In his first season at the Victory, Ange Postecoglou quickly established a framework for one of the most intriguing and thrilling tactical systems the league has ever seen. In simple terms, the most advanced players in the 4-2-2-2 formation were a foil for wide forwards Marco Rojas and Archie Thompson, who darted into the space vacated by Guilherme Finkler and Marcos Flores in central positions. The cohesion and understanding between the front four, and especially between Rojas and Thompson, was remarkable – but importantly, the system also encouraged individual creativity, and Rojas particularly flourished.
That makes his departure to Stuttgart a sobering blow for both fans and neutrals alike. New signing Kosta Barbarouses is probably as close a replacement as you can get: another New Zealander, pacy and direct – he should fit nicely onto the right hand side of the attack.
There have also been other several eye-catching signings. Pablo Contreras is the new marquee – to some disappointment, as he’s a defender (also capable of playing in midfield). That seems to miss the point, however – a marquee should significantly upgrade the squad in a position of need, and if the Victory needed reinforcing in any particular area, it was central defence. They conceded forty-five goals last season, third most in the league, and the Chilean’s experience should prove invaluable.
It will be interesting to see whether recently demoted captain Adrian Leijer retains his place in the team alongside Contreras or whether Victory boss Ange Postecoglou opts to stick with teenager Nick Ansell. Aerial ability might be an important factor – Nathan Coe tends to struggle under high balls, and the defender that is stronger in the air might prove favourable.
Elsewhere, the arrival of Mitch Nicholls provides further intrigue. He could theoretically either place as one of the ‘dual 10s’, or deeper in midfield, but the loss of Billy Celeski should mean the former Brisbane Roar midfielder plays alongside Mark Milligan. In spite of all of their transfer movement, Victory’s most significant move might have been to hold off interest from England in their new captain – he protects the defence superbly in a screening midfield role but also times intelligent bursts forward to support attacks.
The return of Adama Traore from long-term injury at left-back is also heartening: initially struggling at the start of last season because there was too much onus on him to provide width, he emerged into a fine all-round defender, combining tough tackling with physical forward runs. His link-up play with Thompson is fantastic, although the latter might move into a more central role this season. There is also the signing of James Troisi to consider – he too could start in any of the four attacking positions.
There were ten points separating the Victory from the 2nd placed Mariners in the regular league table last season, and having come close to matching Brisbane stylistically with the Victory last season, the onus is on Postecoglou is to now replicate the success his former club enjoyed.