Victorian football will have a different feel both in names and narrative when Western United square-off with Melbourne Victory in Saturday night’s Battle of the Bridge.
Buoyed by the arrivals of new head coaches John Aloisi and Tony Popović, both clubs are looking to rebound after a disappointing season.
Both managers are shouldering a different weight of expectations with Popović being tasked with bringing Melbourne Victory back to the pinnacle of Australian football after a maiden wooden spoon under Grant Brebner and Steve Kean.
In what represents a new era for the Victory, Popović asserted his desire to only focus on what is ahead rather than allow himself to be caught thinking about the sterile performances of last season.
“Last year is well and truly behind us, it’s not something we want to talk about,” he affirmed.
“We’re ready for tomorrow.”
Fortunately for Victory fans, the majority of the squad’s playing contingent will be available for the match with the exception of Matthew Špiranović who is still suffering some niggles after having missed almost two years of football.
“We’ve just got Matt Špiranović who won’t be available tomorrow…we anticipate all the players to train today and then we’ll see how they all are for tomorrow,” Popović confirmed.
“It’s nothing serious with Matty but he just needs a little more time after his long layoff from playing.”
Ahead of this new dawn for Melbourne Victory, the man who brought the Asian Champions League crown to Western Sydney stated the importance of club values when embarking on a unique project.
“This football club has three great values that it has always lived by…hard work, discipline and respect,” he said.
“We’ve made sure that everyone understands them to build belief and confidence.”
Popović will look to instil this new mentality into a largely fresh-faced squad with all but Marco Rojas leaving the club’s foreign contingent of last season.
Last season’s much-maligned group of ostensibly uninspiring visa players has been replaced with Francesco Margiotta, Roderick Miranda, Rai Marchán and Ivan Kelava – all of whom possess impressive CVs in Europe.
Popović expects each to play an important part for the Melbourne-based club this season and emphasised that each can improve at their respective ages.
“There’s a lot of anticipation in what these players will produce on the pitch, we’ve signed some good quality players and good quality people that are ambitious and want to win,” he explained.
“The age that they have, they still have a lot of improvement to go and they want to achieve a lot of things, they’ll add a lot of quality, professionalism and know how from what they’ve learned in Europe.”
On the flip side of the equation, John Aloisi will have to prove himself again in Australian football after being sacked from his last job at Brisbane Roar in 2018.
Granted a squad punctuated by its individual talent – particularly in the final third – the legend of Australian football will look to give Western United a new lease of life to support their long term vision as a club.
With plans to build a new stadium in Tarneit now fully in place and building set to commence in the near future, the only facet that appears to be missing from Western’s plan is silverware.
For Aloisi, this project is an enticing proposition and he hopes to bring a defined playing style and tangible success to the club.
“The club is ambitious in all aspects and we want success and that’s what we’ll be striving for,” he declared.
“We know that we’re getting the foundations right, the culture of the club right and results will come, we know that.”
Despite having qualified for finals in their first season under Mark Rudan, a disappointing campaign saw the club’s inaugural manager relieved from his duties at the end of a tumultuous second season where his tactical inflexibility was often maligned by fans of the expansion club.
With the club’s attacking sequences set to be carved from the magical wand of Alessandro Diamanti’s left foot, Aloisi’s signings represent a desire to incorporate more experience and battle-hardened quality around one of the most creative players in the A-League Men.
Western fans have become accustomed to seeing the team line up in a 3-4-2-1 system over the past couple of seasons, however, Aloisi has made wholesale changes and prioritised a 4-2-3-1 during last week’s FFA Cup encounter against Newcastle. For the new manager, this change is aimed towards achieving the best out of his squad’s personnel.
“You have to look at what players you have available and what players you might look at bringing in, I wanted to shift a couple of players around and try to get the best out of them,” Aloisi said.
“The formation that you choose is to get the best out of the individual players.”
For both Aloisi and Popović, Saturday night is set to be an exciting season opener that is set to lay the foundations for both sides ahead of a new dawn in Australian football.
Image Supplied: Western United