Melbourne City’s star-studded front three is doomed to fail

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Although on paper Melbourne City’s all-Socceroo attacking trio is one of the best ever assembled in the A-League Men, in practice there is a stylistic incompatibility which threatens to derail the side’s season.

Patrick Kisnorbo’s team have a problem. After romping to the A-League Men’s double last season, City have struggled to replicate the explosive game style which brought them so much success in 2020/21.

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Perhaps the most significant aspect of City’s uninspired early season form is how much less threatening they look going forward than they did in their championship-winning campaign.

Last season, City were irresistible in attack as Jamie Maclaren led the team to a league-best 57 goals. Maclaren scored 25 of those goals, strolling to his third golden boot award.

Ahead of this season, Melbourne City strengthened their attack even further by signing Mathew Leckie.

The addition of the veteran Socceroo offered a daunting prospect for opposition sides, as City appeared set to tear the competition apart with their unmatched attacking quality.

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Leckie and Maclaren would line up alongside another established force in the A-League Men’s – Andrew Nabbout.

The big-name trio cemented City’s status as A-League Men’s title favourites. Seemingly no team would be able to handle to their star-studded front three.

However, this reality has not yet eventuated.

Instead, City have seemingly regressed in an attacking sense to a one-dimensional, predictable style of play.

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The attacking trio is yet to gel and has appeared disjointed at best.

Most strikingly, Kisnorbo’s team has struggled to break down stubborn defensive opposition.

The likes of Western United and Perth Glory have demonstrated how City can be frustrated by setting up in a defensively compact formation, exposing a distinct lack of creativity and cohesion between their front three.

Although City have only failed to score on one occasion this season, there is no denying that the quality of chances created by City on a regular basis has reduced dramatically from last season.

What’s gone so wrong that last season’s unstoppable attacking juggernaut has gone backwards – especially with the established quality of their attacking trio?

The reality is that Maclaren, Nabbout and Leckie have been playing in a system which undermines each of their respective strengths.

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Nabbout and Leckie have effectively been performing the same function this season. Both players receive the ball on the wing and charge head-on at defenders, seeking to create chances through sheer pace and power.

The response from opposition coaches has been to ensure that substantial numbers are behind the ball in a compact formation, effectively nullifying the direct approach utilised by City’s wide men.

Consequently, Maclaren has been denied the time and space to contribute to his team’s attack or to find himself in dangerous positions where he can utilise his clinical finishing.

Quite simply, a basic defensive structure with competent defenders and deep-sitting midfielders has proven a substantial challenge for City on more than one occasion this season.

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All three members of their attacking trio have struggled to regularly impact games. At the very least, the potential for City’s attack to dominate the league has not yet been realised.

To understand City’s attacking woes, it is necessary to look beyond the front three.

The crux of City’s problem resides further down the pitch: they have lost their creativity.

Whereas last season the likes of Craig Noone and Adrian Luna (and later Marco Tilio and Nathaniel Atkinson) flourished in creative roles, City are sorely missing similarly inventive players to support their star attacking trio.

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With Noone and Luna having departed the club, and Tilio and Atkinson only receiving limited game time early in the season, City’s creativity stocks have declined dramatically.

Florin Berenguer has been City’s only regular creative force, placing far too much reliance on the veteran midfielder to manufacture scoring opportunities.

Last season, having the likes of Noone and Tilio on the wings made City dynamic and unpredictable in attack.

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Maclaren was given the freedom and space to utilise his attacking instincts and clinical finishing. Nabbout’s direct approach was balanced out with other avenues to goal, including the runs of Connor Metcalfe from midfield.

Overall, City were a more cohesive attacking unit.

This season, the severe squad imbalance is making it near-impossible for the forward three to function effectively.

Without the midfield support to unlock strong defences, City’s forwards are being asked to overcome highly unfavourable odds.

The simple solution to City’s problem would be the inclusion of more creative players higher up the pitch, however the star power of Nabbout, Maclaren and Leckie make each of them difficult to drop from the starting 11.

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Consequently, young creative players like Tilio and Atkinson (before his move to Hearts) have struggled for playing time.

Unless Kisnorbo can find a solution to his team’s lack of creative presence, the all-star trio of Nabbout, Maclaren and Leckie are doomed to fail.

Of course, City have still found a way to achieve reasonable results all season; they are hardly a team in crisis.

Still, they can achieve so much more than what we’ve seen so far this campaign, and failing to realise this potential could cost City come the end of the season.

Feature Image Credit: Melbourne City FC

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Oscar Rutherford
Sports tragic studying Law/Arts at Monash University. Second-best paid Oscar working in football who has been to China.

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