A-League season preview: Melbourne Victory

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Can Victory put aside last season's pain to launch another assault on the championship?

Melbourne Victory were left heartbroken after the grand final penalty shootout loss to Sydney FC - a match they led 1-0 in the first half and also edged ahead early during the deciding spotkicks.

But the fact remains the club was considerably inferior to the Sky Blues throughout the season and it's going to be a battle to bridge the gap this campaign.

Can Kevin Muscat take his team back to the promised land?

2016-17 finishing position: 2nd

Coach: Kevin Muscat


INS AND OUTS


Ins: Rhys Williams, Kosta Barbarouses, James Troisi, Matias Sanchez, Leroy George.

Outs : Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Daniel Georgievski, Nick Ansell, Alan Baro, Alistair Bray, George Howard, Lucas Spinella, Marco Rojas.


STAR PLAYER - Besart Berisha


In a team littered with star players, there is no doubt Besart Berisha is the most important, a fact since he joined the club for the 2014-15 season.

The Kosovo Albanian has scored a stunning 54 goals in 82 appearances for the blue-and-white - including the opening goal in both grand finals since his arrival.

Besart Berisha Melbourne Victory

His presence and occupation of defenders has allowed attacking guns such as Marco Rojas, Kosta Barbarouses and James Trois to flourish over the years.

It will again rest on the 32-year-old's shoulders to score the bulk of Victory's goals as the club doesn't have much depth in the centre forward position.


BREAKOUT PLAYER - Thomas Deng


After making 13 appearances during Victory's 2015-16 campaign, Thomas Deng decided to try his luck on loan at Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven.

The 20-year-old only managed five appearances for PSV's reserve team and comes back with his tail between his legs ready to impress again in blue-and-white.

Deng was a composed defender when he made his debut two years ago but lacked strength and experience - two crucial attributes that come with age.

He is likely to start third choice centre-half behind Rhys Williams and James Donachie but will get opportunity during the season.


POSITIVES


Managing to keep a hold of Troisi was a huge coup for Muscat - especially as it appeared the gun playmaker was going to sign with rivals Melbourne City.

With some key departures in wide areas, including Marco Rojas,  the club also did well to entice Kiwi winger Barbarouses back to AAMI Park after one season at Wellington.

Kosta Barbarouses Melbourne Victory

The two foreign signings - Matias Sanchez and Leroy George - appear to be of strong pedigree and should add significantly to the squad.

Sanchez's signing is interesting because it appears to give Muscat the flexibility to use Mark Milligan in a central defensive role.


NEGATIVES


Upon looking at the Victory squad, the one clear weakness is the defence, which was arguably the club's achilles heel last season too.

There is no specialist left-back currently in the squad with Leigh Broxham tipped to start there in round one.

The dependable Alan Baro and Nick Ansell have left the club with Williams and Deng coming in, which you could say is definitely not an upgrade.

Williams and Donachie will be the first choice defensive pairing but are they good enough to lead Victory to silverware?

It's clear the Victory duo are inferior to Sydney FC's rock solid centre-half partnership of Alex Wilkinson and Jordy Buijs- a defence that led the Sky Blues to the title.

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FINAL PREDICTION - 2ND


Analysis of Victory's squad compared to last season suggests the team is weaker in defence, stronger in midfield and probably the same in attack.

The same dissection of Sydney's squad, with the additions of Adrian Mierzejewski and Luke Wilkshire, shows more strengthening compared to the departures, and you can also count on further development from central midfielders Brandon O'Neill and Joshua Brilliante.

For this reason, Victory will likely fall short again at the final hurdle but as we saw in the grand final last year, the margins can be very fine.

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