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  • Writer's pictureCaydn Foley

Keeping it simple: Aurelio Vidmar's Melbourne City debut

After losing they lost their first two games of the season, Melbourne City Director of Football Michael Petrillo felt a change in management was needed to keep the club’s hopes of a successful campaign alive. Come Wednesday, former Socceroos captain Aurelio Vidmar took the hot seat after a 13-year hiatus from A-League management. With Vidmar only having a few days to get to know his players, he opted to keep his approach simple against Sydney FC.

Historically, Melbourne City has been a club expected to dominate the A-League Men regular season due to the City Football Group’s knack for recruiting highly skilled, technical players that fit the possession-based system they like to implement, based on the CFG model led by English Premier League giants Manchester City.


More recently, Melbourne City has fallen into a lull, which began when former manager Patrick Kisnorbo departed the club to take up an opportunity in France weeks into the 2022/23 season. Rado Vidosic took over the reins from Kisnorbo but failed to maintain the side as a well-oiled machine, culminating in a disastrous 6-1 defeat in last season’s Grand Final.


New boss Vidmar opted for a basic shape akin to a 4-4-2 on his City bow on Friday, instructing his fullbacks to push high and wide in possession to feed club captain and striker Jamie Maclaren in the penalty area.


“The game is pretty simple,” Vidmar said post-game.


“Sometimes, being a coach can complicate things. So we made it really simple in everything that we were trying to do. It wasn’t back to basics, but if you got your basics right and did the small things well, the rest will follow.

“I’m still not happy with a bit of our passing, but it’s only one game and a couple of training sessions. So if I see that (the effort) over the last couple of days and today, I know they’re going to improve very quickly.”


Sometimes, simplicity is all that's needed. Melbourne City has always been synonymous with technically talented players, and now and then, you have to let them off the leash and allow them to play in a way that maximises their skill set.


Friday night also saw reigning Golden Boot winner Maclaren open his tally for the new season, tapping in a deft cut-back from Marin Jakoliš. Maclaren, the all-time leading goal scorer in the competition, has been struggling for service early in 2023/24, so Vidmar will likely be breathing a sigh of relief to see him hit the back of the net.

Jamie Maclaren got off the mark this season in City's victory over Sydney FC. (Melbourne City FC Instagram)


“You know what strikers are like; they need to score, even in the training sessions,” Vidmar said.


“If they don’t bag half a dozen, they get a little bit angry.


“But the way we set up our second goal was a great play. What I liked about that phase there was Marin (Jakoliš). Normally, wingers or people in that position probably would have had a shot, but [you saw] the commitment of Ale (Lopane) on the opposite side and Macca (Maclaren) to make a run into the box to get [on] the end of it. Marin was very unselfish to pay him that ball. That's what strikers need.”


Last season saw an exodus of players from Melbourne City’s starting lineup, as many of the club's young talents took their chance at opportunities overseas. The somewhat drastic change in personnel means Vidmar will have the chance to mould his new team into a system he feels will best suit their climb back to the mountaintop of the competition.
 

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Mathew Leckie has yet to feature for City this season. (Melbourne City FC Instagram)


One piece of the puzzle Vidmar has not been able to use yet is Socceroo Mathew Leckie, who remains on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury on international duty. Leckie was a key piece of City's attack last season and was often the man combining with Maclaren to help the Golden Boot winner find the net consistently. But on days where Maclaren was not clinical, Leckie would often step up, providing six goals himself last season.


When he returns, Vidmar will have to decide whether to use Leckie in a more central role or in his natural wide position, which could lead to Jakoliš being dropped to the bench. For a new manager, these problems are good, as competition breeds excellence, which Melbourne City wants to achieve consistently.

There is still much work to be done before this City side returns to the heights they reached under Kisnorbo. But Vidmar's choice to keep it simple on Friday certainly paid off, and as he learns more about the squad, the new man at the helm will likely evolve his tactics in the hope of aiding City's relentless pursuit for success.


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