I have watched Melbourne City more than any other team this year. Not really by choice – they just have happened to play at the times when I’m watching. Plus, I live here, which probably helps.
So, I like to think of myself as a Melbourne City Dub Expert ™. I proudly gloated to friends before the game about how they’re unstoppable, about how they’ve assembled a squad that perfectly suits this marauding style of play that Rado Vidosic has implemented, and about how they are going to destroy the Jets as if there was no tomorrow.
I was partially right. City got the win and it didn’t really look like there was going to be any other result. What I didn’t factor in was the Jets resilience. They are a hugely well-drilled team, and the way they played in the second half provides a blueprint for the rest of the competition to follow. If only they had an international quality striker to call upon (Katie Stengel, anyone?) the game could have had a totally different complexion.
City were all over them in the first half. They scored the early goal that they were looking for with ease. They showed exactly what they do best with their 3 at the back, wingback system – the ball came down the right through Carpenter, who fed Kyah Simon. Emslie drew 3 defenders to her in the middle that left Mijatovic able to have the shot on the edge of the area. The Serb finished beautifully and City had their lead.
The thing about the way that City are playing at the moment is that they are almost always 5 v 4 when they attack. Catley and Carpenter act as two wingers. I criticised this team for being ponderous at the beginning of the season but now they have clicked they’re unstoppable. This is may be a little farfetched but it reminds me a little bit of how Chelsea Men’s 3 at the back was all the rage after they won the 2017 Premier League. City play differently in that they have another player forward leaving the midfield more exposed at times but the experienced defence of Stott, Barnes and Checker, shepherded brilliantly by Aivi Luik, have ensured that they haven’t conceded in 500 minutes. Not bad.
They really should have scored multiple times in the first half. Kyah Simon, while being more involved and playing better than she has been since being injury ravaged, just wasn’t quite clinical enough with her crosses. Emslie also had a clear-cut chance late in the half to score her first goal for the season from open play but skewed it. Still, I have no doubt that they were thinking what most of us watching were thinking – no worries, there’s no way the Jets will punish us.
Before we move into the second half, let’s all have a moment to spare a thought for poor Nicki Flannery. Forced off the field for Newcastle through injury, again. She’s a huge talent and still so young. Let’s hope she can recover from her injury soon enough.
The second half started the same as the first – with a City goal. A cross found Emily van Egmond with acres of space on the edge of the area (Newcastle were busy worrying about the actual 3 attackers, and then the wingbacks, and seemingly forgot about the fact that City still had attacking assets lurking) who calmly smacked it home. Poor Coehlo has had a brilliant season for the Jets in goals but the efforts in this game from City were too good for her to show off her talent. This was when I thought – righto, they’ve sorted it out now. This could be 4 or 5 goals by the end.
And, sure, City had more chances. They kept doing their thing, rushing forward, overwhelming the Jets defence, working openings. However, something began to happen in the second half – the Jets were fashioning chances for themselves.
I think the reason why City have been so successful in defence is because they crowd out teams. Carpenter and Catley are basically two players in one, Aivi Luik is (in my opinion, if not the Australian selectors) far and away the best in the country at the moment in that number 6 role, the 3 centre backs are brilliant, and if worse comes to worse they have none other than the Matildas number 1 in goals to cover. However, they’re vulnerable through the middle. If EVE is stranded up the field, and Luik or one of the centre backs loses the ball, counterattacking opportunities abound. This is what the Jets sweated on and they created several chances that they really could and should have taken, particularly towards the end of the game.
This, for me, is how you must try to play City. You can’t beat them out wide – Catley and Carpenter are the best at what they do in the country, and some of the best in the world. You can’t patiently play around them because they will overload you quicker than you can blink. You need to exploit them through the middle. The Jets are well drilled and well coached, and they cottoned onto this fact. They just couldn’t convert. For all of City’s dominance, the Jets probably had 2 or 3 of the best chances of the game.
So, it ended 2-0. Predictable, right? Sort of. City may have been (albeit ever so slightly) exposed in the back end of this game. Of course, it’s one thing to expose the system, and quite another to expose the player. Even though this system makes City better than the sum of their parts, the sum of their parts is probably still the best in the league by a distance. How they’ll be stopped is anyone’s guess.
The Jets really shouldn’t lose hope. They came into this system, on paper, with little hope of making a dent. Instead local youngsters have been provided a platform in which they can shine and they now have to look to finish this season strongly to kickstart the next. This squad – plus an international quality striker (STENGEL!) – is a finals-bound squad. Let’s hope the club sees fit to invest in some of its proudest assets next season.