Pressure mounting on Muscat to shake things up

In four years at the helm of Melbourne Victory it’s mostly been positive news for Kevin Muscat, but he admits that these are now some of the most challenging times of his coaching career.
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Victory crashed 2-1 at home to Adelaide on Friday night, another blip in a disappointing season in which the team failed again to win at home.

Star player Mark Milligan scored a wonderful goal and then limped off with what looked like a possible hamstring injury, to add to the problems.

“We have got to now take responsibility … It’s testing, it’s a challenging time without doubt,” Muscat said after the game.

“The expectation that has been created at the club has been very high. I can’t shy away from the fact that we are not achieving the level of expectation required. But we have certainly got the squad to do that.

“Individually we have all got to take responsibility for our actions, we are giving ourselves a lot to do week in, week out and that is not helping the cause.”

Muscat is under scrutiny this season in a way that he hasn’t been before.

The club legend inherited the top job when Ange Postecoglou quit to take on the Socceroos in November 2013 and led the team to an unlucky finals defeat to Brisbane, the eventual champions.

The following year he oversaw a historic treble, when Victory won the A-League championship and premiership in 2014-15, adding the FFA Cup a few months later.

In 2015-16 Victory made the finals but were eliminated at the first hurdle by Brisbane, although Muscat succeeded by taking the team through the Asian Champions League group stages for the first time, losing to eventual champions Jeonbuk in the round of 16.

Last year Muscat took Victory to the grand final where they ran dominant champions Sydney as close as any team could, losing only on penalties after extra-time.

But after this season’s stodgy start, the heat is being turned on Muscat from the terraces despite his fantastic record at the club whom he also captained to two titles as a player.

Chants of “Muscat out” are a little premature, but the coach, in the last year of his contract, knows better than anyone else that he has to find a way to shake his team out of its current lethargy.

Victory have been very average, this season with just two wins from 10 matches (both away from home) and it is likely that when this round ends on Sunday evening they will have slipped outside the top six.

Dreams of a championship challenge to stop the all-conquering Sydney juggernaut are simply that: dreams. Victory are already too far behind the Sky Blues, and if Melbourne City beat Central Coast at AAMI Park on Sunday evening Victory would be nine points behind them.

On Friday night, they were sloppy, didn’t pick up opponents at crucial phases of play, lacked concentration and didn’t impose themselves. Even when the Reds were reduced to nine men for the last four minutes of regular time and seven minutes of stoppage time, they could not find a way to break through for an equaliser.

Muscat has put a lot of faith in experienced, older players, many of whom he has signed for second spells at the club. Milligan, Kosta Barbarouses and James Troisi fall into this camp. He also relies on Carl Valeri, Besart Berisha and Leigh Broxham. All of these bar Broxham and Troisi are past 30.

The coach was quizzed on the chances of him shaking up his squad with some new faces, but insisted it wasn’t the personnel that were the problem, more the way they lost focus at crucial times.

“There were a couple of moments, lapses of concentration [that hurt the team],” Muscat said.

“We gave ourselves a mountain to climb, someone six, seven yards out on a set piece with a free header [Papa Babacar Diawara’s opener for Adelaide]. That’s nothing else but concentration. Then we have an opportunity to score from the penalty spot, and we don’t.”

Muscat says Victory has to take control of games more and control the tempo.

“We don’t maintain [the pressure], we are not as aggressive, we are allowing crosses to come in, they have got a body in the box and no one is marking him [George Blackwood’s winner for the Reds]. It’s another lapse in concentration and you give yourself a mountain to climb,” he said.

“I am not isolating individuals … the spirit in the group is fine, that’s not an issue … but spirit alone is not enough.

“It doesn’t matter how much you mix it up [by bringing in fresh faces] or how much you mix tactically up, if you give up goals like that you are going to make it difficult for yourself.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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