Despite enduring a jittery start to the 17/18 campaign, Melbourne Victory’s quality eventually shone through last season, clinching the accolade of grand final winners.

With the squad assembled this season, Kevin Muscat’s boys look more assured to rise up to the task of progressing out of the AFC Asian Champions League group stages, into the round of 16, a feat they only managed to achieve once. All but not forgetting the task at home, where they will defend the toilet seat, and push for the league title.

Embed from Getty Images

Last season

Regular Season: 4th
Finals Series: Winners
FFA Cup: Round of 16
AFC Champions League: Group stage

They’ll win the league because…

Their attack is one to behold. They have reinforced well and are not to be messed with.

Besart Berisha’s venerable stature at Victory is irreplaceable, but his scoring boots might be. Bringing with him bags of top flight experience from the English, French and Dutch leagues, Sweden’s Ola Toivonen looks more than capable in filling the role vacated by the league’s all time scorer. The target man’s task will probably be made easier with the help of one of Asia’s finest players, Keisuke Honda. The fresh World Cup stars both have assists and goals to their name in Russia, but will now look to register them together, for Victory.

Out wide, Kosta Barabrouses and James Troisi will look to further torment A-League defences with bags of flair and trickery. Possessing a fine mix of international and domestic league knowledge, Victory’s 2018/19 attack has the potential to be the most potent strike force the league has seen.

The defensive captures of former Stuttgart defender Georg Niedermeier, and Granada defensive midfielder Raul Baena further reinforces Victory’s all round outlook this season. The retention of Lawrence ‘Mummy’ Thomas for just one more season could prove to be a victorious one for the keeper, and the team.

Embed from Getty Images

They’ll be cellar dwellers because…

Any injuries to their players could spell big trouble.

Apart from Leigh Broxham being the all too familiar stand in deputy for any backline issues, the club can only offer a roster of young, untested defenders as backup. This Victory squad faces a similar headache further up the field, out wide.

Mitch Austin and Christian Theoharous were the first of 3 wingers to depart Victory in the off-season. Following closely, the departure (or riddance) of Leroy George was emblematic of the issue the squad faced. The club’s intention to recoup and regroup in other departments has left the young Nicholas Sette and Jai Ingham as only other wing options at the club. The integrity of Muscat’s squad will be seriously tested when the flurry of AFC Champions League fixtures come knocking early February next year.

Talk around the watercooler… look smart in front of your colleagues with this valuable piece of information.

Honda’s a busy man. Alongside his playing career at the club, Honda has a separate piece of business with Cambodia, as the general manager of the Cambodia national team. Honda’s connection with the South East Asian nation became apparent in 2016 when he took on the role of Cambodia’s cultural ambassador.

In the same year, Honda launched his own football academy in Phnom Penh and purchased league outfit Soltilo Angkor FC, which operates in Cambodia’s top football division. Honda’s ongoing role with the national team will see him hold weekly video conferences with Cambodian coaching staff and travel to Cambodia when his schedule allows.

Some Victory fans might recognise the 32 year old’s efforts as basic, Japanese hardworking ethos, but some might question his commitment to the Victory cause. Did we also mention that Honda recently launched a venture capital fund with Will Smith? It’s a tough gig for a footballer to ply his trade overseas, but to throw in a managerial role of a foreign nation nearly 7000km away? It’s all a bit too much isn’t it? But let’s leave it to Honda to prove us wrong, the man has way to conjure magic on the pitch.

Embed from Getty Images

The offseason brought…

Victory fans on rollercoaster ride.

It seemed like transfers were only headed one way, with an eventual 11 players departing Victory. But the club did fantastically well to fill nearly all of the gaps vacated, down to individual positions. The capture of Honda stunned not only A-League fans, but the footballing community worldwide.

However, it was another Japanese player that was at the centre of attention when NSW NPL side APIA Leichhardt Tigers remarkably dumped Victory out of the FFA Cup. Tasuku Sekiya’s brace and a Nathan Millgate winner saw Victory crash out of the competition in what is possibly the biggest upset in cup history.

