Talking points preview: Wanderers vs City
Every game is crucial in this cutthroat season of the A-League Men's; the competition is tighter than ever and jumbled fixtures misconstrue the true positions on the ladder.
But after a frustratingly long string of draws, we've crucially managed to get some wins on the board, and as we near the middle of the season we're slowly running out of time to find our best form.
That said, there are plenty of positives that signal that a run of hot form is about to hit and with a quick turnaround this week we'll be looking to keep our momentum going.
Here are the major talking points heading into the Friday night clash:
Next Target: The Wanderers
Coming off the back of a dominant 4-2 win against the Jets, we're coming into an intriguing matchup against the Western Sydney Wanderers who are - to put it lightly - in a state of transition. The recently fired manager Carl Robinson sure talked a big game but with his heavily imbalanced squad, the team barely managed to string together a few good passes, let alone positive results.
Now, Mark Rudan is in charge and after two games with narrow results in either direction the bullish manager will be looking to assert his authority during Friday night's game. While he is a known quantity in this league, it'll be interesting to see how he selects a starting XI from his front-loaded squad against a Melbourne City defence that's as leaky as a sieve.
High Risk/High Reward
Patrick Kisnorbo isn't the kind of manager that's happy to ship goals so long as we outscore our opponents - it's just not the kind of philosophy he'd adopt in my humble opinion.
But as we are currently ranking first in the league for goals scored and second for goals conceded, that's where we're at - hell, we haven't even been outscoring the opposition frequently enough.
Let's review our personnel: Our backline possesses two of the best centre-backs in the league in Curtis Good and Nuno Reis, a veteran left-back in captain Jamo, and Galloway over at right-back performing as well as ever.
For cover, we have one of the most exciting up-and-coming prodigies in the league with Jordan Bos, a player that would walk into any other team's starting XI in the ever-crucial Rostyn Griffiths, as well as a massive new signing in Carl Jenkinson, who has proved his worth in his limited opportunities.
While Tom Glover had suffered from a prolonged dip in form earlier in the season, he's shown signs the past few weeks that he's well on his way back to being the Super Tommy we all know and love.
So, the cattle at hand isn't the issue.
We know that being one of the few teams in the league with the guts to actually play a high press means we'll likely cop a few more goals than the average team, but the above list of players are more than capable of covering our proverbial exposed arses.
After last season we're hardly about to change tactics - we know that when our style works, we're unstoppable. Surely the issue then comes down to our favourite word: consistency.
The Other C-Word
COVID cases, players lost to international duty, short turnarounds, and now we've even temporarily got the assistant manager in the dugout; if anything has been consistent this season, it's been us here at Talking City harping on about the inconsistency. But, as fellow writer Jesse rightly pointed out: distractions are a factor, but not an excuse.
This week's game provides a massive opportunity to prove that we've clicked into gear; Nabbout continues to be an ever-present threat down the wing, constantly terrorising opposition defences and Jamie is as reliable as ever. His two goals and an assist against the Jets bring him up to a staggering 73 goal contributions in 60 games with the club. With Leckie finally hitting his straps, our front three are finally nudging at their potential. Lecks' goal is, of course, his highlight of the match, but the winger also played a key role in build-up play and, with several probing shots at goal, he became a problem that the Novocastrian defence couldn't ignore, stretching them wide and making room for his Socceroo strike partners.
Headlining this newfound consistency and optimism is the long-awaited return of the league's nicest bloke, Curtis Good. The club favourite has been sidelined for months due to the after-effects of COVID and his return is going to go a long way to addressing the above-mentioned defensive concerns.
One thing that has been consistent all season is the duo of Berenguer and Metcalfe roaring away as our engine in midfield. Florin has reached new heights in 2021/22, providing creativity and verticality in our forward progression and has been at the heart of all our attacks - he's arguably been our best player this season. Keeping him company, Metcalfe bagged two assists on Tuesday night and has provided constant headaches to opposition defenders with his late runs into the box. Like Metcalfe's fellow Socceroo Jackson Irvine, his advanced presence up the pitch has been causing problems for oppositions that already have a potent front three to deal with. At this rate, Tsubasa Endoh and Manuel Pucciarelli are going to have to resign themselves to simply being positional competition.
The points are there for the taking in a heavily-congested February of football and it's crucial that we capitalise so that we come out on top of the pack when the dust settles at the end of the month.
The attack-heavy Wanderers are bound to ask questions of our defence but the boys are poised to deliver to us the kind of performance that we as a fan base have been crying out for; the kind of fast-passing demolition show that demonstrates we're capable of good performances week-in, week-out, not just the occasional flash in the pan.
If the boys can provide this, I promise never to mention the word 'consistency' again, and that's a win we could all do with.
Prediction: Western Sydney Wanderers 1 - Melbourne City 3