W-League Grand Final Preview: Melbourne Victory

Over the next few days we will be looking ahead to this weekend’s W-League Grand Final. Today Kieran Yap looks in depth at Melbourne Victory.

Above: Lisa De Vanna – hoping to be celebrating with her Melbourne Victory team mates on Sunday. Photo: @VictoryWLeague

Melbourne Victory fans would have been justified entering 2021 with cautious optimism. The lineup that began the first game of the current season looked very different from the one that was beaten by Sydney FC in the Semi-Final of 2020 but despite losing some very big names the club under the leadership of Jeff Hopkins has taken that next step and made the big game. With only 90 minutes remaining between hope and glory, lets take a look back at what made the season what it was.

New Faces:

A big part of what carried Melbourne Victory to second on the table last season was the defensive pairing of Laura Brock and Jenna McCormick. Any attackers good enough to get past the two Matildas at Centre Back then were faced with the challenge of Casey Dumont. The shot stopper had a stellar campaign and was recognized by supporters as the Victory Vikings Player Of The Season, all three of these stars needed to be replaced for 2021. Brock and McCormick departed for Europe and Dumont was cruelled by injury before the league began.  Filling their shoes was a tall order and Victory has achieved it excellently.

The current defensive partnership of Claudia Bunge and Kayla Morrison has formed a ruthlessly miserly unit and the recruitment of Argentina International Gabby Garton has been a masterstroke. The new look Victory defence took a few games to click but since round five they went on to concede just five more goals for the rest of the season.

Above: Catherine Zimmerman in action in the Melbourne derby earlier on in the season. Photo: @VictoryWLeague

Up the other end American attacker Catherine Zimmerman has gone from a virtual unknown at W-League level to being a vital part of the Victory attack, she has been a mobile, skilful player who floats between either flank and is deadly close to goal as her finish in the Semi Final and decider in a 1-0 win against Adelaide show.

Prodigal Stars

Above: The ever-reliable Angie Beard. Photo: @VictoryWLeague

Three of the biggest signing announcements for Melbourne in the pre-season were the returns of Angie Beard, Kyra Cooney-Cross and the legendary Lisa De Vanna.

Victory fans still pining the loss of goal machine Natasha Dowie were instantly given hope when the first images of De Vanna appeared on social media. What she has done in her long career is well known, but after a year in Italy with Fiorentina, it had been a little while since Aussie fans had seen what she can do. She sent the fans and the competition a strong reminder with a brilliant solo goal against Melbourne City in which she dummied over the ball and ran half the field to score and was ominously dominant in the semi-final last weekend.

Fullback and captain Angie Beard has been one of Melbourne’s most consistent performers for this campaign. She has been essential to that strong defense and offered a consistent threat going forward. Her ability to surge past defenders and whip in crosses has been a reliable and dangerous part of Victory’s attacking plan and helps pin back opposition wide players.

Above: Kyra Cooney-Cross (second left) – a sensational season from the 19 year-old. Photo: @VictoryWLeague

The return to the club of Kyra Cooney-Cross was a great signing, after enjoying a breakout season in 2020 with Western Sydney Wanderers, the young attacker came home and took on more responsibility in the midfield. Playing behind the front three and supported by Amy Jackson and Annalie Longo in midfield, Cooney-Cross has been given the license to create and has the skills to make the most of it. She has the passing range of Emily Van Egmond and De Vanna-like close control, the number seven in navy blue is a potential match winner.  

How they got there

Victory’s season is best typified by a strong defense and an unpredictable attack, the long term signing of Melina Ayres was justified with the forward enjoying her best season to date in the W-League and the side was able to keep six clean sheets for the season on the way to a third place finish. They won three times by scoring only once and have developed a good balance between attack and defence. The 6-0 loss to Brisbane was not so much a warning sign as it was a wakeup call and they went undefeated until the final round where they met Grand Final opponents Sydney FC

Why they can win

Above: Melina Ayres has been in rich goal scoring form in recent weeks for Melbourne Victory. Photo: @VictoryWLeague

It’s tempting to just start rattling off names to justify why Victory can win, they have players with pace such as Polly Doran, (a revelation at right back) they have players who can belt in a long range screamer like Barbieri or Cooney-Cross and they have the current in form center forward in Melina Ayres, hot off a semi final hatrick. Victory stumbled when it mattered against Sydney in the Premiership decider two weeks ago but it was only one of three losses for the season. The two goals conceded were from preventable set pieces and Cooney-Cross’ late consolation screamer was a reminder that goals can come from anywhere in this squad.

The players are in form, in sync and in the best position in years to claim a Grand Final win.

STILL TO COME: Between now and the Grand Final on Sunday, we’ll have an in-depth look at Victory’s opponents Sydney FC by Kris Goman and a feature on Grand Final referee Rebecca Durcau.

Impetus’ coverage of Australian Women’s Football is supported by The Chicken Salt Co. They are offering every Impetus reader 5% off all orders of Chicken Salt from their website. Go to https://www.chickensalt.co.uk/?mate=impetus and place your order – 5% will automatically be taken off of the cost. The coupon code is impetus.

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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