29/02/2024

Tony Popovic on the touchline against Western United. (Photo: Melbourne Victory/Twitter)

Tony Popovic secured his first points as Melbourne Victory boss, and showed off just what has changed from the old regime.

After a cagey affair at GMHBA stadium – Roderick Miranda’s goal at the 74th minute broke the deadlock and secured Tony Popovic his first three points as Melbourne Victory boss.

A squad near enough completely overhauled personnel-wise played in a completely different style to the cumbersome way the Victory fans were used to over the last two seasons. Energy, tenacity and intricate football was the modus operandi of the night, as Popovic has within the first competitive 90 minutes completely revitalised Melbourne Victory.

But what were the major systematic and tactical masterstrokes that Popovic was able to implement in his first competitive match as Melbourne Victory head coach? 

Victory defensively solid

After conceding 60 goals last season, defensive solidity was the number one priority for Melbourne Victory this season. Popovic is a master at organising a defence, and this was on show for everyone to see.

The entire Melbourne Victory defence was only dribbled past a total of two times over the course of the match. Popovic was able to show the fruits beared through his ability to coach players technically, something which has been absent over the last 24 months. 

Victory completed 25 tackles as well as 59 duels, further displaying the hunger and tenacity the new look club played with.

On a tactical level, Victory boarded on being impenetrable. This was despite Matthew Spiranovic and Josh Brillante both being out injured.

The back four and the two holding midfielders just in front played in a very compact and cohesive style – showing how the coach has already been able to develop a style of play that doesn’t rely on individuals. 

On a whole, they defended very tight and compact, restricting space for the likes of Alessandro Diamanti and Neil Kilkenny. Both didn’t have close to the impact that players of their ability could.

Despite setting up in a 4-2-3-1, Victory defended in a 4-4-2. The double pivot in midfield pushed high – further restricting space, thus making it hard for Western United to play through, forcing them to play long balls. 

Leigh Broxham and Rai Marchan occupied a very aggressive position out of possession. Both played in front of their respective opposition player, finishing with eight tackles between them. 

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Offensively fluid

Melbourne Victory have always been a box office side. But over the last 24 months, despite the talent at their disposal, Victory were as blunt as ever going forward.

The defensive side of the game was of utmost importance for Popovic, seen through the very cagey and subdued football played by both sides in the first half. Once the second half started, Victory played in a much more expansive manner. 

Despite the breakthrough coming from a corner, Victory was probing the Western United backline all second half, off the back of the introduction of Francesco Margiotta in the 64th minute. 

The marquee Italian completely changed the dynamic of the game. Nick D’Agostino, who was playing as the sole number 9, played on the last line, pinning back the Western United defence.

While this added depth to the Victory attack, this left the connection between midfield and attack absent as Jake Brimmer was dropping deep into the midfield.

Once Margiotta was introduced, he dropped deep to collect the ball and drew the centre-backs with him. This allowed for space in behind for Chris Ikonomidis, Nishan Velupillay and Marco Rojas to run onto. 

This also gave Brimmer freedom to play as an attacking pivot, coming away with a game-high three key passes.

Victory’s main source of attack was through Ikonomidis, who would push high and wide, isolating Ben Garuccio into a one-on-one duel with him. Garuccio held his own, not being dribbled past once throughout the night with Ikonomidis losing possession 17 times.

Victory was the better side overall on the night, due in large parts to the disciplined nature of Tony Popovic’s system. 

Has Victory turned the corner?

Melbourne Victory have won their opening match of the season on two occasions prior to Saturday night. Both times they won the Premiers Plate and the subsequent Grand Final. 

If history is to repeat itself, it would be a monumental effort considering the massive squad turnaround and the nature of the previous 24 months. 

In only his first 90 minutes as Victory gaffer, Tony Popovic has implemented an intense, dynamic and efficient system. This will give this historic club the best chance to right the wrongs of the last two seasons.  

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