Melbourne City 2022/23 A-League Men season preview
Following another infamously long off-season, the new A-League Men's campaign is almost upon us, and with Melbourne City's opener against Western United exactly one week away, there's no better time for a Talking City season preview.
To start, I can't kick this preview off with a better summarisation of my perspective towards the upcoming campaign than this excerpt from my 2021/22 review: "The saying goes that the only thing harder than getting to the top is staying there. If PK's first season in charge was City getting to the top, and if this year (2021/22) was us proving that it wasn't a fluke, then next season, perhaps our new era, will be about how well he's able to keep us there."
Western United have retained the bulk of their Championship-winning squad (most importantly, Prijovic, to the surprise of many), Melbourne Victory got the blood of A-League pundits flowing when they recruited a little-known Portuguese bloke by the name of Nani, and Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers, and Macarthur FC have all recruited well and are accordingly tipped for big rises up the table this year. City, by comparison, have underwhelmed in pre-season, including the Australia Cup, and are predicted by many to bear the brunt of this drastic improvement of their rivals.
You’re likely to hear a podcast-form season preview sometime before our opening fixture where our chances of a record-breaking third Premiers Plate in a row will surely be discussed in detail, so I’ll keep this written version a bit shorter; an overview of the squad, a pre-season wrap-up and then six categories in which to briefly preview the season.
Let’s get into it:
Goalkeepers – Tom Glover, Matt Sutton, James Nieuwenhuizen
Defenders – Scott Jamieson, Curtis Good, Nuno Reis, Scott Galloway, Kerrin Stokes, Jordan Bos, Jordon Hall, Callum Talbot, Thomas Lam
Midfielders – Aiden O’Neill, Valon Berisha, Richard van der Venne, Florin Berenguer, Taras Gomulka, Emin Durakovic, Luke Oresti
Forwards – Jamie Maclaren, Mathew Leckie, Andrew Nabbout, Marco Tilio, Max Caputo, Raphael Borges Rodrigues, Arion Sulemani
Expected best XI:
Talbot – Reis – Good – Jamieson
O’Neill – Berisha – Tilio
Nabbout – Maclaren – Leckie
(or the 4-2-3-1 system that we saw in the first half of our last friendly against CCM, when Nabbout played behind Maclaren as a shadow striker with Tilio and Leckie either side)
City 3-2 Dandenong Thunder | Friendly | WIN
Newcastle Olympic 0-1 City | Australia Cup | WIN
City 1-2 Wellington | Australia Cup | LOSS
CCM 4-2 City | Friendly | LOSS
CCM 2-0 City | Friendly | LOSS
City 1-5 Adelaide | Friendly (3x45min periods) | LOSS
One to Watch: Valon Berisha
Whilst it was Callum Talbot that lead the One to Watch category in our season predictions, I"ll go with Berisha here, firstly because Talbot will be mentioned in his own right, but also because - aside from the usual suspects - Berisha is THE one to watch this season. There are a host of reasons why the Kosovan appears to be a great signing on paper, including the fact that he arrived at City already in shape due to his preseason with Stade de Reims, is an active international footballer, is dropping directly from France's Ligue 1 to a significantly lower standard, is only on loan for the season (indicating he is still of some value to his parent club) and fits into a great age profile (29). Berisha was widely tipped to be City's Player of the Season by the Talking City crew, and his contributions in central midfield could be pivotal to a potential league title three-peat.
On the Rise (U21): Callum Talbot
Though he's already 21 (turning 22 next year), new arrival Talbot simply has to feature in this category as one of the players tipped by the TC panel to have a big 2022/23 campaign. The fullback has two assists in pre-season and started City's past three fixtures prior to this afternoon's Adelaide clash (which he missed) ahead of Scott Galloway (though the latter missed the last two friendlies against Central Coast through injury). The young defender turned out to be a very intelligent bit of business from City, who reportedly entered negotiations with the prospect even before his breakout performances for Sydney FC in the second half of the 2021/22 campaign, effectively robbing the Sky Blues of one of their best players before they even knew he would be. Even if he doesn't turn out to be Patrick Kisnorbo's first-choice right-back straight away, it appears very likely that he soon will be, with fans potentially even set to witness that evolution this season.
