Where to now for Melbourne City?

Three losses in their last four games, only two wins in their last 10 and seven players out suspended for one of their biggest games of the year.

Tim Cahill

Melbourne City striker Tim Cahill Source: Getty Images

Will it only get worse for Melbourne City from here, or can they still rescue their season and be a genuine force in the finals? The World Game investigates.

The best chance Melbourne City will get to turn things around in what threatens to develop into a horror season for them comes straight away, in a game they are not expected to win.

They are on their knees in the wake of their derby loss to Melbourne Victory, so much so that a Brisbane Roar team that is returning from having played a midweek Asian Champions League game in China is favoured to beat them on their home turf at AAMI Park on Saturday.

So what would a City win mean under those circumstances? It would be enormous. It would lift their spirits and put the heat on those players who will be missing from this match to get things right when they are available to return the following week.

But how do they get it? That is obviously the hard part.

The Roar are coming off a three-game stretch of two wins, over Wellington Phoenix and Western Sydney Wanderers, and a draw against competition leaders Sydney FC in the A-League, and a fabulous, 2-0 win over Shanghai Shenhua in an ACL qualifier.

But they are only human. They have had to travel to and from China and will be playing just three days after taking the field over there. Many of the starting players in the Brisbane side will be backing up from that game.

Tactics are one thing for City and it is obviously always important to try to get them right. The Roar have been hard to break down in defence and their record of having conceded 21 goals in 18 games is second only to Sydney FC's phenomenal nine in 19.

But their defence is disrupted for this game, with central defender Jade North out suspended and fullback Jack Hingert out injured. City have to do their utmost to try to take advantage of that, even with their depleted attack.

More than anything, though, City must have the right attitude. They must be prepared to make the game an energy-zapping one for the Roar by trying to run them off their legs in a bid to find the bottom of the gas tank.

Like the last man to play at AAMI Park before this game, Bruce Springsteen, sang: "No retreat, baby, no surrender."

But what sort of team will City field, with Bruno Fornaroli, Tim Cahill, Luke Brattan, Osama Malik, Fernando Brandan and Manny Muscat each suspended for one match and goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis for five?

Central defender Michael Jakobsen was forced off at halftime against Victory with a calf injury, but has been named in the squad for this match. If he does play, it will help a lot, because their defensive stocks would have been dangerously stretched otherwise.

The obvious back four is Jakobsen and Ruon Tongyik in the centre and Ivan Franjic and Josh Rose as fullbacks.
The three midfielders would likely be Neil Kilkenny, Anthony Caceres and Paulo Retre, and the three front men Bruce Kamau and Nicolas Colazo as wingers and Nick Fitzgerald at striker.

That is presuming coach Michael Valkanis isn't tempted to use of his current youth-team players as starters. Many of them have been drafted into what is currently an 18-man squad that will be cut to 16 on game day.

Sources of inspiration? Goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen could be one.

The 40-year-old was last season's A-League goalkeeper of the year, but has been benched for the vast majority of this season. He is a hugely popular figure at the club - if he were to have a cracker of a game it would lift those around him.

City must improve their discipline. It has been poor this season. They have the worst overall record in the league, with 51 yellow cards and three reds.

Many of the players responsible for that record are out of this game for collecting too many yellows and when they come back they must be smarter about their tackling and less prone to meaningless confrontations.

Valkanis is the coach for the rest of this season. He has got to be hard on his players, regardless of whether it rubs a few of them the wrong way.

Maybe he is doing that behind the scenes, who knows, but they need it. Their coach now, and in the future, whoever that may be, has got to tell the players some harsh home truths.

Finishing in the top two appears out of reach for City. They should still finish top four, from where they can be threatening in the finals series, but they need to get it together again quickly. They showed with their form early in the season what they were capable of doing.

City face a huge challenge right now, but this game against Brisbane is the perfect place to start the fight-back. A hard-fought win against the odds would be fantastic for the club.

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5 min read
Published 10 February 2017 at 1:44pm
By Greg Prichard