Inversion Therapy – City’s fullbacks loom as potential Melbourne Derby difference makers

The Erick Mombaerts legacy still lingers at Melbourne City.

The club having dismissed the monotonously pragmatic stylings of Warren Joyce, Mombaerts was parachuted into the City Football Academy as one-part gaffer and one-part City Football Group (CFG) disciple ahead of the 2019-20 season. 

The veteran coach and CFG consultant was entrusted not only with bringing success on the park and establishing a ‘City’ style of play – but also playing attacking and entertaining football that could win back fans after multiple seasons of ‘Joyceball’. 

Part of this revolution involved the import of the inverted full-back. 

Employed by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola to devastating effect at Manchester City – as well as during his time with Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga – the inverted approach calls for full-backs to move centrally into the midfield during spells of position. 

This, in theory, gives sides that seek to dominate possession an extra player in the middle of the park and better allows for the creation of triangles that can be used to pass around opponents and break forward.  

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Though its impact at certain points early in City’s regular season was, at times, overstated, its efficacy as a tactic began to bear fruit late in the season with the deployment of Harrison Delbridge as a right-back that would tuck into a back three when City had the ball and the subsequent movement of left-backs Scott Jamieson and Nathaniel Atkinson into the middle of the park. 

CIty would make the Grand Final of the 2019-20 season – their first in club history – and even take the lead through a disallowed Delbridge goal before eventually going down to Sydney FC. 

“I think you could see last year, [City’s Mombaerts/CFG inspired system is] a completely different system to, I think, what anyone has ever played in the A-League,” City right-back Scott Galloway said. 

“Especially with the full-backs inverting in, it’s very different for a full back to learn but it’s enjoyable as well and, for me, it works. Making a Grand Final last year and the form that we’re showing this year, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. 

“It took time [to learn]. It’s very different from the generic, full-back getting forward and bombing up and down the sideline – inverting into midfield. 

“But we put plenty of time, plenty of work into it as a team last year and even again this year. It’s not complete but we keep working on it.”

Perched at the top of City’s spear, striker Jamie Maclaren has had a better view than most when it comes to observing how City go about their business in build-up play, and he says City’s desire to invert their wingers has also changed the way he goes about his business. 

“I think last year, the way that Erick wanted me to play was to take the centrebacks a little further towards goal and allow more space in the midfield for them to have a box, almost like the two sixes and two attacking midfielders,” detailed the Socceroo. 

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“That was sort of my role last year but now it’s kind of… I’ve added to my game by coming in short and it does help to have a guy like Andy Nabbout who can stretch the defence if I don’t.

“The role that the inverted full-backs play, I think it’s underplayed. We work on it every single day and it’s not an easy situation. If I was out there I’d be lost. 

“It’s a credit to the full-backs that have to invert because they haven’t grown up to learn how to play that well but they’ve adjusted fantastically and that’s the City style.”

Having found the back of the net 14 times already this season and sitting three goals clear in the Golden Boot race, Maclaren is having yet another bumper season in 2020-21. 

Adding five assists to his goalscoring tally in his side’s opening 15 games, his 19 score involvements is higher than Victory (15 goals scored) and Newcastle Jets (14 goals scored) total offensive output this season. 

“I know I’ll always score goals but I’ve got more assists now than I had all of last year,” he said. 

“You’ve got to have more strings to your bow and I believe that the older I get and the more experienced you get, you start to feel that you get just as much joy as you do giving an assist as you do scoring goals. 

“I never thought I’d say that, but you do. 

“I knew when I joined Melbourne City that I’d be able to score goals and have sights on Golden Boots and stuff like that. But now that I’ve had a taste of a Golden Boot in a City jersey I’ve started to add more things to my game like assists and creating chances for other players.

“Connor Metcalfe… I’ve given him three goals this year so he’s really standing up. He’s a fantastic player and I like having my number tens close to me.”

Likely to start against former side Melbourne Victory in this evening’s Melbourne Derby – as well as a number of future games following a hamstring injury to Nathaniel Atkinson – Galloway is eager to put his best foot forward in the coming weeks.

“Everyone wants to play,” he said. “It’s unfortunate what happened to Nate and everyone wishes him a speedy recovery but we’re a squad, not just 11 players. Everyone has to be ready to play at any point. 

“While I wasn’t playing I was making sure I was doing everything I could to be ready regardless of how the opportunity came about. You have to be ready to step in and do your part for the team. 

“Everyone gets around each other as a team. We’re not 11 players, we’re a full squad. That shows in games when subs come on and help us win points and games. 

“When you’re outside training everyone is fighting for a spot. You don’t want to switch off and the opportunity comes and you’re not there to take it and you let it slip. Everyone works together, everyone gets around each other. We’re a full squad.”

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