Saturday, August 26, 2006

A merry start for Merrick and his new men

A-League opener, Melbourne Victory 2 vs Adelaide United 0

EARLY days, but with the pressure on the manager to produce results, encouraging signs the Melbourne Victory in their A-League opener against Adelaide United last night, with all six newcomers, Fred, Alessandro, Claudinho, Grant Brebner, Rodrigo Vargas and Adrian Caceres making a great first impression.

Despite a terribly bumpy pitch (more on that later), Ernie Merrick’s men were able to produce some eye-catching football, with the three Brazilians, particularly Fred, at the heart of much that was good for Melbourne.

Much has been written and said about Melbourne’s samba imports, but here they proved they have plenty to offer Merrick, Melbourne and the A-League.

While the defending minor premiers started well, it wasn’t long before the Victory midfield got on top, with Fred (pictured above, courtesy of the chief conductor, playing behind Archie Thompson and Danny Allsopp and in front of Kevin Muscat and Grant Brebner.

Merrick appears to be building his team around the central midfield trio of Muscat, Brebner and Fred, a neat combination of toughness, drive and subtlety. They weren’t always on the same wavelength early on, with a couple of stray passes and a comical moment when Fred and Brebner ran into each other, but put this down to the language barrier and the need to foster a greater understanding, which time will bring.

But it was a positive start as they got right on top of the Adelaide central duo of Carl Veart and Ross Aloisi. John Kosmina surprised many by starting Angelo Costanzo on the bench, and in hindsight it appears to have been an error, Adelaide lacking a deep presence to shield their defence.

Fred was allowed to roam wherever he wanted, combining wonderful technique, ability with both feet and good fitness. His link up play was excellent, bringing his compatriot Alessandro into the game whenever he could.

Alessandro produced some eye-catching footwork within the first 15 minutes, terrorising Richie Alagich on a couple of occasion before skinning him with a sublime drag-back and nutmeg near the left byline.

With Robert Cornthwaite, another surprise selection in central defence for Adelaide, slow to react and provide the cover, Alagich decided to lunge from behind, a fatal error.

It was no less than Melbourne deserved, particularly for having the courage to play on such a disappointing pitch. When the A-League was launched 12 months ago, the hope was that the old problems of sub-standard arenas would be a thing of the past.

In the main, season one had excellent surfaces, so let’s hope the standards don’t slip in season two. Make no mistake, for a league that needs to consolidate on the good work of last year, anything less than carpet-like surfaces is an undersell.

With the surface not up to scratch, it wasn’t surprising to finds both teams at times using the long ball, and Melbourne did well to mix their football, at times looking long to Allsopp, but most often looking for the feet of Muscat, Brebner and Fred.

With Melbourne dominant in the first half, but for the odd thrust forward from Greg Owens, it was a surprise to find Alessandro replaced at the break, perhaps a result of the injury he suffered to Alagich’s reckless tackle.

The visitors were much better in the second period, but Melbourne appeared content to sit back and absorb, relying on a well-marshaled rearguard and a couple of fine Michael Theoklitos saves. Last man Vargas picked up where he left off in the NSL, composed and simple, only exposed on one occasion late on when the nippy substitute Nathan Burns burnt him for pace.

Brebner also did well in seeing out the game, while Caceres looked dangerous on the left in the second half, giving Alagich and Cornthwaite a working over. Claudinho, replacing Fred in 59th minutes, was all left foot and flowing locks, but he popped up to finish the game off with his right foot, a neat finish.

Overall, it’s a positive start for Melbourne, but they mustn’t get carried away with it, particularly with the visit of Sydney set to be a blockbuster at the Telstra Dome next week.

Adelaide, meanwhile, looked weary in the first half, perhaps down to the trips to Wollongong and Gosford in the past two weeks, but there was encouragement offered by the driving performance of Owens. But by switching to a 4-3-3, with Jason Spagnuolo and Travis Dodd playing either side of Shengqing Qu, the Chinese striker appeared isolated, comfortably dealt with by Vargas, Adrain Leijer and Daniel Piorkowski, as well organised as any Victory defensive unit has looked.

The sooner Fernando Rech is back starting alongside Qu, the brighter Adelaide will be.

Watch the match? So what were your thoughts? Post a comment.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

great win by the victory, go the mighty brazilians. alessandro is a freak, what a move on alagich.

loved your report, bring on sydney

Sun Aug 27, 01:40:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous dhd said...

Firstly, thanks for a great report. The official site's fear of posting anything like balanced commentary is equally as frustrating as the refusal to replay fouls on the screen at Olympic Park.
I liked this Melbourne win for a number of reasons. Perhaps mostly because we were a little flattered by the final scoreline. Last season i watched many games that we dominated, failed to score in, and lost.
I did notice the greater use of ground passing compared with long-balls, but I'm interested in your suggestion that its partly driven by the poor surface of Oly Park. I'd noticed the poor surface but not made the link. Seems plausible.
The wash up between the psychopath Muscat and Allesandro is also interesting. Sure, he did struggle to stay defensive side of Archie Thompson, let alone Dodd, but apart from Allesandro's adventurism, our only likely moment came from the thundering attempt on own-goal by Michael Valkanis.
The match finished with a truly poignant moment when two supporters ran down to the fence to hold up a brazilian flag. While these guys did their best to acknowledge our commitment to brazilian flair, what we the fans saw was an exposed and somewhat hirsute buttcrack. Is this what you'd call allegorical?

Mon Aug 28, 12:47:00 pm AEST  

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