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Where are our Champions?: An early-season review

It has been just under three months since the City boys commenced their competitive season, and it's safe to say that what we have seen has left a polarizing effect on the majority of the City community.

There has been a lot to like and dislike from our Men’s matches this year, which makes an early-season review not the easiest topic to cover. To combat this, we’ll try to keep it as simple as possible: The good, the bad, and lastly where do we go moving forward?

This will hopefully in turn speak to both sides of the argument on City's season thus far, whilst also opening the door for some healthy discussion.

The Good

We know how to score goals

At the time of writing, City has currently scored 15 times this season. This places us in second, only one goal off Adelaide who we have a game in hand on.

City has only been held scoreless three times this season, twice against Western United and once in our exit from the FFA Cup. It’s an interesting conundrum because in those games we really struggled to create many chances at all, but for the most part we haven’t had any issues finding the back of the net.

When your attacking line is led by three Socceroos, you wouldn’t expect them to struggle too much. Nabbout is looking even stronger than last season, JMac is doing what JMac does and though Leckie hasn’t hit anywhere near the level that we know he can, he is still chipping in with goal involvements.

Source: Andrew Wiseman @wisemansports

Having such a potent attacking lineup is great because we know we are only ever half a chance away from a potential goal, therefore giving us the ability to take points from games when we aren’t at our best - which in truth has been the majority of this season, but more on that later.

Youth doing their part

There is no denying COVID has riddled most of the clubs in the league so far this season.

With cases and forced isolation popping up here there and everywhere, you never know which position may need filling when gameday rolls around. Luckily for City, this has presented an opportunity for some fresh faces who couldn’t quite break into the side last season. Bos looks like he has plenty to offer on the wing, Gomulka has been given more of a chance, Hall and Stokes have also made appearances, whilst Tilio keeps getting better, even earning himself his first international cap.

Giving youth game time is hard for clubs, but it's even harder when the club is defending its Championship. Whilst we would no doubt love to field our best 11 week in, week out, young players getting time in the spotlight is always great to see.

The Bad

Before we start the not-so-good, a couple of disclaimers:

Covid has hit us pretty hard, there is no denying that, but it’s also hit every side in the league. For example, Perth and Wellington have been away from home and have no end in sight for when they may get back. Elsewhere, teams have also had their players thrown into quarantine from out of nowhere, just like us. It seems COVID is just something that clubs will have to learn to live with. With that in mind, the points forthcoming may be attributed in some capacity to COVID, but will not be excused due to COVID.

Secondly, these are purely opinions based on personal observation and through talking to some other City fans. There will be people who completely disagree and that’s fine; as previously stated, I welcome healthy discussion.

Our defence

An argument I often hear after our drawn or lost games is “We could’ve scored 4”. Whilst that’s a fair point, if we account for what we may have scored, we must also do the same for our opponents.

Let’s use our most recent match against Western United, for example. We could’ve scored a few, but if not for Glover playing like he had eight arms, we also could’ve very well conceded 4+. That defence consisted entirely of players who were active in our championship side, barring Jenkinson - but when you’ve played for Arsenal, you’d walk into any A-League club.

Long story short, we were more than strong enough to cope with a front three that included Wales and Pain, and yet were lucky to walk away conceding only one.

Source: Andrew Wiseman / @wisemansports

We let in three against Wanderers, two soft goals against Victory, and have gifted two easy goals twice now to the Reds.

There’s really no way to hide it; when we have the second-best attack in the league but have only won three out of nine league games, it means we’ve got issues down back. I’m not sure where it’s come from, last year we looked indestructible, but it now seems any attacking threat is coming at the expense of our defensive structure.

Time is on our side as we’re only a third of the way through the season, but a simple fact of football is it doesn’t matter how many we score, we are no chance of really pushing for silverware if we continue conceding the way we do - the JVS era proved that.

Seemingly not learning from mistakes

Mistakes are good in football, and in life. We often learn more from our losses than our wins, which is why when we started slow this season no one suggested hitting the panic button. After all, look at how we started last season.

The difference is, last season we seemed to find our stride and never looked back. This time out, we’re still waiting to hit that switch, and week on week it isn’t looking like we’re much closer.

I don’t think we’re moving backwards, but we aren’t moving forwards.

We’ve played two sides twice this year, and both times the same mistakes have cost us maximum points. Twice we’ve passed sideways for 90 minutes against Western United, creating very little only to gift chances away on the counter. And twice we’ve got the jump on Adelaide only to again give away chances in the final phase of the game.

I look at these games in particular because they're the matches in which we would expect to see progress - to learn from what cost us the first time around - but we haven’t.

I understand why we are so reliant on trusting our process, and I don’t entirely disagree with it, but whilst I look at us not adding many points to our tally, and watch other sides increase their games in hand on us, I’m left asking: how much longer can we afford to keep trusting the process?

Source: Matt McIndoe @mjmphotography

One of our other big strengths this season seems to be finding a way to grind out results, as we’ve only lost two games. But, in a seemingly more even competition than it was last season, wins are crucial. This is not only for our top two chances, but also to stamp some authority back on the rest of the competition.

Teams will now be looking at us as a side that, if they do their homework, are a serious opportunity for points. After working so hard the last two seasons to erase that culture, we can’t give it back.

Where do we go from here?

The general consensus on describing Melbourne City so far this season has been uncertain. No one quite knows what’s not working, but we’re also seeing a lot of what is working.

Are we happy with what we’re seeing? No. Should we make some serious change? Not yet.

Not many people I’ve spoken to think it's time for radical change in the coaching staff, and neither do I. After all, these are our Champions.

It seems that so many of us are frustrated because we do have so much faith in this group, we know what they are capable of and we trust them to get the job done. It seems odd but in the simplest terms, we judge so critically because we know just how good we can be. So in short, I think these boys deserve more time, for now.

We are only a third of the way into the season, and we aren’t winning as much as we’d like, but we aren’t losing many either. If we can find a way to clean up our defence then there’s not a team in the country City can’t beat. But it does need to happen quickly. As the weeks go on, the results must improve, because if they don’t, pressure will mount on all involved.

As a fan base, the best thing we can do is get to AAMI in numbers and back them in. This team has given us some great memories in the past two years, and has shown on more than one occasion they care about the badge as much as we do.

They deserve our faith a little while longer.

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