City takes another step towards their “unstoppable” goal after 6-1 thrashing of Macarthur FC

Back in March of 2021, then-Macarthur FC coach Ante Milicic cut a forthright figure as he entered the theatre that hosts press conferences at AAMI Park. He’d always been frank in his dealings with the media but, even so, the comprehensive 3-0 defeat his side had just suffered at the hands of Melbourne City left him with little room to equivocate. “A team with that hunger to score, to win, their fitness, their mobility, their rotations, I’d say it’s difficult for most teams in the A-League to keep up with that,” he said. “They’re the benchmark. And they should be.”

On Saturday afternoon, just under two years on from that piece of candour, new Bulls’ coach Mile Sterjovski would have been forgiven for feeling a bit of deja vu. This time around, it took the hosts 40 minutes to secure their three first-half goals that would eventually secure their comfortable win as opposed to the 15 minutes of 2021, but there was that same sort of casual ease with which they went about combining and opening up their foes’ defence. 

And for all of City’s dominance a couple of years ago, at least Milicic hadn’t had to suffer through them doubling their tally in the second stanza. When teams are scoring six goals off 2.87 expected goals (xG), with multiple ones from backheels, you know that things are clicking into place.  

Richard van der Venne’s hattrick lifted Melbourne City to a 6-1 win over Macarthur
Image Credit: Melbourne City

“We were outclassed, outmuscled. I think Melbourne City showed a lot of desire and they had a lot of quality. It’s a good lesson to learn coming into coaching,” said Sterjovski. “During the week I thought we did prepare pretty well for the game. But City was just too good today. They were on. And when they’re on, they’re very dangerous.”

Coming off the back of three draws on the bounce, history suggested that City were primed to come out and work out their frustrations by blowing some poor sod out of the water. That’s sort of what this team has come to do during the regular season, responding to questions on if this was the moment when their weaknesses were capitalised on and in which their veneer of dominance starts to crack with pitiless scorn on the way to back-to-back premierships. And unfortunately for the Bulls, this time around that moment coincided with their visit. 

Remarkably, though, despite the comprehensive nature of the scoreline, there was also a level of almost comfortable disdain around the performance as opposed to ruthless aggression. Nobody can claim the Bulls were any good on Saturday, but City went about their business in a manner that suggested that, even if they had arrived in Melbourne up for the challenge, it wouldn’t have made a difference. That might have made things worse for them as it might have induced Rado Vidosic’s side to break out of cruise control. 

The combinations for City in and around the box were coming off more often than not. They were ahead after just three minutes and could have been up by two after 17 had Jamie Maclaren’s penalty and subsequent effort not been saved by Nicholas Suman and then sent wide respectively. There were backheel assists from birthday boy Mat Leckie and Valon Berisha. There were flicks and tricks, and Marco Tilio even busted out a spin move. Players were backing themselves to take on their man and go on a run or move into a spot on the pitch other than their nominal position to receive.

Vidosic has spoken about bringing a level of creative freedom to his side during his time as interim boss and Saturday was perhaps the best example yet. Moreover, the players looked like they were having fun.  

“There are teams when no one is in charge, or when no one takes charge and those teams are poor,” said the City coach. “There are teams where a coach is in charge and a coach makes all the decisions and I think those teams are average. 

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“But to be an elite team, you need players to be able to make all the right decisions and we’ve been working towards that. It won’t work every week but if you really want to empower them, you need to give them freedom and then we need to accept that sometimes there are going to be mistakes. Sometimes we’re going to cop the goal. 

“But the more they have fun, the more they’re going to produce the goods.”

Admittedly, as opposed to two years ago, Macarthur was able to get on the scoresheet: Moudi Najjar grabbing a goal against his former side in the 72nd minute. But that was also sandwiched around second-half strikes from Andrew Nabbout, Richard van der Venne, and Maclaren; the Dutchman’s somewhat typifying the laconic adroitness that his side displayed throughout the day with a long-range chip that he made look far easier than it was. 

“I’m trying to get the team to be more comfortable in possession,” said Sterjovski. “I think that’s where we’ve lacked leading into the season. But I need my players to be brave to do that. I’m trying to instil that in them. It’s going to take a bit of time but I’m hoping to see some positive changes in the coming weeks.”

Signed from the Dutch Eredivisie during the offseason, van der Venne has hit a rich vein of form across the past month of football after battling injuries during the opening of the campaign. That sublime looping shot in the 77th capped off a best-on-ground performance that also saw him combine with Berisha and Jordy Bos to find the back of the net in the 33rd and 43rd minutes respectively.  

None of those three were regular starters last season, Berisha signed on loan from Ligue 1 club Reims and academy prospect Bos has made the left-back position his own across the campaign’s opening month. But now they’re part of this City machine; a machine in which the significant resources of the City Football Group go in one end and, as one would hope given the significant structural advantages that level of funding brings, trophies come out the other. 

Indeed, it’s far easier said than done and they are by no means invincible, but if City can consistently play in the manner they did against the Bulls, there is little doubt that the season will end with them lifting the premiership. And if they play in that manner in a one-off finals game, even if their opposition also plays to their best, they’ll likely fill Vidosic’s goal for them. 

“We want to be better. We want to improve. We want to lift our standards and keep lifting our standards,” he said. “It’s up to players not to be complacent and take the next game as the most important game in their life. If we can manage that then there is no ceiling – we can keep improving.

“Right now we talk about being unstoppable. 

“So ‘what can we do to be unstoppable? How does that look?’ So this was a good example of how that looks. 

“Can we continue with that? Can we take it to the next level? We’ll find out next week, but this week was really, really pleasing.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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