With its 5-1 loss to Adelaide yesterday, Patrick Kisnorbo's City squad has wrapped up an underwhelming preseason campaign and now looks ahead to its A-League Men's opener against Western United at home on Friday night.
City began its preseason schedule with a friendly in Melbourne's southeast against NPL1 side Dandenong Thunder, winning 3-2. Though the team was again successful in its Australia Cup Round of 32 fixture against Newcastle Olympic, fans were hardly convinced by the pair of uninspiring performances against second-tier opposition to that point.
They were even less impressed with Casey Field's disastrous premiere as our future south-east home, with the 2-1 losing scoreline against Wellington Phoenix only compounding fans' grievances with the unsuitable venue on that cold and wet night.
Though the ensuing preseason results went under the radar, the City boys again failed to give a convincing account of themselves throughout a pair of friendlies played away to Central Coast Mariners, with the hosts winning 2-0 and 4-2.
In our final hit-out ahead of the new ALM campaign, an extended City squad hosted a behind-closed-doors friendly against Adelaide United that consisted of three 45-minute periods. In the regulation 90 minutes, the scoreline finished 3-0 in Adelaide's favour, and that lead only blew out in the final period when two young lineups took to the field, finishing 5-1.
Preseason statistics (vs ALM opposition)
Played: 6 (4)
Won: 2 (0)
Lost: 4 (4)
Goals scored: 8 (4)
Goals conceded: 15 (13)
Goal difference: -7 (-9)
As evidenced by the above statistical summary, goalscoring has proven less of a concern throughout the preseason than our defensive solidity. The past few months' worth of fixtures has provided us with seven individual goalscorers, a testament both to our transition away from a reliance on Jamie Maclaren, but also to the youngsters who've taken their chances to impress in preseason. On Friday, 17-year-old Max Caputo followed up his appearance in The Guardian's Next Generation 2022 list of 100 top 2005-born footballing talents with City's only goal of the Adelaide friendly, making him our top scorer over the preseason.
Marco Tilio and Callum Talbot have also pushed their cases for starting selection with a pair of assists each.
City's record of 13 goals conceded in four fixtures against A-League opposition is a worrying sign for fans who lamented our defensive leakiness in 2021/22, however. Perhaps also frustrating is that there hasn't been a clear trend in the causes of our goal concessions; goals have arrived from all distances, from both our own defensive and possession errors but also opposition's clinical interplay and finishing. The following information comes from visual observations of highlights or interpretations of match reports where highlights weren't available:
How did we concede?
2x Defensive-third turnovers
2x Strikes from outside box
2x Failures to clear crosses from inside box (Galloway OG vs Thunder, Barbarouses goal in R16)
1x Aerial through ball
1x Ground through ball
1x Aerial cross
1x Ground pass inside box
On the surface, it feels like fans learned little from our six preseason games. Kisnorbo could plausibly dismiss any fan concerns with his characteristic straight-bat answers around players not being at full fitness, new signings taking time to bed in, injuries interrupting certain individuals' momentum, etc., and there's not much of a case to be argued otherwise.
Where the most interesting new information lies is in the City gaffer's selections throughout these six* preseason games.
*NOTE: The following discussion was written prior to Friday's friendly and assumes five preseason fixtures in total, and has been left unchanged because no starting lineup information was made available against Adelaide. Of the players discussed though, only Talbot and Galloway took no part in Friday's game.
Our first takeaway is that Jamo's not going anywhere. The City skipper started all five pre-season matches, one of few players to do so. Though Jordan Bos started three times, two of those appearances were as part of the front three and the only time he started at left-back was when Jamieson was named in midfield by necessity.
Secondly, 'LMNT' (we've got to settle on a standardised acronym soon) could be a very real thing this season. Leckie, Maclaren, Nabbout and Tilio have all started together in the past three fixtures, and this doesn't seem to have been by coincidence; the team assumed a 4-2-3-1 formation at stages of the Mariners friendlies, with Nabbout occupying a 'shadow striker'-type role behind Maclaren. Those hoping to see more of Tilio this season appear likely to do so, with the youngster being the only member of that awesome foursome to have started every preseason fixture.
Finally, there is a good chance that City will start the season with a new first-choice right-back. Although Galloway missed both Mariners games with an ankle injury, Talbot has now started the last three preseason fixtures, including, most tellingly, our Round of 16 Australia Cup fixture, when both players were available.
With the usual ambiguous circumstances surrounding City's preseason, fans likely won't know what kind of campaign we're in for until three games into the 2022/23 season, with Western United, Brisbane Roar (away) and Melbourne Victory comprising a tough start. It would demonstrate some pleasing improvement and inspired character if we can emerge from that period proud of the points tally we've accrued.
For now, City fans can only count down the days until the end of another unbearably long wait for our return home to the stands of AAMI Park. Another chapter in the history of Melbourne City Football Club is just waiting to be written.