Small changes make a big difference as Melbourne Victory storm into consecutive grand finals

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Everything has come together at the perfect time for Melbourne Victory, and head coach Jeff Hopkins credits a small change in mentality for their recent upturn in form.

Victory have endured one of the most challenging seasons in recent memory following several significant Covid-related disruptions.

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Whilst every team in the A-League Women has been affected to some extent, Victory’s disruptions have led to an extraordinarily back-weighted season.

Half of Victory’s 14 total games in the regular season were played in February, creating an intensely challenging period in which the squad was overloaded with matches.

In the last two weeks though, Melbourne Victory have finally clicked.

No doubt aided by the more reasonable breaks between games, Victory’s last two performances against Adelaide United and Melbourne City in the finals series have been their best of the season.

“I’m just really proud of the players,” Hopkins said post-match.

“The way the players carried out the game plan today was exactly as we hoped.”

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Seeing such a dramatic shift in fortunes just in time for the finals series is an ideal outcome for Victory.

When asked how his side had improved so drastically in such a short period of time, Hopkins identified some tweaks to their pre-match routine.

“We haven’t done things very different [in the last couple of weeks],” he said.

“We have made a few little changes, this week and last week, just in terms of our preparation on match day to make us a little bit more focused.

“The players are quite an emotional group, and they get themselves really worked up before the game.

“But the last couple of weeks we’ve really focused on being a little bit quieter for a few minutes during our preparation and then building our emotion back up again.

“The players have really taken that on board, and I think you can see that in the last two performances.”

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The performance against City was a drastic contrast to their previous meeting in which Victory were thrashed 5-1.

That greater focus was perhaps responsible for some of the improvements Hopkins saw in his side compared to last time they came up against City.

“Last time we were a little bit naïve. We tried to play out from the back too much,” Hopkins said.

“We also spoke about playing over their press and getting the ball to Alex Chidiac and Kyra Cooney-Cross so that we could really penetrate around the halfway line.”

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Whilst for Victory everything has come together at just the right time, it has been somewhat the opposite for Rado Vidosic’s team.

The City head coach expressed immense pride in his players after a highly successful season, but conceded that the preliminary final was simply not their day.

When asked to dissect the reversal in fortunes from the last meeting between the sides, Vidosic offered a very different explanation.

“There are probably a lot of factors,” he said.

“They are an experienced team. When you look at their line-up, there are maybe only one or two changes from the grand final last year.

“You can see the likes of Alex Chidiac; she played like she was three players.

“They are a little bit older and have more experience.”

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City came into the season with one of the least-experienced squads in the competition.

The challenge of inexperience was compiled due to the absence of Melissa Barbieri and Tyla-Jay Vlajnic, both of whom received red cards in City’s semi-final match against Sydney FC.

“When you have someone with the experience of Bubs [Barbieri], that is priceless to have on the field,” Vidosic said.

“Obviously TJ [Vlajnic] she has been outstanding this year too.

“We were just lacking that experience.”

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Whilst the two coaches offered very different explanations for the contrasting scorelines, the end result is that Victory are back in the grand final and have the opportunity to defend their championship from last season.

Victory will once again come up against a mighty Sydney FC side at Kogarah, but Hopkins’ side is flying high and will be ready to spring another upset.

City, meanwhile, will have the chance to reflect and reassess ahead of next season. With such a young and talented squad, the major challenge for Vidosic will be keeping the current group of players together.

If they can achieve that, perhaps City will be ready to step up another gear and mount an even stronger challenge for silverware in season 2022/23.

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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