Updated: Jan 6
Our hopes of a return to the FFA Cup Final have been dashed overnight, with the City boys going down on penalties to Wellington Phoenix in the Quarter-Finals.
It was a frustrating 120 minutes as the home side failed to mount any sort of attacking threat against the Izuzu UTE A-League’s worst defence this season, other than a penalty awarded in the first half that was blazed over the bar by Scott Jamieson.
This is a longer post-match review than usual, so let’s get straight into it. Here’s what we learned from our defeat in the Cup:
A frustrating caveat
As disappointing and embarrassing as the result was, whatever criticism is levelled at the team, there remains the frustrating caveat that we simply don’t know who amongst the squad was affected by COVID, and to what degree.
The lineup announced was far from the assertive ‘strongest possible squad’ that we’d been hoping for. It wasn’t the statement of intent that we were serious about winning the competition, but again, we can’t possibly know the extent of COVID’s impact. It was confirmed by the club that some players had only returned to training a few days prior and that these late returnees were either omitted from the squad entirely or only named to the bench.
For those that are still seething from last night and see this as defending the team, that’s not the case; the title of this piece arises from the fact that the result should be viewed as a failure, regardless of the circumstances.
I’m frustrated and embarrassed that the performance put the team on a pedestal for mockery by rival fans, especially on the same night that Victory scraped past Cup specialists Adelaide into the Semis thanks to a late penalty.
Not knowing exactly where to direct criticism is the most frustrating part of all, but this disclaimer of sorts needed to come before any other discussion of the performance.
Data suggests that last night’s attacking performance was a capitulation, rather than a trend
You’ll see several takeaways crammed into one here, but they’re all related to the most irritating aspect of last night’s performance: Barely laying a glove on the league’s worst defence.
Four shots on target was all that we could muster to test a 19-year-old goalkeeper in his third senior appearance and not a single one of these efforts was good enough to force a half-decent save.
We generally failed to create anything inside the penalty box, which later culminated in a series of optimistic efforts from outside the area that Wellington were more than happy for us to continue resorting to.
This contradicted our previous attacking form this season, where we had lead the league for Expected Goals (xG) per 90 minutes due to our ability to create good-quality chances. Our shaky start to the league season actually stems (aside from poor goalkeeping, discussed in this article) from the fact that our finishing of these chances had been poor, with the team recording three less goals than expected.
So, while our toothless attacking performance last night may have been a one-off, it’s worth discussing some of the other hot topics on socials that sprung up after the game; starting with Mathew Leckie.
Substituted on in the 63rd minute to replace City’s most impactful attacker on the night in Andrew Nabbout, Leckie added little other than a series of frustrating miscommunicated passes in the final third. It follows a theme of much of the commentary on his performances since arriving at City that he, at present, is an ill fit for Kisnorbo’s possession-based system.
It may be a very real possibility that Marco Tilio becomes the first-choice left winger, given his ability to beat his man and create chances at the edge of the six-yard box even when City have got their opposition hemmed in, as is usually the case.
However, Tilio, last night, was playing out of position as a striker, with Jordan Bos and Andrew Nabbout occupying the wider positions that he’s so effective in, begging the question: What does Cola have to do to get a game?
Of all the surprising team news that fans received before kick-off, Jordan Bos’ inclusion in the front three at the expense of Stefan Colakovski was the decision that bewildered most.
The 21-year-old has played just a handful of minutes in the league this season, despite being one of City’s most impactful contributors last season, with the second-highest goals + assists figure per 90 minutes behind only Jamie Maclaren.
Colakovski appeared to be the obvious striking replacement in Maclaren’s absence through suspension heading into the game, making his absence from the starting lineup even more surprising.
This is, however, one of those times where the COVID caveat comes into play, because, for all that the decision to bench Colakovski may have infuriated some fans, we simply don’t know how badly affected by the virus he was if he was one of many who tested positive.
It had to be revisited sometime.
Melbourne City’s first-ever penalty shootout was one to forget, with four misses from seven attempts.
Wellington’s Alex Paulsen was able to correctly guess the direction in six of City’s seven spot-kicks, which only exacerbated the poor technique of the penalties he saved.
Many of City’s spot-kicks felt far too casual, lacking the necessary pace to compensate for some already ordinary placement. The two that beat Paulsen even when he guessed correctly were hit low and with power, whilst Colakovski’s was by far the best, deceiving the Wellington keeper whilst also being hit hard into the side netting.
On another note, why Leckie, the Socceroos captain and one of the most experienced players on the field for City, didn’t take one of the penalties is unfathomable.
The takeaway from the night’s penalties overall is that our prospects from the spot when Maclaren isn’t playing are anyone’s guess; we’ve now missed two in regular time this season, with respective takers Tilio and Jamieson also missing in the penalty shootout.
Jamieson appears to be our deputy penalty-taker in Maclaren’s absence, and though he probably shouldn’t be given he missed the target completely in his last two, those hurling abuse at him would do well to remember he has scored the most important spot-kick in club history.