The side that faced APIA was far from stuff of grand final champions, or what is assembled now, but the performance on that night was much to be desired. On hindsight, this has left all squad members with the onus of maintaining a clean bill of health and undergo crucial training in the off season. Victory fans have almost forgotten about that dent in the off season and are roaring for the season to get underway. Expectations have been set high, and are rightfully warranted.

Embed from Getty Images

Key player…

Kosta Barbarouses.

Victory suffered a form dip early in the 2017/18 season, partly attributed to Barbarouses’ absence on club front, as he unsuccessfully attempted to help New Zealand qualify for the World Cup. This season, Barbarouses will be more important than ever. As the club’s only senior, outright winger, the fans will be begging the football gods to do everything in their power to keep him injury free. Barbarouses’ tenacity and capacity to remain unfazed by the ACL’s mid week travels see him consistently feature in Victory’s starting lineups.

His ability to maintain his blistering pace throughout 90 minutes has seen him only subbed off 6 out of 25 games (24%) in the A League. Muscat’s faith in the longevity of Barbarouses’ performances has seen the latter deliver pivotal moments of greatness in big games. No stranger to a tidy finish, Barbarouses needs to retain the form he displayed in pockets of last season and in off-season friendlies, for Victory to shine as a unit. Muscat’s crusade to victory on all fronts will definitely feature Barbarouses as one of the lead actors.

Embed from Getty Images

One to watch…

Thomas Deng.

One simply doesn’t forget his volley against Western Sydney Wanderers. But Deng is more than just a defender who loves to push up the pitch. His 2016/17 stint in the PSV Eindhoven youth set up has seen him since grow into a speedy centre back with the competency to operate on the right as well. Returning to the A-League in the season after, the 21-year-old was nominated for the 2017/18 NAB Young Footballer of the Year award. Deng boasted a 69.2% successful tackle rate, the highest amongst his more senior centre back colleagues.

The Australian of South Sudanese decent is set to slot right into the starting berth this season, pairing up with Niedermeier to shore up Victory’s backline. Deng will look to further develop the tricks of the defending trade, from the former Bundesliga hardman. Only recently called up to the national set-up, we could be looking at a Socceroo star in the making. Remember the name.

Embed from Getty Images

Full squad list…

GOALKEEPERS
1. Matthew ACTON
20. Lawrence THOMAS
30. Matthew SUTTON
40. Majak MAWITH

DEFENDERS
2. Storm ROUX
3. Corey BROWN
5. Georg NIEDERMEIER
14. Thomas DENG
22. Nick ANSELL
31. Benjamin CARRIGAN

MIDFIELDERS
4. Keisuke HONDA
5. Leigh BROXHAM
8. Terry ANTONIS
10. James TROISI
15. Raul BAENA
16. Josh HOPE
21. Carl VALERI
25. Birkan KIRDAR
32. Thiel IRADUKUNDA

FORWARDS
7. Kenny ATHIU
9. Kosta BARBAROUSES
11. Ola TOIVONEN
23. Jai INGHAM
26. Nicholas SETTE

INS

Birkan Kirdar (Promoted)
Corey Brown (Brisbane Roar)
Georg Niedermeier (SC Freiburg)
Keisuke Honda (free agent)
Majak Mawith (Promoted)
Nicholas Sette (Promoted)
Nick Ansell (Tondela)
Ola Toivonen (Toulouse)
Raul Baena (loan from Granada)
Storm Roux (Central Coast Mariners)

OUTS

Besart Berisha (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
Cameron McGilp (Birmingham U23)
Christian Theoharous (Borussia Mönchengladbach II)
James Donachie (Jeonnam Dragons)
Leroy George (Baniyas SC)
Matias Sanchez (Club Atlético San Martín)
Mitch Austin (Newcastle Jets)
Pierce Waring (Cerezo Osaka)
Rhys Williams (Al Qadisiyah)
Stefan Nigro (Brisbane Roar)

Feature Image Credit: Anita Milas

SHARE
A journalism undergrad at Monash University, Kai is a multimedia journalist covering Melbourne Victory. Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. Once "stole" Shinji Kagawa's plane ticket.