Can Melbourne Victory go one step further in 2022/23? (Photo: Melbourne Victory FC; Design: Will Cuckson)

Melbourne Victory impressed many in 2021/22 with an unbelievable turnaround after finishing last just the season before. After falling just one game short of the grand final, Victory will be out to do one better this season.

Last season

Second (13 wins, nine draws, four losses)

Under the leadership of Tony Popovic, Melbourne Victory’s 2021/22 season was one expected by few, turning their last place finish the season before to second on the ladder.

While many knew Popovic would spark something in the boys in blue, not all could have said they had predicted a semi-final berth.

Victory sat atop of the A-League Men ladder after eight games before going on to win the FFA Cup. The side then slightly dipped in form, losing its next three consecutive games, but was able to get back on track and go on to obtain a 15-match undefeated streak (nine wins, six draws).

Finishing second, Melbourne got the first week off in the finals, then meeting with Western United in the semi-finals. While Victory won their first game 1-0, a shocking 1-4 loss saw the aggregate score total 2-4, and United progressing to the grand final.

Biggest in: 

Melbourne Victory’s signing of Portuguese legend Luis Nani was not just its biggest signing during the off-season, but one of the biggest across the league.

The 35-year-old joins Victory from Italian side Venezia after playing for some of the biggest clubs world-wide, including over 100 caps for Manchester United.

A winger who can play on either side, he will undoubtedly slide into the position left by Marco Rojas on the right-hand side – Nani’s preferred.

Nani doesn’t often score goals, with 23 to his name from 112 games for his national side, but rather impressively sets up goals, boasting a higher proportion of assists than Cristiano Ronaldo.

That’s not to say the winger will not use his pace and fine footwork to cut inside from the wing from distance and find the back of the net.

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Biggest out: 

Marco Rojas’ third stint with Melbourne Victory came to an end during the off-season, after the 30-year-old signed a new deal with Chilean side Colo-Colo. While his position may have been filled, there is no doubt his presence will be missed.

In his third spell, the New Zealand international found the back of the net on 12 occasions and assisted a further nine times. The right winger was undoubtedly a reliable member of his side.

Victory will miss the Kiwi’s football smarts, his ability to read the game and selflessness to create opportunities for his forward teammates.

Also departing the club was fan favourite Jason Davidson, who made the move to Belgium First Division side AS Eupen.

Davidson brought a wealth of experience to the club, having played for international clubs in Korea, Slovenia, Croatia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and England, and slotted right into Victory’s defence.

After playing under Popovic at Perth Glory, Davidson joined Victory understanding the structure his head coach wished to implement. Paired with his leadership, he was able to assist the younger players in finding their feet in the backline. 

Davidson’s departure will allow the likes of Stefan Nigro and Jay Barnett to accumulate more game time alongside a backline that otherwise wasn’t significantly affected by the transfer period.

What to expect:

It’s an overused cliché, but Melbourne Victory will be hungrier than ever to go that one step further in 2022/23 following their semi-final loss.

Popovic crafted a team in his inaugural season which gelled quicker and more effective than some may have thought, and will only strengthen with the inclusions of Nani, Kiki Cadete, Tom Juric, Paul Izzo and Nathan Konstandopoulos.

It’s expected Popovic will again focus on playing a defensive game this season, restricting teams to as minimal goals as possible to secure wins.

Johnny Warren medallist Jake Brimmer was a pivotal member in his side’s comeback season and will lead the way with his versatility. Brimmer managed seven goals and seven assists last season, showing just how talented he was in attack.

Popovic will again rely on the versatility of his strikers, which he likes to be able to play in both attack and defence when required. Nick D’Agostino proved to be reliable in that role, with support from Francesco Margiotta.

Ben Folami, whose last season saw noticeable improvement, will have again fight for a starting position on the wing, but may find he rotates with Nani at the season’s commencement until a more concrete starting XI is determined.

Starting XI

The Inner Sanctum’s predicted starting XI for Melbourne Victory. (Design: Will Cuckson)

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