Watching Tony Popovic’s rejuvenated Melbourne Victory side this year has been an experience.
The Victory faithful were loud and clear in their endorsement of their side as “we are top of the league,” rang around AAMI Park as the game against Western United concluded.
Tony Popovic is rightly renowned for how miserly his teams are in terms of giving up goals, and this season will be no different. One thing that often goes unnoticed is how Popovic consistently gets the best out of his attacking midfielders.
Popovic has completely transformed the midfield pivot, with import Rai Marchan excelling at shielding the backline and skipper Josh Brillante aiding in the defensive cause, also providing support further up the field in the box-to-box role.
As good as that duo has been, what can separate Victory’s midfield from the rest of the competition is their creator-in-chief, Jake Brimmer.
Jake Brimmer before season 2021/22
Brimmer is not new to Melbourne Victory nor Popovic.
Starting his Victory career last season, Brimmer was one of the few shining lights for the wooden spooners, amassing 10 goal involvements (five goals and five assists) and averaging 2.6 key passes per game.
That is an admirable effort for a side that only scored 31 goals in a season. Unfortunately for Brimmer, not many of his teammates matched his output and like the team, his performance fluctuated.
Before joining Victory, Brimmer played under Popovic at Perth Glory. In that situation, Johnny Warren Medallist, Diego Castro, occupied the ’10’ spot.
Despite being able to play as a central midfielder, Brimmer was usually the backup, behind the experienced duo of Neil Kilkenny and Juande.
Popovic was evidently aware of the talents of the former Liverpool Academy player. While making wholesale changes to Victory’s wooden spoon-winning squad, Brimmer was retained and he has started all six A League Men games so far this season.
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Jake Brimmer in season 2021/22
So far this season, Brimmer is replicating the high points of his 2020/21 season. This time, his output looks sustainable in a strong squad under a coach who understands his strengths and has set him up for success.
Just looking at pure goal involvements, Brimmer is having a solid season with three assists in six games. A goal involvement every other game is not a bad stat for a midfielder, but when you dig into the stats and you watch the games unfold, it is clear Brimmer is performing way above what the assist numbers suggest.
Behind ‘three assists’ lies Jake Brimmer’s 19 key passes completed this season. A key pass is the final pass to a recipient of the ball who has an attempt on goal. Currently, Brimmer is averaging 3.2 key passes a game, leading the competition.
The 23-year-old also leads the competition in the ‘big chances created’ statistic, which is when a player creates a clear-cut chance at goal where there is a reasonable chance of conversion.
He has currently created five big chances, leading some of the competition’s stars including Daniel Penha, Danny De Silva, Andrew Nabbout, and teammate and league assist leader Marco Rojas.
Further proof Brimmer is coming into his own can be found in his last two games, where he has produced an assist in each outing.
Brimmer’s confidence and skill were clearly evident in the lead up to Victory’s second goal against Western United on the weekend.
Straight after Victory’s opening goal, Brimmer pounced on the ball intercepted by his skipper Brillante. He then proceeded to glide past three Western United players before returning the favour and assisting Brillante, whose long-range effort found the back of the net.
It has been a promising start to life under Popovic for Brimmer, and as the team continues improving, he will be a key contributor. This is not the first time Popovic has used an attacking midfielder to devastating effect.
Attacking midfielders under Tony Popovic
Questions were asked on the eve of Western Sydney’s inaugural season when the Wanderers opted for Japanese playmaker Shinji Ono over the potential big-name marquee signing of Michael Ballack. Ono more than delivered, being the chief creator for a side that reached consecutive A League Grand Finals.
With Ono returning to Japan, Popovic signed Mitch Nichols who had not found any consistency since his days under Ange Postecoglou at Brisbane. Nichols was productive for the Wanderers, slotting into the attacking midfield spot and helping the club record another Grand Final appearance.Embed from Getty Images
Finally, while managing Perth, Popovic inherited the brilliant Diego Castro.
Under Popovic, Castro was the key to Perth’s explosive attack, ensuring chances were of high frequency and quality with the Glory scoring a league leading 56 goals. In this period, Castro also led his side to a Grand Final appearance.
When you look at their histories, both Melbourne Victory and Tony Popovic know how to win.
Victory supporters are aiming for the stars after a promising start to the season. Success is possible and as the team clicks, Popovic would be wise to ensure Brimmer remains a key part of it.
At 23 years of age, he is more than capable of emulating and even surpassing the achievements of the aforementioned attacking midfielders.
Brimmer offers Victory a combination of creativity, skill and energy that is unmatched in most of the current attacking midfielders around the league. What he brings to the table can translate to the moment of quality that can decide big matches, as we saw on the weekend.
If Brimmer’s form continues, it would not be a surprise if he receives a national call up, and eventually another shot overseas.
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