Archie Thompson’s public outbursts last week about what he seems to see as a God-given right to lead the line for the Melbourne Victory (to be fair, he is the all-time leading A-League scorer, for the time being), questions can and should be raised about Mehmet Durakovic’s ability to control the egos in his squad and produce effective football, especially after he seemingly gave in to Thompson in the Melbourne derby. It was a big risk that in the end perhaps vindicated Durakovic’s decision to play him out wide previously, but also proved what has been obvious through all three Victory games so far, something is very wrong with their movement while they have the ball. Defensively, the side has been fairly solid and easily kept their Yarra-side rivals scoreless but their attacking woes have Victory fans used to some of the best attacking football in the league calling for the manager’s head already. Some serious work has to be done on the training park, but I think the key factor will be where Durakovic decides to play Harry Kewell.
Victory fans have been calling for a change of formation, but I think there is nothing inherently wrong with the 4-2-3-1 system that Durakovic has favoured, his problems are personnel and movement both on and off the ball when Melbourne have possession. Durakovic inherited an already formidable strikeforce, including Victory legends Archie Thompson and Danny Allsopp (first and third respectively on the A-League all-time goal-scoring list), as well as attacking midfielder Carlos Hernández, which has since been massively strengthened with the additions of Isaka Cernak, Marco Rojas, Jean-Carlos Solórzano, and arguably Australia’s greatest ever footballer in the aforementioned Kewell. Any one of those seven players could walk into any other A-League side, and Durakovic has to figure out the best combination of those players inside his system and to then have them playing effective football together. It may just be that Durakovic has given himself too many options, especially when he tries to fit only four of them into the side; what is obvious is that he hasn’t been able to decide who his best attacking four are and as a result hasn’t given any of them time to gel together; he hasn’t even figured out where to play his best player. All of this is most obvious when the ball is played into the feet of the wide players in static positions, with no one offering support or making runs into the final third and frequently finding themselves surrounded by the opposition before easily losing the ball. The front four aren’t the only culprits in the failure to keep possession though, the midfield two aren’t helping matters and this is where I feel the most important change should be made.
The double-pivot in the centre of midfield against the Heart was manned by Grant Brebner and Leigh Broxham who, while both competent footballers, are bit too similar and were both easily squeezed out of the game by their rival’s high-pressing midfield. It appears as though the intention is for Brebner to play as an anchor man, breaking up the opposition attacks and quickly distributing the ball to Broxham or the full-backs and for Broxham to support the attacking players through intelligent passing and the occasional run into the box; unfortunately for the Victory he has done little of the former and none of the latter. This is the role where I believe Harry Kewell should be deployed, as a deep-lying playmaker. I feel that Durakovic has got it wrong in trying to play Kewell as high up the park as he has and expect him to create opportunities when there are no players making runs ahead of him. Kewell has been marked out of the game when he has played in the middle, found himself with very few passing options when he has moved out wide and is often given the ball in very static positions, leaving him with little time and space to beat players. Despite this, Kewell undoubtedly has the skill, intelligence and tackling ability (he played at the back on multiple occasions for Galatasaray) to dictate games from the middle of the park. With his passing range and vision he could turn defence into attack in a moment, cut-backs to him at the top of the area from out wide would let him run at defences and unleash his killer left foot and if sides try to double-mark him spaces could be created in the final third. Moving Kewell towards central midfield would also allow Carlos Hernández to take his place in behind the striker, and open up the potential for a dynamic partnership between the two; Kewell and Hernández could become the most dangerous double-team Australia has ever seen.
This still leaves the deficiencies in movement on the wings, though moving Kewell into the middle should vastly increase the quality of build-up play. I feel that Durakovic should stick with ‘inside-out’ wingers as he has so far, but that the players should be making better attempts to make diagonal runs into the box, especially when the ball is on the opposite flank. Potentially they could even play two more orthodox strikers with only one winger in something approaching an asymmetrical 4-2-2-2. Kewell also needs to mentor the young Rojas and Cernak on when to take on their man and when to pass or cross, something that has also hindered the side in the opening rounds of this season, and is a very good reason to Archie Thompson to play wide on the left, no matter how much he wants to lead the line.
It would be very simplistic to say that these simple changes would suddenly get Melbourne Victory racking up goals as coaching a top football side is far more complex than that and far more complex that most fans probably realise, but they are the direction I would be heading in if I were Mehmet Durakovic. This is the side I would put out against Wellington Phoenix this weekend, sitting deep and hitting them on the counter to take advantage of their lack of pace in midfield and defence: