Talking points preview: City vs Wellington
It'll be a historic night at Casey Fields this Wednesday as Melbourne Citys play host to Wellington Phoenix in the club's first senior competitive game at the venue, an FFA Cup Quarter-Final.
City comes into the clash on the back of an exhilarating 2-2 draw in the Christmas Derby, a contest that fans would have hoped for more out of given our 2-1 lead late on, before Nick D'Agostino's 81st-minute equaliser.
Wellington's poor start to the 2021/22 season continued on Sunday, with the side going down 2-1 to Sydney FC on an evening that saw the visiting Phoenix side create very little going forward other than their late consolation.
City will be without Jamie Maclaren for tomorrow night's clash, with the striker suspended following a red card in stoppage time on Saturday night. Mathew Leckie and Nuno Reis are also in doubt with minor niggles.
Here are some of the big talking points heading into the clash:
Are we serious about winning this thing?
When Patrick Kisnorbo's starting lineup to face Hume City was unveiled, any expectation of a routine win against NPL opposition was thrown out the window.
Kerrin Stokes, Jordan Bos, Anthony Lesiotis, Taras Gomulka and Raphael Borges Rodrigues - with an average age of 19 and combined 27 senior City appearances between them - were all named in the XI, either demonstrating an immense faith in the young group to get the job done or hinting at a lesser prioritisation of the game's result.
Despite our upcoming Quarter-Final clash with Wellington being a midweek game with league fixtures either side, if a similarly young lineup is named under the guise of 'rotation' then fans may have reason to believe the latter of the above explanations.
Yes, rotation may be necessary (although there was a four-day break heading into the tie and there'll be five days until our next game), but City have some of the scariest 'rotation' players in the league.
Whilst I'm all for youth development, the likes of Scott Galloway, Rostyn Griffiths, Manuel Pucciarelli and Stefan Colakovski (who surely plays in Maclaren's absence) are all perfect replacements if we must rotate.
If we're to continue building our identity and history, the FFA Cup is a piece of silverware that we should be desperate to win, and the lineup we name on Wednesday should reflect that ambition.
They may be everyone's equal-second team (I'll tie them with the Mariners), but the signs aren't looking good for Wellington heading into this one.
The Phoenix have already conceded 10 goals in five A-League Men's games this season, two more than the next worst defence. To dive deeper into the stats, this is also three goals more than they would be expected to have conceded according to their Expected Goals Against (xGA) of 1.4 per 90 (x five games = a total xGA of 7.0) - this value is also the worst of the 12 A-League Men's teams.
An underperformance against xGA such as this is typically indicative of superb finishing from the opposition or poor goalkeeping, and Wellington's goalkeeping predicament only got worse over the weekend when they lost Oli Sail to a hip flexor injury that will rule him out of the Cup fixture.
It was 19-year-old Alex Paulsen who stepped in between the sticks following Sail's first-half substitution against Sydney on the weekend and it'll be Paulsen again who City will need to find a way past tomorrow night.
When you throw in the additional absences of defender James McGarry (missed Sydney game with a knee injury) and Gary Hooper (unavailable due to personal reasons), and the fact that Wellington have played two games a week since the start of December, the circumstances appear to be very much in City's favour for tomorrow's game.
Is it time to give Matt Sutton a go?
(A condensed version of: Could Glover's dropping, or reinvention, be the key to City rediscovering its 20/21 form faster?)
According to data from FBref.com, Melbourne City have recorded the most shots per 90 minutes (19.00) and conceded the fewest (10.40) this season. Let's just start with the fact that when you're recording nine more shots than your opposition per game, you're in a pretty good position to collect some points.
For those with a soft spot for Expected Goals (xG) and Goals Against (xGA) data, FootyStats.org supports the contention of the stats from above; City also possess the best xG per 90 (1.94) and xGA (0.83) - we're expected to score a goal more than our opposition per game.
City's issue, unfortunately, is the man entrusted to keep out the shots that our opposition actually do get away: Tom Glover.
You see, based on the first five rounds, no keeper in the league performs worse when facing shots on target than City's #1. At the moment, opposition teams are scoring at a rate of one in every three shots on target - a league-worst figure (0.35). This explains why City have conceded two more goals than their expected xGA of 4.15 (and when you consider we've had three results that could have been different with even one less opposition goal...).
On paper, our defence is already better than last season, conceding fewer shots and shots on target (and, accordingly, lower xGA) per 90 than our double-winning backline of 2020/21. We just need to sort out that goalkeeping dilemma - whether by giving Matt Sutton a chance or Glover rediscovering his best form.