Melbourne City took the lead twice early on, but Melbourne Victory pegged them back then went on to dominate the second half thanks to a Besart Berisha hat-trick.
Jasno Geria was out with a knee problem, so the only change to Kevin Muscat’s side from last week’s 1-1 draw with Adelaide United was Scott Galloway starting for the first time this season. Surprisingly, rather than switch the veratile Daniel Georgievski over to the right, Muscat chose to play Galloway at right-back.
John Van’t Schip will be without Robert Koren until at least December, so he continued with the midfield trio that has started in all three games this season, while Mate Dugandzic started ahead of David Williams upfront, with David Villa on the left.
The Melbourne Derby is traditionally a high-tempo, high-scoring encounter, and this was no exception. A big factor in the fast paced feel of the opening period was the pressing from both side, as both closed down energetically high up the pitch. Dugandzic in particular worked tirelessly to press up against the Victory’s centre-backs and goalkeeper, and he was the primary reason why they initially struggled to establish control of possession.
Instead, City controlled the ball for the majority of the opening stages, focusing on attacking quickly and directly down the flanks. The speed of ball movement was much quicker than last week’s draw with Newcastle Jets.
However, the majority of the game was being played down the flanks, largely because of the very tight midfield battle. In terms of formation, these two sides matched up perfectly – City’s midfield is tilted backwards, so Erik Paartalu plays at the base behind Massimo Murdocca and Aaron Mooy, while the Victory’s is the reverse, as Guilherme Finkler is the #10 ahead of Mark Milligan and Carl Valeri. Therefore, each midfielder had a clear opponent, with a simple 3v3 match up in the centre of the park.
With Finkler often looking to occupy Paartalu when Victory were defending, and Mooy and Murdocca moving up the pitch to close down Milligan and Valeri respectively, there was little time on the ball for any of these players. Instead, the bulk of the attacks from either side flowed down the flanks, with the midfielders often focusing on playing quick, sideways passes out towards the wingers in order to escape pressure.
In particular, Mooy combined nicely with Damien Duff on the right-hand side, the duo combining twice inside the opening ten minutes, with the Irishman first flashing a shot into the side-netting, then attempting to cut inside and curl a finish into the far corner, which was blocked.
The Finkler v Paartalu battle, meanwhile, saw them cancel each other out in first half. Finkler stopped Paartalu getting time on the ball by occupying him (similar to the man-marking on Isaias last week) but because he was already close to the defensive midfielder when Victory won the ball, it was easy for Paartalu to mark him out of attacking moves.
While this midfield battle was generally very tight (with the physical clashes between Mooy and Milligan a particular highlight) City had a slight edge because their ‘two #8s’ drift wide towards the flanks, looking to create overloads down the sides. This meant sometimes the Victory midfield pivot weren’t comfortable moving too far towards the sides, and combined with the pace of which City moved the ball, meant they created better opportunities in the first half, and pinned the Victory back.
The occasional movement of Villa inside into narrow positions between the lines also helped – on one occasion, he teed up left-back Iain Ramsay on the run with a clever back-heel. Villa’s best work came in tight situations around the penalty area, where his close control and clever dribbling had the better of Galloway.
A minor point from a Victory point of view was the positioning of Georgievski, who seemed very keen to push high up from left-back when Victory had the ball, more so than in the past two games. This was perhaps he wanted to deliberately try and push Duff, who is diligent in his tracking, into deep positions – if this was the case, it was actually quite effective.
However, the main attacking outlet was the pace of Kosta Barbarouses down the right, who drove forward purposefully and got into lots of 1v1 situations up against Ramsay. The Victory’s two goals in the first half both came from counter-attacks lead by Barbarouses – he provided the assist for Archie Thompson’s tap-in, then had the shot that lead to Redmayne’s fumble and Berisha’s first (and the Victory’s second) goal.
It was reminiscent of the opening game of the season against the Wanderers, where Barbarouses was similarly influential.
These two equalisers, of course, came off the back of City goals, both of which were from set-pieces. Given the Victory have been very intelligent and inventive with their use of free-kicks and corners this season, it was something of a surprise to see them so vulnerable against simple balls whipped into area. Mooy’s delivery was very good, but the Victory seemed completely incapable of marking tight, and their zonal marking was undone on the second goal when City played short off the initial corner prior to the second goal, scored by Jason Hoffman.
Berisha’s goal after the interval further contributed to the free-flowing nature of the game, and seemed to set the tone for an extended spell of Victory pressure. The roles felt enormously reversed from the first half – now, the home team were dominating possession, pinning City inside their own half even more so than Van’t Schip’s side had done in the first.
The major feature now was Barbarouses v Ramsay, where the former constantly charged past the left-back and exposed him in 1v1s. Ramsay is an attacker converted into a defender, and tried to jockey Barbarouses when the winger charged infield at him – often allowing him too much time on the ball, and not being proactive enough to try and win possession.
The issue was compounded by the fact Villa offered little protection, although ironically, the one time the Spaniard attempted to track back to help out defensively, it actually benefitted Barbarouses for the second Victory goal.
The Victory’s improvement in the second half can be attributed to both the fact Finkler varied his position more intelligently, finding gaps either side of Paartalu, and secondly, simply because the Victory passed the ball much better, playing out from the back under pressure and working it forward towards the front four.
Van’t Schip chases game
Van’t Schip’s moves to chase the game were near-identical to last week against Newcastle Jets. First, he brought on fresh legs upfront – James Brown for Dugandzic, with Villa going into the middle – then, removing Paartalu, pushing Mooy into the #6 position, and using Paolo Retre to try and bring more energy into the midfield. Theoretically, having a stronger passer in that deep-lying role should improve their retention and creativity, but in this case it felt like it backfired as Finkler found even more space between the lines, and Mooy struggled to get on the ball.
Finally, Van’t Schip brought Jacob Melling on for Murdocca, with no back three this week – this was probably because he felt the game was lost at 4-2, and didn’t want to risk conceding more goals.
As it were, though, City’s high line was constantly exposed by the Victory running in behind during the final ten minutes, and Thompson added a fifth simply by running in behind the back four.
An enjoyable, entertaining game that had lots of chances and far more free-flowing, attacking football than the Sydney Derby a week earlier. While that particular fixture seems to attract scrappy, direct football, this one has always been more about fast-paced attacking football. Given the way these two sides have set up this year, it was no surprise this was again the case.
Despite the tight midfield battle, there was still lots of space for either side to attack down the flank. In this regard, Berisha will deservedly get the headlines, but was Barbarouses was also instrumental – he terrorised Ramsay with his dribbling, was occasionally wasteful with his end product, but finished with two assists.
In the scheme of the tactical battle, which was all about attacking down the flanks, it was crucial he was the winger in form.