Sunday’s A-League Women Preview

Above: Melbourne City’s Emma Checker speaking to the media on Friday ahead of her team’s game with Western Sydney Wanderers. Photo: Melbourne City.

With Melbourne City hosting Western Sydney Wanderers tomorrow at AAMI Park, Impetus’ Ben Gilby heard from head coaches Rado Vidosic and Catherine Cannuli, plus City’s Australian international defender Emma Checker (5/2/22).

Melbourne City star Emma Checker believes that her team needs to focus on re-building their self-confidence ahead of Sunday’s game with Western Sydney Wanderers.

“We’ve been pretty disappointed with our performances, although we’ve had some good results. We know that form-wise, we’re not in the greatest place, so this weekend we want to focus on ourselves to return to that form we had in the earlier rounds.

“I think it’s been a lack of confidence. We have belief and a very special group, but we need to regain individual confidence. We have to dig a bit deeper and find it within ourselves. Tactically we know what we are doing. What we’re trying to execute is fine. Our decision making once we do get into the final third is sound. So showing that it is a mindset thing because we are finishing strongly.”

Checker emphasized the importance of having Holly McNamara back in the squad after her spell in India with the Matildas for the Asia Cup. “We’re hoping that she can contribute massively to the game at the weekend. She’s a star player in our team.

“We’re so proud of her. She came in, it’s her first season and she has shown such confidence. For a young player like that to play at the level she does and the standard she does is quite phenomenal. She hasn’t just shown it in the A-League Women’s now, she’s shown it internationally too. This is just the beginning for her.”

The seven cap Matilda offered her assessment of the national team’s recent disappointing showing in the Asia Cup.

Above: Emma Checker highlighted the fact that in the rush to blood young players for the national team, several quality players in their mid-20s may not have been given a fair crack of the whip. Photo: Melbourne City.

“It’s hard having not been around the squad, but I know the girls will be massively disappointed. We looked a bit unshackled in that game (against Korea). Even though we had chances, we struggled to execute them. Critical things aside, there were some positives.

“Sam (Kerr) had some amazing opportunities and in any other game, they might have gone in. But we can’t solely rely on her to win every game for us, and I think that was part of the problem. There weren’t many other big chances for other players.”

Checker also made a valid point that in the rush to introduce so many young players into the national side, some very good players towards the peak of their careers are missing out.

“I understand the process of trying to progress and develop the youth, but I can’t help feeling being in that mid-20s age bracket that there are a few of us who are not necessarily getting an opportunity, but I guess that’s sport.

“If I keep playing well and performing consistently, then at least I know that I am giving myself every chance (of getting a recall). My bigger goals are around being a consistent part of the squad, so I hope that time does come. I’m at peace with knowing I’m doing everything that I can control at the moment.”

The defender then turned her focus towards this weekend’s clash with Western Sydney Wanderers.

“Games like this one can be some of the hardest mentally, to prepare for. The reality is they do have quality, but they haven’t found their true potential yet. At some point, they will find that, so we have to be prepared. We have to be sharp and on our toes as our form has been off of where we want it to be.”

Above: Melbourne City head coach speaking at his media conference on Friday. Photo: Melbourne City

Melbourne City head coach Rado Vidosic looked ahead to Sunday’s game with Western Sydney Wanderers and reflected on the influence that 18-year-old Holly McNamara has on his team.

“We’ve looked very carefully at their (Western Sydney Wanderers) last few performances and we know the danger of getting exposed (by them). It is very important that we start on the front foot. If we do that and play our normal game, the result will take care of itself.”

With Holly McNamara back from international earlier than planned after the Matildas’ shock quarter-final exit at the Asia Cup, Vidosic outlined her chances of coming back into the City squad on Sunday.

“Look, she arrived back on Wednesday night, we gave her Thursday off. She had some MRI scans on her knee (as a result of her injury against Thailand in India). She trained today (Friday) and she will train tomorrow and then we hope she will be OK. We haven’t decided whether she will start, how much she will play. We’ll leave it up to her and if she feels OK, then she will go in the squad.”

