A frustrating season for Melbourne Victory saw their Hyundai A-League title defence peter out despite a bright start. We look back at the season that was for Kevin Muscat’s troops and take a glance at what 2016/17 might look like.
Record: Played 27, Won 11, Drawn 8, Lost 8
Leading Goal Scorer: Besart Berisha (18)
Best home crowd: 40,217 – Round 2 against Melbourne City
Star performer: Kosta Barbarouses
The fleet-footed winger was Victory’s go-to man in the front third this season, producing the goods on a consistent basis in 2015/16. His scintillating speed, wicked crossing and desire to dribble at his defender on the right flank was a feature of Victory’s play. The Kiwi international finished the season with six goals, eight assists and 45 successful dribbles to be the club’s star man, just edging out classy French defender Matthieu Delpierre, who was excellent also.
Breakout player: Rashid Mahazi
Predominantly a bench player for Victory over the last couple of seasons, the 24-year-old announced himself as a consistent first-teamer in 2015/16. With skipper Carl Valeri sidelined for much of the campaign, Mahazi made the midfield position his own with a string of assured and inspiring displays. With a great engine and composure on the ball, Mahazi has all the tools to make that position his own for years to come. In all he played 23 games, made 53 interceptions, 40 tackles and had a passing accuracy of more than 86 percent. Impressive stuff!
Goal of the year: Besart Berisha
Berisha produced a moment of class to open the scoring in the round 26 win over Phoenix in Wellington. After a sloppy giveaway by defender Tom Doyle, Kosta Barbarouses pounced on the loose ball and fired in a low cross with the Albanian doing the rest. Berisha was unmarked about six yards from goal a pulled off a back-heeled flick which beat keeper Glen Moss at his near post. Bravo Bes!
Highlight: Big wins and comebacks
Two of Victory’s most memorable matches came within a week of each other in January. Against the Mariners in Geelong, a horror first-half saw them 3-0 down at the break. Whatever Kevin Muscat said at half-time worked as Victory blew Central Coast away in the second 45, with a Besart Berisha brace either side of Archie Thompson’s strike completing an astonishing fightback.
Seven days later, league-leaders Brisbane Roar came to Melbourne and John Aloisi’ side were on the end of a Victory masterclass. Three goals (two to Barbarouses and one to Fahid Ben Khalfallah in the first 30 minutes followed by another to Berisha after the break capped off a 4-0 drubbing of Roar.
Lowlight: Valeri’s absence
Victory was forced to play most of the season without their inspirational skipper Carl Valeri. The former Socceroos midfielder was diagnosed with an inflammatory brain condition, which threatened to end his career. Thankfully Valeri made a full recovery and was back on board by the end of the season. On the pitch, a shocking performance against Roar at Suncorp in March saw Victory humbled 5-0.
What they need:
Given the calibre of players on their way out of the club, Muscat will need to replace plenty of experience in his squad for 2016/17. Victory has an exciting crop of youngsters coming through but the likes of Delpierre, Finkler and Barbarouses have been central figures over the last couple of years and it will take ‘big’ players to fill their boots. Attacking reinforcements are also a must. Three of the players moving on (Thompson, Finkler and Barbarouses) are in the front third so depth is light up top. They need more support for the likes of Berisha and Ben Khalfallah.
Acquisitions for next season:
Losses for next season:
Gui Finkler, Kosta Barbarouses, Matthieu Delpierre, Archie Thompson
Outlook for 2016/17:
It looks like being a very different Victory squad to start the new season to the one that ended the most recent campaign. Four key players have already left and at least a couple more are likely to follow meaning it could be very much a fresh start for Muscat next campaign. The wily coach faces a big challenge trying to re-shape his squad. The nucleus is obviously still there and with a couple of signings you can be sure Victory will be up challenging for silverware again.