Popovic confident goals will come for Nani, Victory

Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic has backed Portuguese superstar Nani and the rest of his attack to find their form, with the reshuffled lineup he deployed against the Central Coast Mariners declared a “football decision”.

Deployed up front alongside Ben Folami, Nani was once again solid without being spectacular in his side’s 2-1 loss to the Central Coast Mariners on New Year’s Eve, forcing Danny Vukovic into a save just before halftime with one of his three shots before then being subbed off just past the hour. 

Possessing the type of resume and reported remuneration that he has, however, meant that more than just solid performances were expected from the former Manchester United star when he landed with Victory ahead of this season.

Nonetheless, with his 21 shots at goal this season the most of any player yet to find the back of the net, the 36-year-old admittedly hasn’t had the rub of the green in his efforts to find some momentum. 

Tony Popovic
Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

“We’re seeing very good signs at training. He’s like any player, attacking players, when their confidence grows they can go through periods where they’re confident that if they have one shot a game, it will go in,” Popovic told reporters on Thursday.

“And other times you can have several shots and it won’t go in for them. 

“The chances are being created. He could have had a couple of goals definitely against Central Coast, and probably should have from his perspective. 

“But if we can get him in those areas once more, I believe that once he gets one it will flow from there.”

Beyond Nani, Victory’s attack as a collective has significantly underdelivered on its significant potential across their opening nine games.

After coming into the season tipped as title contenders, just Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory are producing fewer goals than the Victory attack, one that features four Socceroos, the reigning Johnny Warren medalist, and their aforementioned Champions League winner. 

Continuing from the 2021/22 campaign, the side’s ability to create high-quality looks on goal outside of moments of transition and set pieces has been frequently lacking across the season’s opening months: an inability to break down ten-men Western United in a 1-0 loss on Boxing Day perhaps the best example. 

Popovic, though, saw signs against the Mariners that he thinks can be built upon; and he doesn’t think the solutions that are needed are only to be found up top. 

“I think when you put personnel together, a lot of new personnel, it’s about trying to get those combinations right and find continuity,” said the coach. “In the first ten minutes [against CCM] we had three or four great opportunities. And then Central Coast entered our box for the first time and scored. 

“You can go through periods like that but as long as we can keep progressing in terms of creating, get those combinations better [things will improve]. 

“But it’s not just the attack. At the back, we have struggled to have any continuity or stability this season. 

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“That’s the first part, if we can get that right I think that will help the attack. That will help in terms of the foundation, building from the back and I believe the players will then enjoy some more freedom and some better opportunities.”

As part of his attempt to find the optimal combinations, Popovic dropped Nick D’Agostino and Josh Brillante to the bench for the trip to Gosford, while striker Bruno Fornaroli was left out of the squad entirely. 

“It was more a footballing decision, ” said Popovic. “With attackers, it’s such a dynamic position, that [what] can happen in different matches; different players start. 

“With Josh, it was just a footballing decision. But he’s responded very well and trained very well this week. 

“It’s just for football reasons. It’s not about shaking things up. Each individual’s case is different. They all know why they were in or why they weren’t in. There are no issues there. We’re trying to get the players in the best condition they can be. 

“Bruno is a prime example. He’s a fit player, but he’s not in the condition that he and we believe can get him to score the goals that we all want. And he’s working extremely hard to make that possible. 

“We’re very happy with him. But it’s a process, it takes time. We’re seeing some good signs from him.”

Getting set to welcome Roar to AAMI Park on Friday, the task for Victory’s attack isn’t set to get any easier: coach Warren Moon’s side the league’s equal most stout defence in 2022/23 with just seven goals conceded in nine games. 

The Queenslanders haven’t won a lot this season but they haven’t lost a lot either: recording six draws against two wins and a loss. 

“They look confident, they move the ball around well. Their midfielders try to get control of the game. Breaking them down is very difficult,” said Popovic. “There are no easy games and we’re seeing that in the league. To get the three points we’re going to have to earn them.”

Paul Izzo will not return from his thumb injury for the game while Tomi Juric will continue to work on his conditioning before being up for selection. 

After making his season debut against the Mariners, Matt Spiranovic has been managed during this week’s training to give him the best chance of backing up. Popovic also refused to rule Roderick Miranda, although the Portuguese defender has yet to train fully with the rest of his squad. 

Only Victory members will be permitted to Friday’s game, barring North End members – who have been barred outright – as per Football Australia sanctions resulting from the violent pitch invasion at the Melbourne Derby. Active areas behind both goals will also be cordoned off. 

Further sanctions surrounding the Derby are expected to be handed down by Football Australia early to mid next week.

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You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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