After a dominant 4-0 win over Wellington last weekend, veteran goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri is enjoying getting the opportunity to play consistently again despite COVID interruptions.
It has not been an easy season for any of the teams, mostly because of COVID-19 related stoppages and postponements. For the City women, just being able to get on the park has been massive.
“I think everyone was just happy to be back on the park again,” Barbieri told media on Thursday after being asked what the mood was like amongst the City dressing room.
“COVID has disrupted our preparations along with a lot of other teams, so it was great to have everyone fit and healthy and back on the park.”
City has only played three games since the middle of December, with large numbers of players within the squad testing positive after the 5-1 demolition of Melbourne Victory.
As one of the leaders in the squad, Barbieri has taken a lot on her shoulders to make sure the younger players on the team, some of whom are away from home for the first time, cope with what has been a difficult season off the park.
“Without that support system of their families, I really think myself and Check [captain Emma Checker] have really taken (it) on our shoulders to make sure that they are bonding well,” she said.
“Everyone puts on a brave face, so it’s really about asking those nitty-gritty questions and making sure that people are feeling heard and being looked after.”
With young keeper Sally James expected to hold the number one spot for most of the season, Barbieri may have to shift her approach to the rest of the season.
“I always go into a season expecting I’ll start,” she admitted.
“It’s just my mentality so that you don’t have to get ready, you already are ready. I work through the pre-season like I’m going to start and then every week it’s the same thing.
“It’s the only way you can progress as a keeper, continuously learning, continuously growing, and continuously pushing for that number one spot.
“That’s how I’m able to then turn my character into someone that’s also supportive on the bench, so whatever I do is important for the team from day dot. If my role on the weekend is to actually play then so be it.”
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Shifting focus towards the Adelaide game, Barbieri said that the starting keeper decision was up to coach Rado Vidosic to decide who plays on the weekend.
“I play my part when I’m asked to and it’s all about keeping clean sheets. I don’t mind who does it as long as we do it,” she said.
But what is the key for City to beat Adelaide United for the second time this season?
The City girls came away last time with a 3-1 win at AAMI Park, giving United keeper Annalee Grove hell from the starting whistle. Rhianna Pollicina picked up her first score in city blue, while Hannah Wilkinson scored a brace.
It will be a much-improved Reds side they face this time though, with a midfield and attacking end that has built greater and greater chemistry as the games go by.
The Reds have scored seven goals in their past two games, one of the most potent attacks in the competition.
“It’s about making sure that we understand that each team is getting better every week,” Barbieri started.
“They’re coming up with new strategies. Their coaches are working hard behind the scenes, so we understand that just because we played a team before doesn’t mean we’ll get that same team come the weekend.
“What we’ll be focusing on is our set-up, our game play, the way that we’ve always tried to play that City brand of football and making sure that we capitalise on those chances. Adelaide were a formidable opponent last time we came up against them, so we know that they’re going to be extra tough on home soil.”Embed from Getty Images
Two key absences stand out for City however, being Winona Heatley and Holly McNamara who have been called into the Matildas training camp in Dubai ahead of the Asian Cup. Covering their absences won’t be easy, but Barbieri thinks her teammates are ready to step up.
“I think that’s the best part of our team this year is that we’ve got really great depth,” she said.
“You’ve seen the likes of Darcey Malone and Meisha Westland coming on and playing that six role. Even in the toughest of matches, Rado hasn’t batted an eyelid when it came to making substitutions.
“With us, we’ve got equally as good players on the bench, and if they take their opportunity, maybe those Matildas maybe those Matildas might have to struggle coming back into the squad,” Barbieri finished with a smile.
Barbieri, a veteran Matilda herself and part of the 2010 winning Asian Cup squad, had one small thing that she wanted to pass on to Heatley and McNamara ahead of their departure to Dubai.
“I just wanted to pass on my congratulations, and I sent them a photo of the ‘Never Say Die’ badge that’s on the inside of our shirts behind the emblem.
“Many years ago, [and] I’m not sure if they still do that, but we still have that sort of motto of ‘Never Say Die’. I think passing that onto them was just a couple of words of encouragement.
“What I give to them every day is my chats. You know, what they can do to help beat me, to help save me.
“I think one of the favourites of mine is when I walk up to Holly after I’ve just saved a couple of her shots and I tell her how to beat me.
“I’ll rue the day at one stage,” she laughed, “but right now she’s my team-mate so I get to tell her that.”
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