Defensive issues holding City back from replicating title-winning form
It has been a rocky start to the 2021-22 A-League Men season for the reigning champions Melbourne City.
Patrick Kisnorbo's side sits fifth after six games played, and they look to be having major defensive issues.
It has been an uncharacteristic start to the season for City, with the defending champions looking foreign in how they have been playing in recent weeks.
City started the season with a win, but since then, they have only beaten Perth Glory 1-0 at home, back on the 8th of December, and in that time, poor results have followed them.
A loss against Western United was followed by two consecutive draws in the A-League Men and an FFA Cup exit to the Wellington Phoenix.
The latest bad results for Kisnorbo and City show that they look a different squad to the one that claimed the A-League Premiership and Championship in style last season.
Since the loss of Nathaniel Atkinson to Hearts in Scotland, City's defence has been reshuffled countless times.
In terms of their midfield, Olympic starlet Marco Tilio has been frequently used as a substitute despite having a more significant impact than the players he replaces.
The defensive and midfield performances of late, particularly in the club's recent match against the Western Sydney Wanderers yesterday, is sure to provoke an inquest into their defensive structure.
City quite bizarrely allowed Keijiro Ogawa to ghost in behind for Western Sydney's third goal and equaliser in a highly entertaining affair between the two clubs that ended 3-3.
James Troisi and Jack Rodwell combined for a quick one-two punch early for Western Sydney.
Both goals came from passes that exposed the two wide midfielders and fullbacks of Melbourne City.
They allowed Troisi and Rodwell clean looks at custodian Tom Glover.
He was powerless to save both strikes from the midfield duo.
This season, it isn't the first time the champions have allowed defensive mishaps to tarnish their offensive displays.
In round two away from home against Adelaide United, they threw away a two-goal lead in spectacular fashion, conceding twice inside the final ten minutes.
Glover sprayed a ball to youngster Jordan Bos, who was robbed of possession by Ben Halloran, who then chipped the stranded goalkeeper to stun City with a 90th-minute equaliser for the hosts.
So, the question has to be asked, has City's defence become worse this season?
At this same stage last season, Kisnorbo's side was sitting eighth on the ladder, with ten goals conceded, which is not that different compared to this season.
City has conceded the equal second-most goals with nine; only the Wellington Phoenix have conceded more with 14.
Of course, Kisnorbo will look at how well his defenders are distributing the ball, as building from the back is vital to their style of play.
In that regard, centre-back Nuno Reis leads the league for the most accurate passes per match with 71.8.
But City needs to find a balance to retain its crown.
Reis may be integral in their set-up in possession.
But defensively, he has made uncharacteristic errors.
In that draw with Adelaide, Kusini Yengi proved to be too hot to handle at times.
Meanwhile, Glover has an xGA (expected goals against) of 6.1 but has conceded an alarming nine, which suggests a defensive problem.
Whether that is Glover's goalkeeping, or opponents being more clinical than last season, title-winning sides are usually known for conceding less than expected.
Perfection is what Kisnorbo expects from his players, nay, demands.
He has to fix the defensive problems at City if they are to retain their trophies from last time out.