The unexpected disparity in Melbourne’s three A-League teams

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A new addition to the roster of Melbourne football teams was always expected to cause a shift in dynamic this season. But not like this.

Consistently deemed second best to Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City’s current success is nothing short of surprising. And with new boys Western United flying through their maiden campaign Melbourne football has changed in a way that no one was expecting.

Finishing fifth last season City are currently perched comfortably at the top of the table.

Their initial success is largely due to new manager, Erik Mombaerts who was well aware of the remit to overhaul City’s playing style when he was signed in June earlier this year.

Mombaerts’ coaching resume is as impressive as it is vast, spanning more than three decades at the top level across France and Japan. The offensive and possession-based style has been picked up with ease by newly structured and organised players.

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Marquee signing Jamie Maclaren flew high at the start of the season with five goals in three games but was sidelined with a hamstring injury against Western United.

Despite Maclaren’s absence the likes of Josh Brilliante, Adrian Luna and Craig Noone have thrived under Mombaerts protecting their undefeated run against Western Sydney Wanderers.

Yet, City’s newfound success isn’t the most surprising thing about this season. It’s Western United thriving and Melbourne Victory who have been floundering beneath them.

United’s success isn’t all that surprising especially when looking at the quality of the player’s they secured in the off-season. Key visa signings including Alessandro Diamanti and Panagiotis Kone have introduced a classier version of football to A-League.

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United staged a three-goal comeback against Victory in their inaugural derby. After a two-goal deficit, United managed to recover 2-2 at halftime before Scott McDonald scored the winner in the second half.

Despite it being Western’s first season the impact they have already made on the league has been impressive.

Managing a win against Victory has shown that there’s no awkward play or fumbling from the new boys. Only cohesive attacks and strong defence.

The angst of Victory fans is strong after their team has only won one match against Brisbane Roar this season.

The biggest club in the league is offering no excuses after being called to finish first in the off season. But predictions are only predictions and Victory are stuck in the middle of the table. Echoing their average start to the season.

After the departure of Kevin Muscat and high-profile players including Keisuke Honda, Kosta Barbarouses, Terry Antonis and veteran skipper Carl Valeri, Victory’s new squad were always going to have big shoes to fill.

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Key defensive issues are infecting Victory’s midfield. Despite Tim Hoogland out due to injury, on paper the quality of Kristijan Dobras, Migjen Basha and Jakob Poulsen should have had his position covered comfortably.

Yet, it’s an area of play that hasn’t been performing as it should. The trio is having trouble inflicting half of the pressure Valeri was able to apply on his own.

Staying with the club is Ola Toivonen, a rare sign of light in darker times.  The newly appointed skipper is doing more than his fair share at trying to boost the club’s efforts.

Scoring Victory’s first goal of the season and setting up their second, there’s little more the Swedish national could have done to try help his team’s opening start.

This A-League season has brought many surprises to Melbourne football. Melbourne City have long been considered underdogs when compared to Victory.

Yet the introduction of United and new issues in Victory’s midfield and defence have changed the course of Melbourne football. For the moment at least.

Feature Image Credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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Suzanna Telai
Football enthusiast and student journalist, covering Western United for the 2019/20 A-League season