Talking points preview: City vs Wellington
Fans will be treated to an additional day of City football this week as Rado Vidosic's side hosts Wellington Phoenix in an Easter Monday special at AAMI Park.
The boys will hope to build on the momentum of a first win in almost a month following our Derby success, whilst also putting further distance between ourselves and Adelaide.
The Phoenix are themselves coming off a clash with the cellar-dwelling navy blue side, but surprisingly fell a long way short of their expectations as they crumbled 2-1 at home. Wellington haven't won away from home since beating Western United in mid-February.
Melbourne City will be without captain Scott Jamieson, who will miss the clash through suspension for his pair of yellow cards picked up against Newcastle Jets a week ago.
Here are the biggest talking points coming into the Easter Monday clash:
Lid's back off... ?
City fans had expressed doubt over the team's ability to retain the Premier's Plate just a handful of days ago, but a win in the postponed Melbourne Derby and a surprise draw between Adelaide and Sydney have tipped the equation significantly back in our favour.
As it stands, Melbourne City requires six points from our final four games to mathematically guarantee a third-consecutive Plate (though five should do given our superior goal difference). If the boys were to secure victory tomorrow against the Phoenix, we'd just about have one hand on the plate, needing only: one win or two draws or Adelaide to drop points again from just one of their final three games.
Of course, a win against Ufuk Talay's side is far from guaranteed. Much has been made of City's poor recent form, with our only wins in our past five games coming against the lowly Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory (with a 1-0 headstart). Wellington have proven to be of a higher calibre this season, but will need to overcome a nine-year winless streak against City at AAMI Park, with their last win in the fixture arriving in 2013/14 against the then-Heart.
It will be a significant challenge for our City boys, but a win would be accompanied by even more significant reward tomorrow evening.
Let's talk about J-Mac...
Goalless in his last five games, Jamie Maclaren is enduring one of the longest dry spells of his career, and some City fans are demanding change.
Not this one, though.
Not only is one of Jamie's greatest strengths his ability to play a poor 90 minutes only to pop up for a goal at the moment of the team's greatest need, but we wouldn't even be having this conversation if his teammates had just been a fraction better in critical moments over the past few weeks.
Casting our minds back firstly to Macarthur, it was Marco Tilio who not only passed up a golden scoring opportunity for himself, but was also inaccurate with the pass that could have provided Maclaren a tap-in in the game's dying stages. Following the international break, it was Andrew Nabbout's turn, similarly wasting a chance to square a ball for Maclaren to tap-in against Newcastle Jets, this time putting the ball too far behind Maclaren's back-post run.
In fact, it's this theme of underperforming supporting forwards that I want to focus on as a whole.
Would you believe that a senior Melbourne City attacker has not scored a goal since our away loss to Adelaide on the 3rd of March? Concerningly, it has been an own-goal, Max Caputo, and - hilariously or depressingly - Aiden O'Neill (FOUR* times!) that City has to thank for finding a way onto the scoresheet against Brisbane, Macarthur, Newcastle and Victory*.
Yes, Jamie has missed some sitters and underperformed generally over the same time span, but he shouldn't be the fall guy for the team's impotency.
Stop Zawada, stop the Phoenix?
Unfortunately, looking over to our opposition, an in-form striker is not what Wellington lacks.
Oskar Zawada has been on fire in 2023, either scoring or assisting in 13 of his past 14 games. In fact, the Phoenix could attribute an astonishing 15 points to the Polish forward, where his goal involvement has earned them a draw or win that they wouldn't have had otherwise.
Whilst the issue could be simplified to just "Stop Zawada", I won't even attempt to lay the groundwork for how that might be achieved - how many other teams have tried and failed, again? Besides, with City's recent defensive woes, that task will be all the more difficult, but we do have one thing going for us: Zawada has failed to score in each of his previous two meetings with City this season.
He may be coming up against an out-of-sorts defence that desperately needs reform, but here's hoping Zawada's - and the Phoenix's - City curse continues.