Undermanned Victory looking at the positives ahead of Sydney visit

The task of taking points off the well-oiled machine that is Sydney FC is hard enough as it is, but Melbourne Victory’s attempt to do so on Tuesday evening is set to be made harder by the absence of a half-dozen of first-choice players. 

Victory’s upset, 5-4 win over Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday evening was soured slightly by the yellow cards awarded to key figures Robbie Kruse, Callum McManaman, and Jake Brimmer – who all reached the numerical threshold for a one-game suspension as a result of the sanctions. 

They will join Adama Traore, who is still awaiting a hearing with the A-League’s Independent Disciplinary and Ethics Committee after making contact with Chris Beath during his side’s 7-0 Melbourne Derby defeat, and the injured Marco Rojas and Ryan Shotton on the sidelines for their side’s Tuesday evening Big Blue against their rivals. 

Kruse and Brimmer delivering assists for four of Victory’s five goals in their win over the Wanderers – coach Steve Kean’s first as caretaker following the exit of Grant Brebner – their absences loom large as the club seeks to build some sense of momentum and its players attempt to impress incoming coach Tony Popovic – who will take over in 2021-22.

 But as Kean pointed out to a journalist on Monday, the absence of the club’s bigger names also represents a window for others.

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“We lose a lot of experience but there’s now opportunities for young lads,” Kean said. “When these games are coming so thick and fast, there’s opportunities for young guys to show and to shine and make an impression with everybody watching. 

“They are also playing for their future. When people drop out of the team there’s always opportunities. 

“We’ve not got as much experience, but we’ve got loads of energy and loads of legs and hopefully the work we’ve done with them on the training ground, they know what they’re doing with and without the ball.

“Coming into the squad will be Nick Ansell, Birkan [Kirdar] will come into the squad and also Nishan Velupillay. 

“[Velupillay has] done very well when he’s been training with the first team, he’s done very well in the games he’s played for the youth team. He’s quick, he’s got backs of energy and I think he’s got a bright future.

“He’s unlikely to start the game but very likely to appear at some stage.”

 Undefeated in their last five – a run which commenced a 3-0 win over Victory on April 4 – Sydney can go second on the A-League table with a win over Kean’s side, supplanting a Central Coast Mariners outfit they drew 2-2 with on Sunday evening. 

Down 2-0 in the dying stages of the first half thanks to goals from Marco Ureña and Matt Simon, a sublimely taken volley from Miloš Ninković two minutes into stoppage time steadied they Sky Blues in that fixture, and allowed them to pile on pressure in the second stanza that eventually led to a Trent Buhagiar leveller. 

Complicating matters for coach Steve Corica heading into Tuesday evening’s contest, however, is that his side are scheduled to face bitter foes Western Sydney on Saturday evening – their third game in seven days. 

“They’re a good team,” said Kean. “They way they play and the way they’re almost all in sync with each other – their patterns are quite clear to see and it’s difficult to stop. 

“But hopefully we’ve done enough on the training ground this week to nullify them and maximise our chances. 

“They’ve also got a derby match the weekend after so it’s very difficult to know who they’re going to select but we know the way they play.

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“[Sydney’s well-established system] lets you do things on the training field that you expect them to do. But quality players can also do something one-on-one. 

“The structure is important, everyone [at Victory] knows their roles without the ball and also with the ball; we know that on transition when we get the ball we know where we’re trying to attack.

“We know the weaknesses [because] every team has weaknesses. So we’ll focus on that and what we can do to exploit when we have the ball.”

Should his side hope to take at least an unlikely point from their trip to Jubilee Stadium, minimising the impact that Ninković can have on the contest looms large for Victory. It’s a task that Kean says will require effort from more than just his centre backs. 

“I think it’s his timing of his runs [that makes Ninković dangerous],” the former Blackburn Rovers boss explained. 

“The timing of his runs is excellent. He just makes eye contact, especially with any of the quality players they have in midfield and he makes runs in behind you. 

“It’s the timing of the run that can cause you problems. 

“We’ve mentioned that not only to defenders but also midfield players that we need to make sure that we track his run, we make sure we don’t think we can pass [him] on in the box, we need to track him and if we can do that and nullify that forward run then that’s going to be an advantage to us. 

“But he’s a quality player, there’s no taking away from that.”

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