With two games coming up in a four-day span, Melbourne Victory will have two things in their collective favour – one, coach Grant Brebner will have the luxury of a near-full squad of good health to choose from, and two, he’s got a handful of young, hungry players fighting for playing time among his options.
Victory take on Adelaide United in a Saturday night tussle at Cooper’s Stadium on a South Australia road trip before returning home to face Perth Glory at AAMI Park on Australia Day evening.
While Brebner has flatly denied that a squad-system approach is on the cards – “We’ve played only one game, there are no rotations at this point,” he said ahead of the team’s departure to Adelaide – the execution of doing its best to rebound from a season-opening 3-1 home loss to Brisbane Roar exists as his team’s singular focus in training for the last three weeks.
“The boys have responded well – but we’ve had a bit of a longer dwell, which isn’t great for us to do,” Brebner said on Thursday.
“As a new team, there’s a lot of things we need to work on, with and without the ball, and on and off the park as well. We will continue to get better as the league campaign continues.”
Brebner’s squad choice options have been bolstered by the return to training of key striker Robbie Kruse, who impressed the coach in limited duty in scrimmage wins over National Premier League sides Altona Magic and Hume City.
“He’s just building towards getting his match fitness together, and at a better level,” said Brebner, adding that Kruse – while being a part of Victory’s travelling squad for the weekend trip to Adelaide – will be given every chance to line up against the Reds.
In addition to Kruse, Australia Under-23 international defender Dylan Ryan is within contention for a spot in Brebner’s first eleven alongside English Premier League veterans Ryan Shotton and Rudy Gestede, with Ryan and Shotton vying for their first-team debuts.
Ryan has been of particular notice to Brebner, impressing the coach in training and in Asian Champions League play since joining Victory on a one-year loan spell from Willem II in Holland’s Eredivisie.
“He just keeps getting better,” Brebner said.
“He’s also playing a lot of under-23’s football, and that’s quite a bit different than what we’re doing at the top level – he knows that, he’s adjusting to that, and he’s done well in doing anything that we have asked him to do so far,” Brebner added about Ryan.
Brebner has also been impressed by Shotton taking Ryan under his wing – fostering a spirit of togetherness within the squad rather than a staunch rivalry for the same position.
“Dylan can learn a lot from Ryan – he’s played at such a high level, and playing alongside of him, Dylan can only benefit,” Brebner said about the influence Shotton – who has played in England for the likes of Middlesbrough, Derby County, Birmingham City and Stoke City – has on other players such as Ryan.
Meanwhile, Ryan feels he is set to make his senior debut without any issues.
“I played in a few games in the Asian Champions League when we were in Doha,” the 20-year-old Wollongong native Ryan said on Friday, “and I felt that I had a few good performances there.
“Coming into the A-League, it’s the next step for me and I feel I am ready for it,” added Ryan.
And in playing for Brebner, who is in his own right embarking on his first full season as Victory’s head coach, Ryan believes that he can do anything to learn from him.
“He’s a hard trainer, and he always gets the best out of his players,” Ryan has observed.
Brebner feels like he has a grand luxury at his disposal, by having a full squad to pick his starting eleven from for the match against Adelaide United, as Victory have not had a competitive A-League match for the last 21 days.
However, Brebner also knows that he needs to pick his starters wisely, as the competition for places increases in intensity, even at this early stage of the new season.
“We have a full squad to choose from, which is great for me as a coach and us as a team,” Brebner said.
“But it also means that we can have no excuses,” he added.
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