Number 9… Number 9… Number 9…
Much of the buzz surrounding City and the A-League as a whole this year surrounds the number nine. Some Spanish guy will wear the number nine shirt for part of City’s campaign. David Villa. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer may have only arrived in Australia in the past week, but as soon as he jogs onto the pitch against Sydney FC, he will immediately become the most highly credentialed player to feature in an A-League match. As a guest player, Villa can only play in 10 matches for City, and some have already speculated that the 32-year-old may find the going tougher than expected, particularly as he has barely trained with his new teammates. But Villa has made a career out of finding the net regularly, and he will certainly add flair, class and (hopefully) goals to the team. How City copes after his departure could define the team's season.
Our number one problem?
City’s biggest problem is probably between the sticks, where Andrew Redmayne and Tando Velaphi have been battling it out during the preseason for the number one role. Redmayne held sway for much of last season, but he has never truly convinced supporters that he is a long-term solution. Velaphi featured in Heart’s final few games last season and has taken on a more prominent role this preseason, but John van ‘t Schip is yet to reveal who will don the gloves this weekend.
Unfortunately, despite displaying promising form and signs early in their respective professional careers, neither Redmayne nor Velaphi have become especially reliable or convincing in regular first-team action. Redmayne has a tendency to make difficult saves appear easy before letting saveable near-post shots creep past him at the near post, while Velaphi often flounders under high balls and struggles to command space. Just as it did last season, the goalkeeping position looms as a big unknown.
Go and have a look at the Team section on Melbourne City’s official website. Here’s the squad breakdown:
Goalkeepers – 2
Defenders – 4
Midfielders – 11
Strikers – 6
Granted, several of the players listed as midfielders will likely feature more prominently in other positions – Garrucio and Ramsay will likely battle it out for the left full-back spot, for example – but JvS and co have clearly built this squad from the inside out, and the engine room is undoubtedly City’s strongest asset.
The squad has a particular abundance of central midfielders, with Heart holdovers Massimo Murdocca, Nick Kalmar, Jonathan Germano and Stefan Mauk to fight it out with new recruits Koren, Aaron Mooy and Erik Paartalu for two, possibly three spots in the first XI.
The late signing of Paartalu could prove City’s shrewdest decision, as the former Brisbane Roar man’s robust defensive work should provide a platform for the more creative Mooy and Koren – and even Irish winger Damien Duff – to pick out passes and launch attacks.
NEED MOAR FULL-BACKS
While City’s wealth of midfield options is clear, so too is the squad’s dearth of full-backs. In fact, the squad does not have ONE genuine full-back, with converted midfielders Jason Hoffman and Jonatan Germano likely to battle it out for the right-back position, and one of either Ben Garuccio and Iain Ramsay, both converted left wingers, to patrol that side. JvS has continually demonstrated a penchant for attack-minded players in the left and right-back spots during his time with Heart/City, which can leave the defence exposed when the guys deployed there, who are neither natural nor strong at the position, play instinctively and venture too far forward. It would have been nice to see the club sign a full-back – we haven’t had a consistently strong player on either side of the back four since former right-back Michael Marrone. Instead, we’ll need to cross our fingers and hope Hoffman builds on his unexpectedly solid 2013-14 campaign and the Garuccio/Ramsay experience at left-back yields more highlights than facepalms.
Just a lick of paint?
Fans and commentators have been largely bullish on City’s prospects for this season, and the vibe surrounding the team has been overwhelmingly positive since Manchester City’s takeover in January. Many of the cosmetic changes have been accepted, albeit begrudgingly in some cases, but I’d argue that we should not expect a similar quantum leap in on-field performance this season. The side may have been bolstered by the addition of European stars and young Australian talent, but more than half of last season’s squad remains. Remember, that squad finished last in the ever-competitive A-League, and whilst it has clearly been strengthened, it’s not as though the other teams have rested on their respective laurels. City will almost certainly perform better this year, but a finals appearance, let alone a title, is far from a fait accompli.
HAVE YOUR SAY: What do you see as Melbourne City's main strengths/weaknesses this season?
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