We're four months into Kevin Muscat's tenure in the top job at the powerhouse club. Goal Australia examines how the former skipper has measured up to the challenge so far
By Iain Strachan
As it should be, the jury remains out on Kevin Muscat's tenure in charge of Melbourne Victory.
His reign started after the 2013-14 A-League season had begun and the campaign, which has yielded an AFC Champions League group stage appearance and is likely to include a tilt at the finals, is yet to run its course.
On the surface he echoes predecessor Ange Postecoglou's considered approach - adherence to 'structures' and 'processes' are the yardstick by which he claims to measure the team's progress.
But dig a little deeper and questions arise about how sophisticated Muscat's approach to the game is, as aspects of Friday's press conference ahead of the derby against Melboune Heart reveal.
Victory surrendered a 2-0 half-time lead to lose 4-2 to Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday night. What went wrong?
"We can sit here and try and be over-critical of ourselves. They changed personnel in the second half. (Alessandro) Diamanti went on the right and basically he tore the game open for us in 15 or 20 minutes."
How hard is it for a coach to respond to the way Guangzhou changed the game?
"The difficulty was ... for the second goal, he (Diamanti) strikes the ball from 30-odd yards. You don't concede too many of those normally. He went out on the right-hand side, they took Muriqui off.
"The formation stayed as it was but he (Diamanti) caused a different problem for us because he drifted inside onto his left foot and found himself playing between the lines. The fullback overlapped at every opportunity and just the individual brilliance on the night we found it difficult to cope with."
True, Diamanti had an excellent second half against Victory, but is that because they allowed him to? Victory's front four of James Troisi, Jesse Makarounas, Archie Thompson and Kosta Barbarouses, so effective on the counter in the first 45, were stranded up front after the break, as Mark Milligan and Leigh Broxham found themselves over-run.
An extra midfielder was needed to stem the tide, but when Rashid Mahazi belatedly came on, it was for right-back Jason Geria rather than one of the superfluous forwards.
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What are Melbourne Heart doing differently during their winning run?
"I've focused mainly more on our selves. Without doubt we've analysed them over the last couple of games and been mindful of where they're at. They're scoring goals now, taking opportunities. They were creating opportunities prior to John being there but they're taking them now and playing some good football."
How will Heart coach John van 't Schip replace Aziz Behich and Patrick Gerhardt?
"I'm not going to look too much into personnel; it's not for me to worry about. Like all derbies we can expect them to be fired up. They'll come into the game with some confidence. From our perspective we'll get ourselves prepared and hopefully it'll be another entertaining game. Like I said prior to Adelaide, both teams went out to attack and score goals and hopefully it will be the same tomorrow night."
Well, the neutral would certainly enjoy a repeat of last week's thriller, but no Victory supporters want to see their team ship three or four goals again, particularly against their local rivals.
Yes, Heart are scoring goals now. We can all see that. What matters is why are they scoring now, and how can Victory stop them.
If we give Muscat the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he's foxing by choosing not to show his hand or reveal the extent of Victory's analysis into their opposition. In the case of the Guangzhou defeat, maybe he doesn't want to demoralise his players by publically dissecting their collapse.
In Muscat's defence, he has inherited a team weeks into a new season and made the sensible decision to build on all the work done by himself, Postecoglou and the other coaches over the last two campaigns.
Next season will be the real test. Players will come and go and a new-look squad will emerge, perhaps with new tactics. The arrival of Besart Berisha may herald a move away from 4-2-4 to a more balanced formation.
Victory's midfield needs reinforcing and its defence will have to tighten up to improve their chances of success. A willingness to tweak the formation and more positional subtly must be demonstrated during matches which aren't going the team's way.
If Muscat can tick those and other boxes he will prove there is plenty of substance backing up his technical coaching vernacular, and Victory supporters can harbour realistic hopes of success. Watch this space.