Kevin Muscat needs to act boldly if Melbourne Victory are to have any hope of making a splash late in the season.
Victory’s second successive 5-0 belting sees Muscat as the latest A-League coach under pressure, despite winning plaudits two weeks ago in an impressive 3-1 win against the Western Sydney Wanderers.
At the core of Muscat’s problems is the centre of defence, where experienced duo Adrian Leijer and Pablo Contreras have failed to create any sort of stability through injury and suspension.
Constant poor positioning and decision making from the two has seen Victory leak goals, conceding 27 for the season – just one goal fewer than the league’s worst defence, the Melbourne Heart.
Contreras, Victory’s international marquee player, has not lived up to his hype, which has led calls for youngster Nick Ansell, who started in the Australia Day loss to Sydney in place of the injured Chilean, to take his spot permanently in the first eleven.
Those calls need to turn into reality. Contreras should definitely be replaced by Ansell after comments made by him to the Chilean press about his potential retirement at the end of the season, with Albanian Besart Berisha confirmed as the club’s international marquee next season.
Considering Contreras’ marquee status, it will be a tough decision for Muscat to make, but if the manager hopes to improve Victory’s poor form, calculated decisions need to be made.
Leijer, who was replaced as captain by Ange Postecoglou before the season, also needs to improve his performance, but may be safe due to the lack of options for Muscat.
One option could be youngster Jason Geria shifting to centre defence, where he played for the Australian Institute of Sport. However, that option will leave vast inexperience in the back four with only Adama Traore, Victory’s best player this season, having more than 20 games experience in the A-League.
Another option could be Leigh Broxham, who played there in spades last season. But with Mark Milligan out injured, the stand-in Victory captain needs to sit in front of the back four alongside Rashid Mahazi to add much needed experienced cover.
There should also be no questioning of Leijer’s dedication to the club, despite calls from Muscat after the loss to Sydney FC that the club needs to find out “who wants to represent us” – something that may have been targeted at the club’s new signings this campaign.
Leijer was taken off on a stretcher at the weekend after being knocked out cold from a shot that clattered into his head.
Victory are currently three points safe in the top six but have only three games in their last 10 at home, plus an away fixture at AAMI Park to Melbourne Heart.