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I have and will continue to be bullish about the chances of Melbourne City in the upcoming A-League season. 

My thinking is based on a combination of factors that, if blended together cohesively, could see the club take its first championship. Additionally, there is also the significant carrot of an FFA Cup trophy on the short term horizon.

It would be the prefect start to what could be an historic season for City.

Since mid-2014 when the City Football Group (CFG) made its purchase of the then struggling Melbourne Heart and birthed the Melbourne City brand, expectations have been high. It would be fair to say that those expectations have yet to be met.

Inaugural manager John van’t Schip was brought back for a second term at the helm in 2013 after John Aloisi had failed to ignite the squad during the 2012-13 season.

With a 40.1% win record in the A-League after CFG took over, there were signs of improvement, as the financial power of the owners resourced the club more substantially than ever before.

The City Group appointed Warren Joyce in June 2017 following van’t Schip’s decision to return home to care for his terminally ill father and the steady upswing continued. After 32 matches at the helm, the 53 year-old Englishman has a 48.3% winning record in the A-League competition and guided the team to a third-place finish last season. 

City’s run ended in the semi-final at the hands of the Jets, who were making their own history with a storming run to the Grand Final. It was City’s fourth consecutive year of finals play and a third semi-final loss during that period.

It has been something of a slow burn yet one which might prove to be well worth the wait.  

Last season was one of tough decisions and statements made by the owners and Joyce.

The manager was faced with two problematic scenarios that eventually led to rather well titled ‘mutual contract terminations’. Tim Cahill wanted to play considerable minutes to prove his worth for the upcoming World Cup and Neil Kilkenny set out on a passionate mission to show the manager that he was indeed worthy of a place in the team.

Joyce won both those battles in a canter and selected his team without fear or favour. In reality, he was correct to do so. The squad must belong to the manager and be a reflection of his footballing vision and philosophies. 

Cahill and Kilkenny seemed somewhat at odds with that and subsequent results suggest that City have found a man of character and quality, capable of taking them to the next level.

That fortitude shown by the manager and the autonomy he has given by the owners to make this ‘down under’ adventure work, makes City a dangerous proposition for season 2018-19.

A key factor in their potential title run will be talisman Bruno Fornaroli, returning after a horrific broken ankle sustained in pre-season FFA Cup action in 2017.

The Uruguayan missed around five months of action and returned as a shadow of his former self late in the season. It is ominous that that very same shadow managed to score five goals in his last six league matches.

Moreover, City’s advance to the Round of 16 of this season’s cup competition was sealed with a Fornaroli screamer in extra-time. With a settled and thorough pre-season, expect to see him back to his golden boot form of 2015-16, where he scored a then league high 23 goals.

There is an impressive, improved and settled appearance to the City squad Joyce has at his disposal. Harrison Delbridge and Nathaniel Atkinson will develop further under the tutelage of Bart Schenkeveld at the back and Rostyn Griffiths adds starch to the midfield.

With Luke Brattan and new signing Riley McGree providing the impetus going forward, Fornaroli should be well served once again. The most compelling new component of the attacking threat City possess will be Scotsman Michael O’Halloran. 

Along with Dario Vidosic, his arrival creates a three pronged attack that more than makes up for the loss of Daniel Arzani. There is considerable depth with Scott Jamieson, Anthony Caceres and Osama Malik still in the fold, and the veteran custodian Eugene Galekovic returns for another season.

Things look as settled and polished as they have in a long time. City will undoubtedly be a top six team, perhaps even something far loftier than that is a reasonable expectation.

More than anything, the long suffering fans can now see the light and that sufferance might just provide the necessary motivation for the squad. 

It is time for City to shine; but can they grasp the chance in 2018-19? 

Squad

Dean Bouzanis, Eugene Galekovic, James Delianov, Dylan Pierias, Harrison Delbridge, Iacopo La Rocca, Osama Malik, Scott Jamieson, Nathaniel Atkinson, Bart Schenkeveld, Connor Metcalfe, Ramy Najjarine, Moudi Najjar, Luke Brattan, Rostyn Griffiths, Bruno Fornaroli, Dario Vidosic, Michael O'Halloran, Riley McGree, Lachlan Wales, Anthony Caceres


Categories: Opinion | A-League

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