Melbourne Victory will put its disappointing A-League campaign aside in preparation for tomorrow’s Asian Champions League opener against Thai champions Chiangrai United at AAMI Park.
Despite its poor A-League campaign, Victory has found relief in qualifying for the Champions League – scoring six goals and keeping two clean sheets en route to the tournament – which gives the side plenty of confidence of replicating such positive performances, according to captain Ola Toivonen.
“If we go back to the Kashima game we were very happy to have won that game as a team and as a club and I think Australian football overall should be happy that we won,” he said.
“I think it’s very good for the youth players to see what’s out there in the world and see some really good opponents in games. It’s been a tough campaign in the A-League and this break is really good for us, which allows us to focus on these two Champions League games and hopefully get the results and the confidence in the group.”
This will be the club’s eighth Champions League campaign – having only reached the knockout stage once before – with pressure on Australian clubs to perform amplifying as a result of the A-League losing one automatic entry into the Group Stage.
Robbie Kruse and Leigh Broxham are the only players unavailable for selection due to injury, while Jakob Poulsen was the unlucky foreigner to miss out on making the squad.
The Victory have been placed in Group E alongside Beijing Guoan, FC Seoul and Chiangrai United – avoiding anyone from Japan or cashed-up Chinese giants Shanghai SIPG or Guangzhou Evergrande.
Carlos Salvachua has experimented with various formations since taking over Marco Kurz – including a back-three against Melbourne City in the derby – with the Spanish interim manager happy to adjust the team’s style based on the competition.
In the side’s most recent win against Kashima Antlers, the Victory took a different approach to previous seasons adopting more of a defensive approach and relying on the forwards to take the opportunities when presented – like the Western Sydney Wanderers back in 2014.
“It’s a different competition now. We didn’t concede a goal against Kashima or Bali United which is really important for us and we have to do the same tomorrow and keep going and build our team in this competition,” Salvachua said.
“We try to play with our style but in front of us we have big teams…tomorrow we have to be protagonists, adapt to the style of Chiangrai and try to win the game.
“It’s really important [to win at home] because we know how difficult it is to travel to Korea or to Thailand. We have to take three different flights to get to Korea and of course it’s not easy and it’s the same for the other teams and it’s really important to start winning at home.”
Despite coming in as the lowest ranked side, the Victory will enter as favourites against a Chiangrai side still in pre-season.
In contrast to the Victory, tomorrow will be Chiangrai’s first Asian Champions League group stage match, with the side qualifying directly following its maiden league title in 2019.
“We got to the play-offs two years in a row but could not get through to the Group Stage,” Chiangrai captain Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul said.
“The players all wanted to get to the group stage which is why here, today, we are all very excited and it is my dream come true. It’s a big opportunity to play abroad and show the fans in Australia and Thailand our style.”
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