2021/22 A-League Men Season Preview – Melbourne Victory: Is Popovic the catalyst for improvement?

After a dismal season last year, can the Victory bounce back under new coach Tony Popovic? (Image: Melbourne Victory)

There’s a sense of optimism heading into the new season for the Melbourne Victory after a disastrous two years.

With the club finishing bottom of the table for the first time in the club’s history, the Victory have appointed Tony Popovic in as the new head coach to rebuild the club.

Bolstering their squad during the offseason, Melbourne will be looking to be one of the big improvers this season in Popovic’s maiden season as coach.

Last Season:

12th ( Five wins, four draws, 17 losses)

Biggest Inclusion:

Winger Chris Ikonomidis joined the Victory during the offseason to much fanfare, making the move east from Perth Glory.

The 26-year-old has been an influential attacking wide player with the Glory, scoring 16 goals in his 41 appearances for the club.

With the Victory lacking firepower last season in its three joint top scorers Jake Brimmer, Elvis Kamsoba and Rudy Gestede scored just five goals, Ikonomidis will be looking to add some spark to Victory’s attack.

Having been voted as the A-League Men’s Young Footballer of the year and been selected in the A-League Men’s team of the season in the 2018-19 campaign while playing under Popovic in Perth, the Victory coach will be hopeful he can get the best out of the winger again.

Ikonomidis also comes to the club with experience in European football having spent four seasons as a Lazio player, with loan spells at Salernitana and AGF.

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Biggest Departure:

There was a cleanout during the offseason at the Victory, with several squad regulars from last season moving on but one the club should have kept was left-back Adama Traore who eventually joined rivals Western Sydney Wanderers.

With defence being Melbourne’s biggest weakness last year conceding a league high 60 goals, left-back Traore was one of the better performers in the Victory’s defence, as he was in 2019/20 when the club again struggled.

Though his second stint never reached the heights of his first stint from 2012-2014 in which he was awarded Melbourne Victory player of the season, Traore was still a reliable number three for the club.

Former Socceroo Jason Davidson arrived on a free transfer and should be a good like-for-like replacement, but the side now lacks depth in the position with Dalibor Markovic moving to Western United midseason last year and So Nishikawa moving to the USA to play college soccer.

What to expect?

Often looking directionless and without a plan for the majority of the past two A-League Men’s seasons, the Victory will be more organised on the pitch under the tutelage of Popovic.

Defensively the side will look more stable with a completely new back four with Davidson, Brendan Hamill, Matthew Spiranovic and Jason Geria coming across during the offseason. Stefan Nigro also returned to the club and should be a reliable rotation player.

Having kept only two clean sheets for the entirety of last season, Popovic looks to have addressed the defensive issue by signing a new back four who are competent at the back and bringing in a new keeper, Ivan Kelava, the Croatian having previously played under Popovic an Xanthi.

New signee Josh Brillante who comes across from Xanthi will replace Jacob Butterfield in central midfield, with Popovic likely to use him as a ball-winning midfielder and deep lying playmaker.

Though Ben Folami signing permanently from Ipswich Town after his loan-spell last season, and could be used as the lone striker, Popovic’s preferred option would be Nicholas D’Agostino who comes across from the Perth Glory or the Italian signing Francesco Margiotta who most recently played for Chievo Verona in Italy’s Serie B.

Popovic likes his strikers to be flexible in both attack and defence, being able drop back and help in midfield while also being clinical up front and being able to find the net, a role suited more to D’Agostino and Margiotta than Folami.

Can Popovic turn Victory’s fortunes around in his first season as head coach? (Image: A-League)

Predicted XI

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