Melbourne City v Newcastle Jets Preview

Jonathan Tay‘s detailed preview of tomorrow’s A-League Women game delivers all you need to know, including City boss Dario Vidosic‘s pre-game media conference, and the views of Claire Taylor from the W-Jets Active fan group (9/12/22).

Above: Melbourne City’s Rihanna Pollicina (right) will face her former side Newcastle Jets on Saturday. Photo: Melbourne City.

THE GAME

Melbourne City vs. Newcastle Jets, 3:00 pm AEST, Saturday 10 December, Casey Fields, Melbourne.

THE CONTEXT

Just two games into the season, Melbourne City already look like they’re cruising. Coming off a bye in Round Two, they convincingly handled Brisbane Roar, controlling the 3-0 win from start to finish.

“For us, it’s just every week to continue what we’re doing, trying to progress and evolve,” head coach Dario Vidosic summed up at his pre-match press conference. “First two performances have been excellent from the ladies. After a short pre-season, short time together, I think the understanding and performance has been great. Now it’s about if we can sustain it for longer periods, and become more dominant as well.

“We had almost 66% possession against Roar; in Crummer up front, who’s a top striker in the Matildas, we kept her very quiet. Again it’s going to be about the same this week, can we control the game, can we play in the opponent’s half, can we dominate possession, and when we don’t have it how hard can we work to win the ball back.”

Key to their impressive start has been their midfield, with Rhianna Pollicina and Daniela Galic really standing out. “They’re quite similar players, they’re both very, very technical players, they love to have the ball,” said an impressed Vidosic.

“We obviously have our ways of how we want our ‘[number] tens’ to operate within the system and what we expect from them. But once we get in that final third, then that’s when that creativity can come in. We sort of set them a template: this is where we want to be, this is where we want the ball to be delivered.

“We analyse the opponents, we see their strengths and weaknesses, so we know where to attack and where we need to defend, and their two top players to exploit teams and they’re a big part of why we’ve been successful so far in the first two games.”

Above: Melbourne City head coach Dario Vidosic speaking to the media ahead of tomorrow’s game. Image: Melbourne City.

Hype is building around young Galic, and whilst it is not unexpected for Vidosic, he is wanting to take things step-by-step with her in the very early stages of her professional career.

“She deserves everything, and she had a fantastic (under-20) World Cup – she was four years younger than everyone else,” the head coach said. “I watched and she was someone that stood out to me. It’s only her second professional game, so she’s still got a long, long career ahead of her, so there’s no need for her or anyone to get carried away.

“The message to her is that every single day we want to improve; so that when you look back on yourself yesterday, [you can say], ‘I’m a better player today’, in a week’s time or a month’s time you’re continuously getting better. The second we stop and think ‘look at us we’re good’, that’s when we go backwards.”

With the hot start, it’s difficult not to see a number of City players potentially being monitored for the Matildas. Vidosic spoke last week about building towards the home World Cup, and while that is the goal, he’s focused on the weekly improvements which will lead them there.

“As long as we keep playing the way we’re playing, and everyone performs, it’s hard to look past teams that are successful, and players that are performing. We want to take it day by day, we don’t want to get carried away; we’ve got a game tomorrow that we’re looking forward to.

“But it’s always hard for a player, you’ve got that thought: it’s not far away, selections are going to start getting made. We just try to improve; you’ve got 90 minutes on the weekend, that’s the time to show the selectors and it just comes down to the girls. We play our style, the girls are excellent at it and we just keep developing them, we keep encouraging them, we keep trying to improve them, and then hopefully we can see as many City girls in that World Cup team as possible and hopefully they have a successful campaign.”

A QUOTE

Above: Melbourne City’s legendary goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri. Photo: Matt King.

“Many of us were on the dole, or working as part-time baristas, in the servo.”

Melissa Barbieri, Melbourne City goalkeeper.

Playing for the Matildas used to be a very different beast, as Melissa Barbieri revealed on this week’s A-Leagues All Access.

“We were doing what we can to make ends meet; I recognise the struggle that we went through, and I’m humbled by the fact that those years shaped me,” the veteran of four World Cups recounted.

“We were role models before the brand ‘Matildas’ came along. We talk about the million-dollar contracts that the players are on now – I wholeheartedly believe we should be on those contracts – but it certainly was a different landscape when I was going through the national team.”

Now, Barbieri is helping that next generation come through, bringing that experience into what is a young Melbourne City club.

Her goalkeeping teammate Sally James said, “Bubs (Barbieri) is just an amazing mentor, having her to learn off in training sessions is just amazing. She’s got so much experience, I don’t even know how many World Cups she’s been to.

