March 21, 2014 – 1:24PM
SENIOR SPORTS REPORTER WITH THE AGE
Happy days: Kevin Muscat. Photo: Getty Images
They may be running on empty and travelling north with a party of banged-up players nursing injuries and tiredness, but if any club can go to Brisbane Roar with a feeling of confidence surely it is Melbourne Victory.
Kevin Muscat’s side is facing its fifth game in 16 days on Saturday night, a game in which Brisbane can assure themselves of the Premiers Plate with a win in front of their own fans.
But Victory are, despite their tough schedule, entitled to feel they might be able to chisel out a result if their decent run of form is anything to go by.
Since crashing 5-0 at home to Sydney on Australia Day – surely a career nadir for Muscat in his short time coaching – Victory have lost only once in the A-League, when they were beaten heavily by Melbourne Heart.
They have also played three games in the Asian Champions League, having tasted defeat only once, away at reigning Asian champions Guangzhou.
So the navy blues have picked up 13 points out of 18 in their past six A-League matches, as well as four points from three games in the ACL.
From where they were in late January after suffering successive 5-0 losses (they were hammered in Wellington a week before that traumatic defeat by Sydney), it has been a reasonably impressive turnaround, a credit to Muscat and his players.
The coach has not been afraid to rest and rotate first-choice men and has gone into the ACL games, in particular, with a line-up boasting several youngsters.
But in the long term – and perhaps even the short – that will pay dividends, as the lessons they learn against high-quality opposition will be invaluable.
Muscat will roll the selection dice again against the Roar. His biggest headache is at the heart of defence.
Fit again Adrian Leijer had a good game in his return to action against Yokohama F Marinos on Tuesday and will retain his spot, but both of the other two recognised central defenders, Nick Ansell and Pablo Contreras, are in doubt.
Leigh Broxham could again be used as a makeshift centre-back, as he has on numerous occasions in the past.
Tom Rogic and Mark Milligan, the club’s two regular Socceroos, were both rested as part of the rotation policy against Yokohama but will come back into the starting line-up alongside Gui Finkler, the Brazilian playmaker who is not part of the ACL squad.
The coach is not making any excuses about the workload his players are under, saying although there are some tired bodies it is a good position for his players to be in.
He is hoping to prevent Brisbane wrapping up the home and away title in front of their fans, and said watching such a celebration was not something he would look forward to.
‘’We have a lot of sore bodies but some real determination to prove everyone wrong, to show we can compete and go five games in 16 days. Everyone in the competition should want to be in our position, ‘’ Muscat said after Victory’s final training session on Friday morning.
‘’A team will be selected tomorrow night with freshness. There will be no excuses for people going out there feeling fatigued and tired.
‘’I don’t want to be standing there and see them [Brisbane] being presented the plate. That’s not the motivation though, we want to finish as high as we can. Maybe they are under pressure to win the plate in front of their own fans.’’
Source :The Sydney Morning Herald