Merrick backs talent and depth

Ernie Merrick may be happy to have flown under the radar this pre-season, but the Melbourne Victory coach is as confident as ever in the talent and depth of his squad heading into season 2009/10.

Ernie Merrick may be happy to have flown under the radar this pre-season, but the Melbourne Victory coach is as confident as ever in the talent and depth of his squad heading into season 2009/10.

Amid the introduction of two new clubs and a bevy of big name signings at other clubs, Melbourne has not had the attention on it as you would have expected after the club swept all before it last season.

While successfully dodging the spotlight, Merrick has faith that this Melbourne squad is better than the one which took an unprecedented treble last campaign.

"If we hadn't won the Pre-Season Cup, the Premiers' Plate and the Championship, we might be worried. But we've had a team that last year that won everything, and we've re-signed nearly all of them, and we've strengthened it with two internationals of high-quality, plus Mathew Theodore from the youth team," he said ahead of Thursday's opening game against the Central Coast.

Melbourne's recruiting philosophy has been built around stability while other teams, notably Perth, have had big personnel changes in the off-season. Merrick said having the same core to the team was the key to the club's success.

"We feel as though that consistency has been a big plus for us. We've got six players that played in season two and won the championship, the core of our team has been with us for a long time and we've just gradually been adding to that. Obviously with such a great squad last year, Gary Cole has done a great job of re-signing them all," he said.

Skipper Kevin Muscat is quietly confident that the 21 players Melbourne has are up and ready going into the season are an improved bunch on the one that swept the Hyundai A-League trophy cabinet last year.

"If you don't improve, teams will catch you up and pass you by. Our focus is to improve and we think we've done that. We've worked on quite a few things in the off-season and in the pre-season and hopefully that will come to fruition," he said.

"All that we will maintain, without confusing confidence with arrogance, we'll go into every game thinking we can win it. It's no different tomorrow night, we want to get off to a very good start."

Those looking for a chink in Melbourne's armour have pointed to the fact that Muscat turns 36 this year, while fellow central defender Rody Vargas is also on the high side of 30. But the age of his defensive generals does not concern Merrick, who believes Muscat in particular, is as fit as he has been in his time with the club.

"They are two players who played every minute of every game last year when we won everything, and they are so experienced and so quick. Kevin is currently the second fastest around 'The Tan' (a 3.8km lap of the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne), the fastest over five meters, and the two of them lift heavy weights, which means they are physically very strong," he said.

"We've monitored their health and fitness and they are fantastic. They are going to have a great year. We've also got good cover now, we've been using Matthew Kemp in a central defensive role and young Matthew Foschini, still an amateur player, he's grown in that position. We're really happy with Steven Pace, who has really had his first complete pre-season without injury. I think we've got enough cover at the moment," he said.