“It’s definitely competitive but she’s always helping me out, I really appreciate it so much. There is only that one spot, but we continue to push each other, and we have a really good relationship.”

The 41-year-old Barbieri continued: “That’s the balance of being a good goalkeeper and a good teammate. You have to walk into your team and know your worth, whether you play minutes or you don’t. You know, doing that day in, day out, having that mentality of, ‘I need you to succeed, because I’m part of this team, even though I’m not playing.’”

Her head coach Vidosic also spoke about her importance for the squad. “Bubs is the core of this team; an unreal goalkeeper, and even better person. She’s the glue that keeps us all together, very selfless and thinks about all of us. Without Bubs, it’d be a totally different story around here.”

A PLAYER TO WATCH

Above: Sally James -the Young Matildas goalkeeper has been impressive for Melbourne City so far this season. Photo: Football Australia.

Sally James – Another Young Matilda who looks to have gone up a notch after her under-20 World Cup experience. She’s started the first two games of the campaign and has not looked out of place, impressing with her comfort on the ball and ability to play out from the back.

City goalkeeping coach Jordan Franken outlined, “Basically we’ve got two number-one goalkeepers at the club. You’ve got two goalkeepers in Sally and Bubs who can both be called upon at any point, and we can trust them.

“We’ve given Sally the opportunity to start the season so far, as a young and up-and-coming goalkeeper, but there’s pressure there to perform, she’s got Bubs there constantly knocking on the door. That’s where they’re going to push each other to become even better.”

20-year-old James will have another test this weekend, up against a Newcastle side who have been almost equally potent as City have. Sarah Griffith has been on a heater to start the season, fitting in nicely next to fellow new recruit Murphy Agnew, and bolstering a forward line already containing Tara Andrews and Lauren Allen.

THE OPPOSITION

Above: Murphy Agnew – one of Newcastle Jets’ impressive new signings for this season. Photo: Newcastle Herald.

Three questions with Claire Taylor, part of W-Jets Active, a fan-led support group for the Newcastle Jets Women’s team.

Realistically, where do you place the Jets’ chances of making the Finals for this season? What do they need to continue to work on to be considered serious top-four contenders?

CT: Every season we are seen to be the underdogs and dark horses in the competition. That’s reflective of the potential our squad always has to surprise in any given game. As supporters, we’re not focused on getting to the finals, but instead to see our squad reach their full potential and improve game on-game. Realistically, we think we can finish in a top-five position as long as the team continues to mesh and keep their composure and belief.

Have you been surprised early in the season by how the new signings have performed, and fit into the squad?

CT: Nearly half the squad are new signings! Watching the team’s performance over the last few games you can already see strong connections making opportunities happen on the field. They seem incredibly motivated and committed to playing for Newcastle specifically – the local talent has a pride of place, and our overseas imports get to have an amazing experience alongside their professional development.

The Jets seem to often have a more settled squad than most, with players turning down offers from bigger cities to stay, even when the side hasn’t always performed. What is it about Newcastle and its community that creates such an attractive and positive environment?

CT: There is a great amount of pride in playing for your hometown and Newcastle has an incredibly strong and supportive football community – it’s like family. The club has really fostered that, and those kinds of meaningful relationships are hard to break. But it would be remiss of us not to mention that the Women’s league is still not fully professional, a lot of our most loyal players have other (non-football) professional commitments in play that would make leaving Newcastle unfeasible.

A STAT

6.3 xG – Expected goals (xG) has been around as a statistic for some time now, seeping into mainstream football media not only at the World Cup or in top European leagues, but occasionally mentioned during A-League broadcasts as well.

Rather than just looking at goals scored by a player or team, xG provides a quick, easy way to assess the value of chances created, and, based on past historical performance, what the probability of the resultant shot being a goal is.

As an example, Remy Siemsen’s outside-the-box winner for Sydney FC on the weekend had an xG of 0.02. In contrast, Bryleeh Henry’s Matchday One tap-in, following Maria Rojas’ pinpoint cross, had a value of 0.83 xG (all data courtesy of Fbref).

This season, Melbourne City have started like a house on fire, racking up 6.3 xG in just two games. Per 90 minutes, that’s almost one full expected goal’s worth higher than the next best team, and really shows not just the volume of chances created by City, but the value of those chances turning into goals as well.

SquadGames PlayedxGxG per 90 min
Melbourne City26.33.17
Canberra United24.52.27
Newcastle Jets362
Sydney FC34.21.41
Adelaide United33.91.28
Melbourne Victory33.61.21
Western United33.61.2
Brisbane Roar33.21.06
Perth Glory331.01
Western Sydney Wanderers220.99
Wellington Phoenix 31.10.37

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