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  • Writer's pictureCaydn Foley

Issues remain despite Melbourne City's return to the top six

Melbourne City were rocked by a bombshell departure last week when defensive midfielder Hamza Sakhi left only days after signing a new contract, leaving Aurelio Vidmar's side reeling with a crucial game against Adelaide United looming. The acquisition of James Jeggo could fill the void but other issues still remain prevalent for the A-League Men's reigning premiers.

Hamza Sakhi recently made a shock departure from Melbourne City due to personal reasons. (Image: Hamza Sakhi Instagram)


Despite losing a vital cog in their engine room, it was demonstrative of Melbourne City’s squad depth that they could still grind out a 1-0 against Adelaide United last Thursday night. Terry Antonis was chosen to fill the gap in midfield left by Sakhi, and he repaid the favour to Melbourne City manager Aurelio Vidmar nearly instantly when he scored a fantastic goal from outside the box after five minutes, his second goal in his last three appearances.


In a game where Melbourne City was in the unusual position of having less of the ball than their opposition, Vidmar's side saw out a much-needed win to enter the top six after a disappointing first half of the season saw them languishing outside the Finals Series spots.


It was reported on the broadcast during the match that former Socceroo James Jeggo would be joining the reigning premiers to fill the recently created hole in their midfield following Sakhi's departure, a move confirmed this morning. Jeggo is a like-for-like replacement for the Moroccan and has recently plied his trade at Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership, where he started 11 out of 20 league appearances this season.


With Melbourne City looking to play their possession-based style, Jeggo looks to be an ideal signing; in over 1070 minutes this season for Hibernian, the 31-year-old had a pass accuracy per game of 81.6%.

He also averaged 38.78 accurate passes per game, which put him in the 80th percentile compared to other defensive midfielders in the Scottish Premiership. For Jeggo to have that level of passing success in a highly physical league is enough evidence that he could still succeed in the A-League Men, a less physical but more technical competition.


However, Melbourne City’s most significant issue is not their midfield but their front three. Their star striker Jamie Maclaren has had a less than successful campaign by his lofty standards. The Socceroo has scored only seven goals this season from an expected goals tally (xG) of 9.6.


Maclaren spoke before the Adelaide clash about his performances so far this season.


“If there’s chances coming my way I’ll put them in the back of the net and that’s something we’re lacking,” he said.

Jamie Maclaren's 2023/24 season has thus far been below his usual standards. (Image: Aleksandar Jason Instagram)


It was interesting that Maclaren claimed his lack of scoring compared to previous seasons was because of a lack of service from teammates, as per statistics, Maclaren is having one of his best seasons according to his xG and expected goals on target, which is sitting at 10.5. Of course, xG is not a perfect system, but it is a good baseline indicator for how strikers generally perform.

Maclaren has felt the impact of Jordan Bos' departure, who was one of Melbourne City’s most creative players last season; Bos excelled at getting to the byline and providing cutbacks to Maclaren in the six-yard box.

This season, Tolgay Arslan has been Melbourne City’s key orchestrator. But as he plays centrally in midfield, Maclaren has been required to play with his back to goal more, which he has struggled with his whole career.


Marin Jakoliš has been able to offer a bit of creativity out wide for Maclaren. Still, as he is currently injured, Vidmar has been forced to use young Ben Mazzeo, the latest product from City’s youth academy. Mazzeo has been promising so far, but, understandably, he still needs some time to develop to the level required for a club with Melbourne City’s aspirations.

 

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Marin Jakoliš is currently unavailable for selection due to injury. (Image: Marin Jakoliš Instagram)


A potential change Vidmar could make is playing two strikers; this move could allow Maclaren to play to his strengths as a poacher, and Max Caputo could be used as a target man who can hold the ball up with his back to goal.


Caputo could also use his physical presence to pin back opposing centre-backs, allowing more space for Arslan to operate in the midfield and, thus, allowing Maclaren more opportunities to make runs in behind.

Unfortunately for City fans, this season may be the first time the club goes without adding a trophy to their collection in four years. However, it should not be too long until they return to the level they once were at, as Vidmar has shown promising signs leading the club since taking over from Rado Vidosic.


All statistics sourced from FotMob.


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