He identified the difference he has seen in McNamara since her return. “It’s a great opportunity for young players. She’s come back three or four centimetres taller. She is faster, she is stronger. That’s how much it means to her. It opens so many doors and she can now think about going overseas and even starting to select what club she goes to. It’s amazing what five or six good games in this competition can do.”

City’s head coach reflected on his team’s performances over the last few weeks which have seen a comprehensive defeat at Sydney FC and a very late win at Brisbane Roar.

“I think we’ve lacked penetration. Remember we lost Holly (McNamara). We tried to play Stotty in her position. Although Stotty has qualities she didn’t have the quality of running behind, so that’s something we’re hoping Holly will bring back to our squad.

“If we can utilize that we will probably look more dangerous, we will create more opportunities and then our pressing and everything else will look more effective and allow everyone else to step forward.

“We kept the ball much better in Brisbane, but in Sydney, we didn’t do it and that was a big, big problem. We were a bit fortunate to win the game in Brisbane. In saying that, the goals (that we scored) were fantastic. Those two were world-class. The cross and header across the goalkeeper, then free-kick over the wall.”

Whilst City’s head coach is delighted to have Holly McNamara back from international duty, he knows that within ten days he will be losing Hannah Wilkinson and Rebekah Stott for New Zealand’s She Believes Cup schedule. As yet there appears to be uncertainty over Australia’s plans for the same period.

“At the moment, I don’t know if I could lose players to the Matildas. We believe that there won’t be any Matildas games or camps, but we don’t know for sure.”

Whilst Vidosic’s side would benefit from keeping their Australian international cohort, Vidosic knows it is an advantage that other title challengers will also have. “It would be the same for Sydney FC or Melbourne Victory, so in a way we are disappointed (as they may have more internationals than City)!”

City’s head coach ended the session by updating on the availability of players for Sunday’s match.

“We still have a couple of players impacted by COVID, so they will not be part of the game. All the other players are fit. Not 100% fit, but we will have to have one eye on missing Hannah (Wilkinson) and Stotty shortly (for the international window) so looking at replacing them.”

Above: Catherine Cannuli speaks to the media on Friday ahead of her team’s clash with Melbourne City. Photo: Western Sydney Wanderers

Western Sydney Wanderers head coach Catherine Cannuli reflected on the club’s challenges this season ahead of the trip to face Melbourne City.

“Look, there’s no denying that we’d like to have a lot more points than we have at present. I think the team has gelled quite well, and one positive is that we have quite a young team at present so we can keep building towards of the future of the A-League Women’s competition.”

With Wanderers having back-to-back away games against both Melbourne-based clubs starting with City this Sunday, Cannuli sees positives in these matches. “Away games are great! It’s a bonding time. You really get to know what people are like when you travel away with them for three days.

“We’re up for the challenge and we have spoken about it as a group. We want to finish the competition off strong.”

With Cannuli over halfway through her first season as a head coach, she reflected on the campaign so far. “It’s been full of challenges. We’ve not yet managed to have our full-strength team on the park yet. We’ve had COVID challenges, we’ve had injury challenges. As a head coach, you are always learning.

“Not even doing 15-20 years as an assistant coach would prepare you for what it’s like to take the role of a head coach.”

Apart from the concession of three goals last weekend at home to Adelaide United, Wanderers’ defence has been strong this season. Therefore, Cannuli is confident that her team has what it takes to deny City’s dangerous attack led by competition top scorer Hannah Wilkinson.

“I have no issues with our defence, it was something we focused a lot on in pre-season because of all the goals that we had leaked over previous seasons. I’ve got full faith in our defence to be able to handle Melbourne City’s attack.

“The main thing is that we go out there and start to put on a performance that we can be proud of and allows us to get something out of the game.”

“The girls are ready to go, they have nothing to lose. We need to go out there and get three points for our confidence and for how hard they have been working. They deserve to get something out of this game.”

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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