Two Scott, one Victory and no Visa

AFC Champions League
After the unthreatened, but little impressive 2-0 win over Hanoi T&T, the first real touchstone of the new season is waiting for Muang Thong: Melbourne Victory. The winner of the game will advance to the groupstage of the 2014 AFC Champions League.

Muang Thong's management surely had a different idea on how the clubs trip to Down Under and the days before to the big game against Melbourne this Saturday should have run. More smoothly than how it turned out. At first defender Ri Kwang-Chon had to be left behind in Bangkok, with the North Korean has been denied a visa to Australia. According to statements by Australian officials, the mistake is to be found at the guest side. Muang Thong had applied for the visas only one day before departure while the invitations have been sent out already at the beginning of January. Now the TPL runner-up will have to give his central defender a miss.

On top of that, an article by Scott McIntyre for the radio and TV network SBS, provided some turbulence in Muang Thong's camp. McIntyre reports that his namesake and head coach about Muang Thong United, Scott Cooper, has revealed to him that the match against Melbourne will be his last at the helm. The reason: differences with the management. Still on the same day Coopers employer published a video via his own Club-TV in which the Englishman denies his forthcoming resignation. Nevertheless, Scott McIntyre confirmed us that the statement made by Cooper, towards him, is 100 percent true. Already a some days before the article got published, there were rumors that Cooper could leave the club with which he had signed just in January.

But let's take on Muang Thong's opponent of this Saturday, who is not unknown in Thailand since 2008. At that time Champions League newbie Chonburi FC caused a massive uproar across Asia when they were able to beat the highly favorite Australian side by 3-1 in Bangkok. Founded in 2004, the Australians took part in the A-Leagues inaugural season in 2005/06, together with seven other teams.

Victory has been able to lift the A-League trophy on two occasions so far, in 2007 and 2009. Finishing eight in 2012, Melbourne missed the "Finals series" for the first time since 2006. To get back on winning track, Ange Postecoglou has been enticed away from Brisbane. Probably the most successful Australian coach of the last years. He allowed to play attacking football and a similar to Barca, a tactical system free of strikers and provided for enough topics of conversation in Australia.

A major contribution to a good goal rate of 48 goals in the last season, has been made by Marco Rojas with 17 goal. But after the season the promising youngster headed to Germany to join VfB Stuttgart where his hope received a heavy blow with being ruled out for month due an injury. (meanwhile he is back from the heavy injury but still seems to have problems with his knee as we have been informed). Despite a 2 million Pound offer made by Crystal Palace, Mark Milligan could kept at Melbourne. The holding midfielder is a key player and with him, Victory's game stands and falls. However, the weakness in defence was already remarkable last year, where the Dark Blues conceded 45 goals.

With his considerable attacking style of play the side from deep down southeast Australia has been seen as one of the possible championship candidates for this season. However, the club faced a major set back after the successful coach Ange Postecoglou left the club to take over the national team and with Kevin Muscat, a former Australian international, who played together with Surat Sukha (Buriram) and Sutee Suksomkit (Suphanburi FC) in 2009 at Victory has become in charge.

Therefore, possibly, the results during the current domestic season does resemble a roller coaster journey. Some may call it: inconsistency. Melbourne has hit the rocks with two consecutive 0-5 defeats. Against Wellington Phoenix the one week and against Alessandro del Piero' Sydney FC the other week in January. However, after 19 games in the season, Melbourne is on fourth place in the league which would entitle participation in the "Final Series".

Besides, the current goal rate of 26:29 does not speak for the defence, where experienced players can be found with the 35-year-old Chilean international Pablo Contreras (Monaco, Celta Vigo, PAOK) as well as the 28-year-old Adrian Leijer (Fulham, Norwich). Both have played in Europe, even if Leijer only in the reserve. However, up to Ivorer Adamo Traoré the rest of the defenders are 18-20 year old youngsters. Moreover Leijer will have to miss the game against Muang Thong due injury.

Among the things that make Melbourne's attack so attractive are the doubling of the playmaker role up front ("double 10"), a role usually filled by James Troisi and Matt Nichols, who move toward the wings from the central position between the opponents' defensive midfield and central defenders during an attacking move, and the two strikers in a "false 9" role positioned wide, a role which will likely be filled by Archie Thompson and Kosta Barbarouses against Muang Thong. If the playmakers succeed in drawing the central defenders forward out of the back line, spaces are created in which pass combinations with the wide strikers are possible.

But this system, which sometimes is called "Victory's Jekyll & Hyde"-System, has two severe disadvantages, which became obvious in the three losses this season mentioned previously. There the opponent countered Victory's 4-2-2-2 formation with a 4-4-2 (or 4-3-1-2) with a midfield diamond. Thus they were able to create numerical advantages in midfield and have the wing backs attack the spaces created by having the two wide "false 9" strikers, as these would not track back and defend backwards from their high position when the opponent had the ball.

This gap on the wings would also draw both of Melbourne's defensive midfielder to the wing with the ball, temporarily leaving the opposite wing completely devoid of protection.

With such crude defeats, like against Wellington and Sydney, it does not make wonder that Muskat is accused of only copying the system of his predecessor, without having answers ready if it does not run in such a way, as intended. Hence, with not qualifying for the ACL proper, the call for Muskat to quite its job could become louder.

Using the "double 10" could turn into an advantage for the Thais who a little bit inferior physically. Crosses from the wings are rarely to be expect (especially no high ones) with no typical goal getter up front waiting for the ball to come in.

Should Scott Cooper also choose a tactical system with a diamond formation, he could bring on Piyaphon Phanichakul and Weerawut Kayem at the full-back positions. Both are known to intervene in the attack. In addition, with Thitiphan Puangchan he would have a player who is quick and feels home on both sides and therefore could create an overweight when MUang THong is moving forward. In the offensive department Jay Bothroyd, Teerasil Dangda and Mario Djurovski are set. Recently Sarawut Masuk played on the right, but could be substituted by Milan Bubalo or by one of the two Tathong brothers.

The crunchpoint might be the interaction of the centre backs and the holding midfielder. Goalkeeper Kawin surely would be a massive help here with his ability to direct its men in front of him. But he has not recovered yet and will only take his seat on the bench. After his red card against Hanoi, Atit Daosawang will be absent for Muang Thong and for Melbourne it will be the Brazilian Guilherme Finkler (he was not registered) and aforementioned Leijer.

Despite the tactical weak points of Melbourne, but equipped with home advantage, the host is favorite to win this meeting by miles. If Muang Thong wants to advance to the group stage they need to increase the performance compared to a week ago. And they need willingness to go where it hurts. Because none of the both main stadiums in Melbourne are available, this final play-off tie takes place at Kardinina Park in Geelong, a two hour ride outside Melbourne. Kick off is at 15:45 Thai time and FOX Sports are going to broadcast live.
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