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Kevin Muscat’s test to lift players for derby as Melbourne Victory slump continues

Misplaced passes and mistimed tackles. Poor finishing and some heavy touches, a lack of the killer punch that has seen off so many opponents in the past two seasons.
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It wasn’t pretty when Melbourne Victory crashed to their third successive defeat in Wednesday night’s A-League catch-up match against Perth Glory, the first time in years that the competition’s powerhouse team has lost three matches in a row.

Coach Kevin Muscat has got plenty to work on and not much time to get the job done before Saturday night’s big derby clash with the rampant Melbourne City at AAMI Park.

It’s just as well for Victory that form is said to fly out of the window when derby games come around, because they are currently stuck in a mini rut, while City are flying with three wins on the spin.

Whereas City have scored 14 goals and conceded just two in their last three matches, Victory have not scored once in the same time, 2-0 defeats in Wellington and Western Sydney preceding Wednesday night’s 1-0 reverse in Perth.

It’s rare for the light blues to go into the Victorian derby as favourites, but they surely will this Saturday night.

Still, this is the A-League, where form reversals are par for the course, and it doesn’t take much for a team to climb out of a slump and look like contenders.

Victory will be delighted to finally be playing on their own ground, albeit in an “away” fixture, and will take some solace from the fact that on the last three occasions the two teams have met – including the semi final last season – they have come out on top.

A month ago it was Victory riding high and for all the world looking like title favourites while City were treading water, excellent one day, dreadful the next.

But this is new territory for the bulk of the Victory players, who are only used to sustained success, and for Muscat as a coach, who has not had to cope with a run of losses like this in the two years since he took over from Ange Postecoglou.

There are mitigating circumstances. Victory have had a horror schedule and had to play their last three games on the road, including the two longest away trips of the season, away to Wellington and away to Perth.

They have had to do so without their captain Carl Valeri, whose importance to the team becomes more apparent with each game he misses.

And several of their key men are not in the best of form, principally Fahid Ben Khalfallah, who took the competition by storm last year, his first in .

Rashid Mahazi has come in for Valeri and put himself about in the centre of the park against Perth but might consider himself lucky not to have been dealt with more harshly after some heavy, late challenges.

Giancarlo Gallifuoco, the ex-Tottenham and Swansea youngster, came in for his debut at centre half in place of Matthieu Delpierre, the defensive talisman who took no part in proceedings.

The Olyroo defender will take time to adjust to the Victory pattern of play, but he was given a challenging evening by Perth’s 17-year-old striker Jamal Reiners, making his first ever start for the Glory.

For all of the travel, the loss of Valeri and the fact that Muscat wanted to rotate some of his squad, this was still a pretty strong team that Victory fielded, with all of its “fab four” attackers – Ben Khalfallah, Besart Berisha, Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler – on the field.

But they struggled to create chances. The closest they came to scoring being the gilt-edged opportunity fashioned for Berisha from a fine move which ended with the Albanian front man lashing into the bar.

Muscat believes that his side should have at least come away with a point, but the reality is that they have now taken nothing from their last three matches and have dropped to fourth spot on the table, one place below City.

“There’s no way we should have lost that tonight. But if you don’t get that first goal there’s a chance you will pay the penalty and that’s exactly what happened tonight.” he said after the game.

To his credit Muscat refused to use the travel as an excuse and said his team had done enough to win the game if they had taken one of their few opportunities.

“For long periods of that game we were well in control, we completely dominated the first half. Chances were few and far between. In large the performance was good.

“It won’t be tough getting people up at all (for the derby). The toughest thing is putting in a performance that is worthy of three points.”

Monitoring performances, not results, has been Muscat’s mantra. It has served him well for the past two years, but on Saturday night there is no doubt that he would rather take three points from a poor performance and a lucky goal than play City off the park and lose again. In the end, it’s a results-oriented business.

DERBY FACTS  (source: FFA)

-Melbourne Victory have won each of the last three Melbourne derbies in the A-League, including play-offs, the longest streak of either side.

-Melbourne Victory have scored nine goals in their last three matches against Melbourne City, conceding only two in the process.

-Melbourne City have won the last two Melbourne derbies in the A-League regular season when playing as the home team, keeping clean sheets in both of those matches.

-Each Melbourne side has kept five clean sheets over 17 editions of the derby in the A-League, including play-offs.

-Melbourne City have won eight and drawn three of their last 13 home fixtures in the A-League, including a 5-1 victory over Perth in their last home appearance.

-Besart Berisha has scored six goals in the five games he has played against City, scoring a goal in each of the last three consecutive encounters.

-No team has had more shots in the A-League this season than Melbourne City.

-Melbourne Victory are the only team to have two different players (Finkler and Bozanic) both score a goal from a free kick.

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