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  • Writer's pictureCaydn Foley

Selection headaches for Vidmar ahead of Melbourne City run-in

It felt like déjà vu at the final whistle of the second Melbourne Derby of the 2023/24 A-League Men’s season with another 0-0 scoreline. Melbourne City fell short of a much-needed win despite the return of Marco Tilio to the starting lineup. Though Tilio and the returning Mathew Leckie bring abundant quality, they will also bring selection dilemmas in key areas for Aurelio Vidmar, as squad imbalance threatens to derail City's hopes of reviving their season.

Marco Tilio has returned to Melbourne City after failing to break into Celtic's first team in Scotland. (Image: Melbourne City FC Instagram)

After struggling to break into Celtic's first team, Marco Tilio returned to Melbourne City on loan in the January transfer window. In his first start back in City Blue, Tilio was pretty quiet but did have a fantastic opportunity quashed by a very tidy Paul Izzo save. It is to be expected that Tilio would need a few games to get back to his best, considering he has barely played any football in the last six to eight months. But overall, Aurelio Vidmar should be pleased with the promising signs that he showed.

It was always to be expected that Tilio would play well for Melbourne City, considering he is familiar with the club’s style of play and the simple fact that he is a classy player with bags of talent. But the question needs to be asked whether signing him was even a necessary piece of business for the club, considering the depth they have out wide already.

Before the signing of Tilio, Melbourne City already had five wing options on their books that provided healthy competition for starting spots. But now, with an abundance of wingers, Vidmar will have to work hard to balance the squad's playing time while trying to keep everyone happy.

The signing of Tilio also brings the Melbourne City midfield into question, as Vidmar alluded post-derby that he views Socceroo Mathew Leckie as a midfielder in his team.

"I think he's going to be a bigger asset for us in the midfield at the moment,” the City manager said.

“What he showed tonight, just with his physical strength, adds a little bit more strength to our midfield. We'll have to see when Tolgay (Arslan) comes back, and our wingers are classic wingers anyway: Tills (Tilio), Leo [Natel], Marin [Jakolis], and Andy (Andrew Nabbout). We've probably got that side covered. I think the strength we certainly need is in midfield."

Mathew Leckie has been moved to midfield since returning from injury. (Image: Thomas Pombart)

Leckie has sporadically played as an attacking midfielder at Melbourne City. In the derby, he was everywhere in the midfield, making tackles and trying to win the ball high up the pitch while completing 14 accurate passes. Leckie also had one big chance to take the lead for his team but hit the woodwork.

Overall, he did his job sufficiently on Saturday and is undoubtedly an overqualified replacement for Tolgay Arslan. The German midfielder is suspended for one more game due to the red card he received against Perth at the beginning of February.

However, when Arslan is again available for selection, Vidmar will have another selection headache as he will have to figure out how to fit him and Leckie on the pitch. When asked about this selection issue, Vidmar bluntly admitted that he has yet to figure out how to fit the two stars together on the pitch as the season progresses.

“We are going to have to find a way, mate,” Vidmar laughed.

Most likely, Vidmar will opt to play both Leckie and Arslan in their attacking midfield roles while James Jeggo plays as a single pivot. This lineup does have the potential to be successful. But it would mean either Leckie or Arslan drop deeper at various times, meaning they may not be able to provide as many opportunities in the final third.

Another potential issue will be City’s ability to build up in possession as Leckie, and to a lesser extent Arslan, are not the profile of players that drop into a double pivot in their half. Therefore, Jeggo could become isolated when City are in possession, meaning opposition teams could nullify him in their pressing structure to win the ball high up the pitch continuously.



Tolgay Arslan will be unavailable for Melbourne City's trip to Sydney FC on Saturday. (Image: Dan McAdam/Laughing Bulldog Images)

Over the next few days, Vidmar has much work to do as Melbourne City still looks to turn their season around, with an away trip to the red-hot Sydney FC up next. City currently sit just outside the top six.

If they were to miss the Finals Series, it would be the first time in ten years that Melbourne City has failed to do so and the first time since the City Football Group took ownership of the club in 2014.


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