News Live Scores

Melbourne Victory 2018-19 preview: Squad depth concerns for the champions

05:12 GMT+3 12/10/2018
Keisuke Honda Melbourne Victory
The champions have signed some strong marquee talent for their title defence, but will their squad be able to handle the challenge?

Melbourne Victory won last year's championship by peaking at the right time of year after a tough, inconsistent A-League season with plenty of troughs.

Coach Kevin Muscat showed a tactical flexibility to take the team away from the free flowing football it is known for, and getting the players to grind out results - which was enough to win their fourth 'toilet seat' trophy.

With plenty of significant departures and a few big names coming in to the club, Goal examines whether Victory can become the second A-League club to win back-to back championships.

Is Melbourne Victory's squad deep enough?

Without a doubt, Melbourne Victory has one of the best starting XI's - if not the strongest - in the A-League this season.

Despite losing attacking weapons Leroy George and Besart Berisha, the signings of World Cup players Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen should fill the void nicely.

But concern comes when you cast a glance to the likely substitutes, with the inconsistent Jai Ingham and developing striker Kenny Athiu the first call to come into the attack off the bench.

While some young talent, including the likes of Birkan Kirdar and Thiel Iradukunda, will hopefully emerge as options, if Victory get injuries in the attacking third, there is a dearth of experienced players to come into the team.

The squad depth in attack is even more of an issue when you consider Victory will have another Asian Champions League campaign to contend with right in the business end of the A-League season and finals.

If they can keep their goalscoring stars on the pitch for most of the season, then watch out - not many defences are likely to be able to cope.

How will Victory's new signings settle in?

Melbourne Victory's squad has had significant change compared to last season's championship winning list, with not only the loss of Berisha and George, but also central defensive lynchpin Rhys Williams and fellow defender James Donachie.

German centre-half Georg Niedermeier has been brought in with good pedigree, but it remains to be seen if he can have anywhere near the impact of his former Stuttgart teammate Mathieu Delpierre during Victory's 2014-15 championship run.

Nick Ansell was Delpierre's partner in that Victory championship team and returns to the club after a stint in Portugal's first division - where he struggled to get regular first team football.

Spanish defensive midfielder Raul Baena has been secured on loan from Granada as a like-for-like foreign replacement for Argentine Matias Sanchez.

He will likely get an early opportunity to partner Terry Antonis in the middle of the park but will have captain Carl Valeri breathing down his neck for his spot in the team.

Storm Roux and Corey Brown look like solid A-League standard signings to fill the problem position of left and right full-back, but can they step it up to another level they haven't previously reached at Central Coast and Brisbane Roar respectively?

In attack, the marquee signings Honda and Toivonen have incredible pedigree but will they work well together as an attacking duo? And combine well with Victory stalwarts Kosta Barbarouses and James Troisi?

And though not a new signing, the final question surrounds the ability and form of Troisi week in and week out.

While he improved as last season went on and was crucial in helping Victory storm home to claim the championship, Troisi isn't producing his best football anywhere near as much as he should be doing.

Will he thrive in a system where Honda takes over the playmaking duties and he is likely to find more space?

Worrying pre-season results

After earning an impressive 1-0 win away at bogey side Perth Glory in the FFA Cup round of 32, Victory crashed out of the competition with a 3-2 defeat to NSW NPL side APIA Leichhardt.

Since then, they have failed to win a friendly against A-League opposition, drawing against Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar, while losing 3-1 to Wellington Phoenix at home in their latest match on October 5.

The last result is particularly a concern for Muscat, as Honda and Toivonen both had their first full outing for the club, but defensive frailties again shone through as Roy Krishna banged in a hat-trick.

While it's clear the foreign signings will improve as they become more settled, it must be worrying for Victory that they are performing so poorly with the start of the season only just around the corner.

We'll get a good gauge of their level in their first A-League match of the campaign - a huge Saturday night blockbuster against derby rivals Melbourne City.

It's a fixture Victory hasn't performed well in over the last couple of seasons and they'll be keen to hit the ground running.

Muscat's team will enter the season as favourites with Sydney FC to win the competition, but can they live up to expectation?

Predicted finish: 1st  

Star player: Keisuke Honda

Breakout player: Kenny Athiu