Marco Tilio celebrating his first goal of the season against the Wanderers. (Image: Marco Tilio/Instagram)

A strong start to the season from Marco Tilio has shown just why he should be in Melbourne City's starting XI.

Though he is one of the most exciting talents in our country, Marco Tilio is not a consistent starter for his club. In his time in the A-League Men, however, he has made a strong case for a starting spot at Melbourne City.

Since leaving Sydney FC for Melbourne City, Tilio has announced himself as one of Australia’s most promising prospects. Despite constant impressive cameos however, the 20-year-old is finding it difficult to cement a spot in Patrick Kisnorbo’s starting XI.

Moving to a City side with an abundance of attacking talent always meant that Tilio would begin life at City making appearances off the bench. That is exactly how the 2020/21 A-League Men season went for him.

Tilio was impressive in his debut season for Melbourne City. Despite only starting 10 of his 22 games, he recorded two goals and five assists while only averaging a modest 47 minutes per game.

He was a constant source of energy and impact when Kinsorbo decided to rest wingers Andrew Nabbout and Craig Noone or attacking midfielder Florin Berenguer.

After ending the season a champion, Tilio continued his strong form in the Olympics, where he scored for Australia off the bench in a shock win against Argentina.

With Craig Noone leaving City for Macarthur, the door to the starting lineup momentarily opened for Tilio. It was quickly shut once again however with the arrival of Bundesliga veteran and Socceroos mainstay Matthew Leckie.

Tilio has started season 2021/22 the same way he ended the last, an impact player, primarily off the bench. He has played six games so far, only starting two of them. He has scored once and assisted once, along with creating two big chances and averaging just under two key passes a game.

Unlike last season, City’s front three are not all fit and firing on all cylinders. Tilio is becoming hard to deny, which has left fans questioning why he is not starting games for his club.

A problematic Socceroo

When Matthew Leckie was announced as a Melbourne City player, opposition fans feared that an already daunting City front three would be even more irresistible in season 2021/22.

Unfortunately for City, it has been the absence of Craig Noone that has been strongly felt, not the inclusion of Leckie.

Noone was a prolific winger for Kisnorbo’s championship winning outfit, with a combined 14 direct goal involvements (goals and assists).

Just as importantly, Noone was a creative outlet that City heavily relied upon. He led the league in 2020/21 for big chances created with 15, and key passes per game with 3.6.

Leckie has so far been unable to even get close to matching Noone’s impact for City. He has started all five games so far this season, averaging 80 minutes per game. Despite his pedigree, he is yet to contribute any goal contributions.

He has only created one big chance and is currently averaging 1.8 key passes per game, half of Noone’s output from the previous season.

There could be a few reasons for Leckie’s struggles. Coming off a Bundesliga season where he only played 17 games, starting five and averaging 29 minutes a game, he may need time to build up his engine and find the lethal touch that has made him a crucial player for the national team.

It is also entirely possible that Leckie just does not fit what Kisnorbo’s system requires of him. Whatever the issue is, the immediate solution can be found on City’s bench in the form of Marco Tilio.

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The case for Tilio in City’s starting XI

Despite the massive difference in experience, pedigree, reputation and salary, Tilio has simply been able to do more than Leckie with less time on the field. If the average football person was to receive the statistics of the two players purely from this season with the names removed, Tilio would be the easy choice to start.

The issue is complicated by the commitment City have made to Leckie salary wise, along with Kisnorbo’s resolute faith in his senior player.

At just 20 years of age, this is a time in Tilio’s career where he needs to be playing regularly. Australia’s domestic competition should not be hampering the development of the stars of tomorrow, especially those as bright as Tilio. Stature and salary are important parts of football, but games are won on the field.

Tilio has two more goal contributions than Leckie this season and has slightly surpassed his creative statistics, despite the fact Tilio is averaging 46 minutes per game and Leckie 80. Tilio’s creative contributions can make him a better fit currently for the attacking players surrounding him than Leckie currently is.

Finally, Leckie is a veteran of the game. It is important to remember that his time in Germany was not a stroll in the park. He had to fight and claw his way from an outsider on the bench to become a respected player who worked his way up to first team, top flight football.

Moving Leckie to the bench may release the constant pressure on him to produce from the first minute, instead releasing him later in the game where he could have a devastating impact and find form and confidence against tired back lines.

If City is not the right fit for Leckie, there are plenty of clubs in the A League Men who would love to make Leckie the centre of their final third production. As football fans though, it is important to remember Leckie’s quality and resilience before dismissing him as a player.

Kisnorbo must be commended for viewing Tilio as an underappreciated asset at Sydney FC and picking him up for his Melbourne City side. It is time for Kisnorbo to come to another realisation about Tilio.

As important as structure and hierarchy are in football, at the end of the day form must reign supreme. Marco Tilio is the future of Australian football, and on current form deserves to be the present of Melbourne City’s left wing.

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