Depth the key for Victory

Melbourne Victory has learned from the disappointments of last season and coach Ernie Merrick is adamant the side's greater depth will prove an asset in the 2008/09 campaign.

Melbourne Victory has learned from the disappointments of last season and coach Ernie Merrick is adamant the side's greater depth will prove an asset in the 2008/09 campaign.

Speaking at the Hyundai A-League launch in Sydney, Merrick said injuries had cost the club dearly during their defence of their 2006/07 title and that the club had realised it needed to shore up the middle of the park.

Melbourne missed the finals last season, struggling to recover from a slow start which saw the club draw its first five matches. Continued problems with injuries have influenced Merrick and football operations manager Gary Cole's recruiting plans in the off-season.

"We've got good depth. If we get the injuries we had last year, particularly down the spine of the team, it won't affect us so much. That's what Gary Cole and I set out to do. We think we've signed a very good, well balanced group of players," he said.

Merrick said his most-important signing could prove to be Jose Luis Lopez, who not only brings significant international experience, but could prove the key to getting the most out of compatriot Carlos Hernandez.

"It's very lucky for us to have two players in their mid-20s that are internationals. Costa Rica qualified for the World Cup last time and they are on track this time. They compliment each other very well and they know each other very well because they have played with each other since Under 20s," Merrick said.

Team harmony has been the buzz word at Victory in the pre-season and that approach has earned them a piece of silverware already, with success via a penalty shootout in the Pre-Season Cup final against Wellington.

That campaign was quite an arduous one for the team, which didn't play in Victoria at all in its four matches in a little over two and half weeks. Merrick said while that travel took its toll, there was an upside to being away from home.

"We went from Launceston to Melbourne, to Perth, to Melbourne, to Sydney, to Port Macquarie, to Melbourne to Wellington and back and we were dead in the last game," he said.

"But the boys were away together, they got know each other well. We took a couple of other players as well and we've got a close unit on and off the field and we think that's very important. It's not the way it worked out last season and caused us problems, but this season it's worked out a treat."

"A sign of how well it's worked out is in the last game we didn't play our best, but we did what it took to get over the line and get the win. That's the sign of a good team."

Meanwhile, Merrick revealed that skipper Kevin Muscat was no certainty to start in Saturday's game and his hamstring injury will be fully assessed later in the week.

"He's been training hard, but we've never thrown him in a full game since his second or third friendly trail match. He hasn't played any games in the Pre-Season cup. He's got to get through 2-3 hard sessions, he's got a double session today, a heavy session on Wednesday and we should know by Wednesday-Thursday if he's right," he said.