Under pressure: Scott Jamieson
Tom Glover was the first name to go into this category, but then came a moment of sad realisation that, actually, City's #1 is very likely to remain our first-choice shotstopper regardless of his performances this season. If he was going to be replaced or given competition in the form of a new goalkeeper signing, he would have been. Though Matt Sutton featured twice in 2021/22, City's backup keeper did little to keep fans wanting more.
Whilst Glover's contract does expire at the end of the season, and he will hence be playing for an extension, it's the situation of Scott Jamieson and his three different sources of pressure that makes for more interesting consideration.
Most obviously, the very-soon-to-be 34-year-old faces a fierce challenge from youngster Jordan Bos for the role of City's starting left-back under Kisnorbo. Though Jamieson started every preseason game and appears to be safe on the left side of defence for now, the pressure will mount later in the season if City's performances aren't up to scratch.
This leads into the second source of pressure Jamieson will be facing this campaign: fans' expectations to be at the forefront of the title race yet again. As our club captain, no player would be held more responsible for a disappointing performance in that aspect than Jamieson (as tough as it sounds), which might only accelerate fans' desire for change at left-back.
This again links to the final dark cloud hanging over our skipper's head this season: his contract situation. Jamieson is in the final year of his contract at City, which will expire at season's end, and the veteran defender will be doing all he can to earn an extension and a chance to further make his case as a club legend.
Area of Concern: Defence
The City defensive unit wasn't at its best in 2021/22, and that trend has only continued this preseason campaign; the team has conceded eight goals in its three meetings against A-League opposition thus far. Reflecting on City's defensive underperformance last season, our back four actually did quite well in preventing opposition scoring opportunities; per FBRef, we conceded the fewest shots per 90 minutes of any team in the league. However, it was again the performances of our man between the sticks that let us down, with Glover conceding 2.8 more goals than expected - the third-worst of any goalkeeper in the league, according to FotMob. With Kisnorbo spoilt for choice in the final third as Maclaren, Leckie, Nabbout, Tilio and Berenguer continue to fire, it won't be the goal-scoring but the goal-preventing that will be the key area of focus in 2022/23.
Key to a successful season: Plan B
Ask any City fan and they'll pretty much give you the same answer. Our stock-standard 4-3-3 and patient buildup play can only be effective for so long, and after winning two consecutive league titles with this strategy, opposition teams are quickly working us out - evidenced by our failure to defeat any of last season's fellow top four sides inside the regulation 90 minutes. The relentless crossing to 5'9" Maclaren as he competes against significantly taller and stronger opponents, the frustrating back-passing at the first hint of trouble, and the wasted opportunities at the end of long passages of buildup play have long drawn the ire of fans, who would like nothing more than to see a Plan B implemented by Kisnorbo when the usual City football philosophy begins to let us down mid-encounter.
City has the versatile personnel to be able to adapt to mid-match formation changes, but how well the team is able to alter their playing style when required remains to be seen.
Records or milestones within reach (stats per the ever-reliable aleaguestats.com unless otherwise stated):
Following yet another off-season of little squad turnover, fans will be able to enjoy the fruit of this stability when two City players become the club's first to pass 150 competitive appearances, with both Scott Jamieson (139) and Curtis Good (128) likely to achieve this feat.
Further, City's '100 Club' could grow to six members when Jamieson, Good and David Williams are joined by Maclaren (98), Berenguer (97), and Glover (80) this season.
For an overview of the rest of City's possible milestone players in 2022/23, click here.
In regards to club records, the likeliest to be reached in 2022/23 is our all-time assists record. This achievement will certainly have an asterisk next to it though, as Transfermarkt, the only website I could find with City's all-time assists leaders on it, is one that is known to have incomplete data (Aaron Mooy, for instance, is credited with just 14 assists in his City career, when he recorded 21 in the 2015/16 season alone). Whilst there are a host of City players in reach of 'all-time assists leader' Craig Noone (17), perhaps the most surprising - and the equal-closest - is Jamieson, who has recorded 14 along with Nabbout. Tilio (13), Maclaren (12), and Berenguer (11) are also plausibly within reach.
Finally, one record that would be a little more official could be that of the A-League Men's player with the most goals for a single club. Maclaren has scored 77 in all competitions for City and requires a respectable 21 more in order to surpass Archie Thompson's tally for Victory. City's #9 could also further cement himself as one of the league's all-time greats by scoring 23 this season in order to become the first player to score 100 goals in the competition's history. The striker has netted 22, 25 and 15 goals in each of his full ALM seasons in City blue thus far (per FBRef).