After a promising start to the league this year, our City boys are set to take on bottom-of-the-table Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park.
The Phoenix have been rather competitive in all three of their losses thus far and were unlucky not to take a point from at least one of Western United, Sydney or Wellington.
City’s strong start to the season was really emphasised by our resilient win over Western United last Sunday, where we managed to score a match-winning goal in the last ten minutes despite playing the final third of the encounter a man down following Harrison Delbridge’s unfortunate red card.
In what would traditionally be a banana-peel fixture for City, especially as we look to really build some momentum and cement ourselves near the top of the table, here are the three talking points we’re looking at ahead of Sunday’s match:
A lack of JMac in attack
With the news of Maclaren’s 4-6 week hamstring injury, the dilemma that immediately presents itself is who should be selected to take up that striker position in his absence.
Having already witnessed several attempts to incorporate a false nine or utilise Lachie Wales out of his natural wide position, the Talking City podcast panel were unanimous in their support of the selection of young backup striker Moudi Najjar.
Our only other recognised number nine, Najjar is more adept at holding up the play with his back to goal, as opposed to JMac’s recognised proficiency at slipping in and finding space behind defenders, as occurred with both of his goals against Western United last week.
Najjar’s hold-up play will hopefully encourage the wingers to make dangerous runs in behind the opposition backline, leading us onto our second point…
Where are the goals going to come from?
Our dependence on Maclaren throughout the FFA Cup and early preseason games becomes especially concerning now that he’s out for at least a month.
Whilst Craig Noone showed impressive goalscoring form in the Cup, he’s been a little quieter than expected in the season’s opening rounds, but this Sunday’s clash looms as a huge opportunity for him to get off the mark in the league.
As discussed, Najjar’s hold-up play is likely to create opportunities for Noone to be slipped in behind the defence, leaving him in dangerous goalscoring opportunities which you’d certainly back him to score in, given his proven quality.
Noone’s not the only winger, of course, and Lachie Wales is probably in prime position to come to the rescue if the Englishman isn’t the one to get on the scoresheet. With Cabrera still injured and Najjarine presumably behind him in the pecking order, Wales looks to be decent odds of getting the start out on the right wing this weekend, though right-back Nathaniel Atkinson is also capable of playing higher up the pitch and could be just as likely to get the call-up.
One young gun for another
If goals are going to come from the midfield, we’re not too sure they’ll be from Brillante or Griffiths anytime soon given their deeper positions.
With Berenguer on the sidelines, the final – and most advanced – midfield spot is being contested between youngsters Connor Metcalfe and Denis Genreau.
Whilst Metcalfe’s preseason form earned him universal praise, he’s receded to ‘okay’ performances in his first two league starts and most recently was at fault for Western United’s only goal after he was subbed on in the second half of last weekend’s clash.
In the same game, Denis Genreau – who is probably a more natural advanced midfielder as opposed to Metcalfe, who seems to be more of a two-way player – sparked City into life with his beautiful, lofted assist for Maclaren’s first goal against Western United.
He was impressive throughout the clash and would be hard-done-by if he were dropped against Wellington following that performance, though Metcalfe absolutely still deserves further opportunities despite his error.
The development of these two youngsters will be an exciting storyline for City fans to follow throughout this season and it’ll be interesting to see who comes out ahead when the lineup is announced this weekend.