, but van't Schip has largely succeeded in creating a unique elan that will influence the club's fortunes for decades to come.

The first derby was a watershed moment for the A-League. Victory went into the contest as favourites for the inaugural triumph, but it was Heart who dominated the contest, largely through the performance of marauding fullback Aziz Behich. The third derby was overshadowed by the controverisal incident involving Muscat's dangerous challenge on electric Heart winger Adrian Zahra.

The current season hasn't been particularly kind to either club. And it was all looking so much brighter before Round 1. Victory had just snared the greatest recruitment coup in the history of the A-League in signing Harry Kewell. Heart had overhauled their ageing playing roster and looked set to mount a dark horse title challenge thanks to an forward line bolstered by speed merchants David Williams and Mate Dugandzic. Heart and Victory are both yet to post wins on the table, with the Red and Whites sitting dead last.

Enough with the past. Let's take a look at what we can expect from both sides come Saturday evening.

So far this season, the Navy Blues have held Sydney FC to a cagey nil-all draw, and suffered 1-0 defeat to Adelaide while going a man down. Adrian Leijer has been suspended for this game. Foschini will probably form a make-shift defensive partnership with Vargas, with Kemp returning to right fullback.

The real mystery surrounds the deployment of Victory playmaker, drawcard and celebrity, Harry Kewell. He has now spent time as the trequartista and the central striker. Generally speaking, he performed brightly in both roles, but was more effective and more influential as the former.

Against Sydney, Danny Allsopp was effective at using his physicality to occupy both centre backs to create space for Kewell to operate in, between the opposition lines of defence and midfield. Kewell ran riot as the advanced playmaker, his diagonal through passes enabling Rojas and Thompson to make runs behind the defence.

Against Adelaide, Kewell was less influential as the central striker. As PM explained, the difference between his performance as the striker for Victory and the Socceroos has to do with the role he was instructed to play. Osieck asked Kewell to perform as a creative forward, sharing the physical burden with Tim Cahill. Durakovic asked Kewell to perform as the 'battering ram/spearhead' of his formation, tasked with running the channels and holding up the ball. With Hernandez dropping deep when out of possession, Kewell looked isolated.

Solorzano has been lively in his two cameos so far. He is far too good a player to be used as a super-sub. Expect his fine form to be rewarded with a starting spot. Solorzano is able at using his physicality to create space as Allsopp was, but looks more creative and certainly more lethal.

There are question marks hanging over the Victory defence. PM previously questioned Victory's defensive depth and there is potential for them to be exposed without captain Adrian Leijer. Then again, Durakovic favours a relatively conservative double pivot, so that should provide a measure of security.

So far this season, Heart have suffered two defeats; 3-2  to Newcastle and 2-1 to Perth. Midfield generalissmo Fred has sustained a hamstring injury. Expect Heart to revert to a double pivot in midfield. Bolton and Colosimo should return to the line-up, having recovered from injury lay-offs.

Heart's two performances so far this season have been very tactically interesting. Van't Schip's line-ups have been remarkably attacking; against Newcastle and Perth, he has fielded only two nominal defenders. While there have been noticeable defensive flaws, Heart have also been prey to some astoundingly bad fortune. The last gasp goal by Byun came from a horrid deflection, while Smeltz's second came from a wayward clearance attempt.

The whole complexion of Heart's line up looks more secure with a double pivot. Heart needs to rectify conceding to opposition pressing; as noted by PM you don't beat a press by thumping it long. You defeat a press by continuing to pass. The fullbacks and defensive midfielders need to make themselves available as passing options for the keeper and centre backs.

Expect Behich and and Dugandzic to be very influential. Undoubtedly coming up against former colleagues will get their blood up. Behich holds the distinction for being the first player to represent both clubs, while Dugandzic holds the distinction for being the first player to actually cross over.

Cut the crap PM, who's going to win?:
Honestly, PM can't pick this one. Both defences have looked shaky. Add that to the injury issues both clubs have faced and the result becomes harder to predict. And yet both forward lines have looked lethal. Williams' speed inverted on the left has been sensational. Kewell's ability to play the killer pass as trequartista has been magnificent. It's going to be vital for both sides to maintain discipline. Derbies have a habit of bringing out the red mist; going down a man may prove fatal to aspirations of triumph.

Danger Men:
Kewell and Solorzano
Williams, Dugandzic and Behich

Media reports indicate Thompson will resume the No 9 role. Cernak will perhaps be deployed on the left-wing.


The Axe said...

Rojas has talent and some tricks but is still young and decision making at times shaky. Appears to tire before the end of the game. Why not play him off the bench as an impact player when opposition is getting weary and his trickery could be more effective.

Pass and Move said...

Thanks Axe, appreciate your comment.

Rojas has done very well. He's made PM look pretty stupid - we bet against him making it at MVC in the short term. Part of that has to with the fact that he's performed brightly (youthful mistakes aside) but perhaps theres also a need to fulfill assurances to Marco that he would get playing time.

There are also only two 'starting' wingers in the MVC squad, Rojas and Cernak. So that might have something to do with it.