Victory sore for AFC clash

Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick admits there is a cloud over several of his senior players heading into Tuesday night's crucial AFC Champions League clash against Kawasaki Frontale in Japan.

Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick admits there is a cloud over several of his senior players heading into Tuesday night's crucial AFC Champions League clash against Kawasaki Frontale in Japan.

Melbourne has had less than 48 hours to recover from its heart-breaking Grand Final loss to Sydney on Saturday night, which went to extra time and penalties.

Merrick on Monday said there were at least four players who started in that game who may struggle to come up on Tuesday.

"We had a light gym and pool session and they all had physio treatment last night. We are just preparing for an on-field session. Our concerns are the older players I guess and the midfielders who had to do the most work," he said.

"After that 120 minutes of football, Rody (Vargas), Kevin Muscat, Brebs (Grant Brebner), Leigh Broxham, these are the guys I'm having to have a better look at this afternoon."

Merrick said that the only injury to come out of the game was the knee injury to Archie Thompson, but that all the players were sore and stiff after Saturday's game.

"There's no out and out injuries caused by any trauma. The main thing is muscle recovery, quite a few cramps and fair bit of tightness, that sort of thing and we are going to have to leave that until the match day to find out who can start," he said.

"It is going to be a case of how many players can go on for 90 minutes. I can only afford to carry three short of the starting Xi, because you've only got three substitutes, I don't have a clear picture of their fitness levels, but there's no injuries, mentally they are more switched on now."

Melbourne has lost its first two ACL matches and needs a win over Kawasaki, which is also point-less, if it is to keep track of the other two teams in the group, Seongnam and Beijing.

While the possibility that up to four senior players could struggle to come up for the game would appear to open the door for several of Melbourne's younger players to get their chance, Merrick is wary about throwing them in the deep end against such high-quality opposition

"I have to say, I'm trying to avoid that because in six matches you can afford to lose a couple but once you lose there, you are going to struggle to qualify. So this becomes a crucial game for us to get three points from," he said,

"Playing away from home against a Japanese side, it is going to be very tough for a youngster to start in. I'm trying to avoid having to throw in young players at this stage. But there's no doubt, they'll be on the bench and several will do a good job for me off the bench."

Kawasaki has also struggled in its ACL campaign so far, while it lost its most recent J-League contest 4-0 on the weekend. But the struggles of the home team have not registered on Merrick's radar.

"You can't rely on that sort of thing. It's really about us getting our players up mentally and physically for this game and putting on a very good performance. If they've lost 4-0, then you can always say they are going to bounce back, but we want to focus on how we are going to play and the strategy we want to use," he said.