It’s amazing how two consecutive defeats can change the story around one team, especially after that team has racked up 17 wins at the trot in two seasons, including a premiership.
That’s what happened to Melbourne in the past two weeks after Fremantle and… Sydney defied tipsters and slammed the MCG’s reigning prime ministers†
The red and blue alarm bells wouldn’t ring loudly. After all, the Dees are still at the top of the ladder with 10 more home and away rounds to solve any glaring or lingering issues. And Melbourne proved the importance of peaking at the right time of the season last year when it found a deadly groove from round 20.
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Still, Fremantle and Sydney’s victories over Melbourne in the last two rounds have undoubtedly motivated 15 other clubs, the Dees are out to be.
“I think it showed for the rest of the competition that there is a belief that you can challenge Melbourne. They’re not invincible as maybe everyone thought,” the double All-Australian Leigh Montagna told Fox Footy’s first tear†
“They’ve seen two teams do it now, so others are thinking, ‘If we bring the heat and go after them, we can catch them like these two teams did.'”
Kangaroo Double Premiership David King stated that the Demons were not playing at the same elite level as last year.
“There’s a little bit in Melbourne that has changed,” he said.
“What you have to do is get 2021 out of your head and judge Melbourne by what you’ve seen this year – and it’s a long, long way between the premiership model than what they’re serving now.”
King and Montagna on first tear broke down three key issues the demons need to address to ensure no more teams expose them later in the season.
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According to Montagna, there is a mini-rupture in the connection on the pitch between Melbourne’s midfield group and the front line.
The Demons were ranked second in the league last year for both within-50 scores and within-50 scores. In the past six weeks, they’ve dropped to 13th and 11th respectively in that ranking.
Melbourne’s disconnect was evident in the last three quarters of Saturday night’s loss to Sydney, with just nine scores from the last 33 forward 50 entries.
“There is clearly a disconnection with their submissions within the 50 right now,” Montagna said.
“They don’t move the ball as fast as people might think they do or how they were earlier in the year. They just kick a lot of balls to the top of the square and bomb it in — and they don’t have the controversial marker players.
“There have been problems for the past six weeks, so it’s not just (Saturday) evening. It is a trend that is building. If you compare it to last season, it was a force. They built all season long, they got Ben Brown on that side and it became a really big weapon.”
Montagna pointed out that Brown had only made five marks within the 50 in the past six weeks, while rucks Luke Jackson (two) and Max Gawn (seven) hadn’t fared much better.
Key-forward Tom McDonald had 14 marks within 50 of the first four games. But he hasn’t played in the past two weeks – and he now looks set for an extended spell on the sidelines, with coach Simon Goodwin fearing a Lisfranc injury.
“They definitely know they need to work on their connection,” Montagna said.
“It could be a combination of better ball movement – maybe they need to speed it up a bit because they were holding themselves up too much – but their attackers have to work a little more and fight a little harder.”
Despite Saturday night’s loss, Gawn was ominously within 50 as he scored three goals from 28 disposals. So, given McDonald’s injury, the demons’ ball movement issues and second ruck Luke Jackson’s recent form dip, both King and Montagna suggested that perhaps Gawn should spend more time in the arc in the short term.
“I think they’re going to have to experiment to get Gawn up a bit more often and allow Jackson to get into the ruck a bit more, just to get a few more points within the 50 and compete,” Montagna said.
King added: “I wonder how Simon (Goodwin) uses Max in the future because maybe Jackson has lost a bit of weight and there’s a problem there. Maybe give him a little more midfield to get him going and see if he can generate some ball.”
CAN’T HANDLE THE HEAT!
Both Fremantle and Sydney exerted tremendous defensive pressure during their respective victories over Melbourne – pressures which Goodwin’s troops simply couldn’t handle.
Montagna pointed to several passages from Saturday night’s Dees-Swans game play where Melbourne players were caught off guard.
Shown in several examples on first tear, a Melbourne player would win a contentious possession, prompting Dees’ teammates to run for the ball. But Sydney applied relentless pressure to force a turnover – and with the Dees already in their opponents’ goal, the Swans were able to cleanly reclaim the ball and start attacking.
“Sydney’s pressure forced Melbourne to show they are human and they coughed up the ball,” Montagna said.
“If you look at Melbourne, because they are so used to winning games and coming forward, they have been caught in the last few weeks.
“It’s only a meter, it’s not big margins … (but) it’s something Melbourne might need to get back to a little bit of basics.”
Sydney’s ability to make the demons pay for coughing up the ball on Saturday night was surprising.
The Swans defeated the Dees in turnover by no less than 50 points: 8.7 (55) to 0.5 (5). Melbourne’s five behinds of turnover was the fewest of an AFL team since Round 2, 2014 after the Demons racked up just five behinds from the same scoring source against West Coast.
Equally worrisome, according to King, were the yards gained from sales, which the Swans won by +1365m on Saturday night. King said that breaking even in that stat “normally you win games”, +500m was a strong performance and +1365m was “ridiculous”.
“That number would give Simon Goodwin more gray hair than anything else he sees from the game,” he said.
But King said he was “hugely concerned” about the alarming 2021 drop in All-Australian Jake Lever.
The main backman was No. 1 in the AFL for interception marks last year, averaging 4.1 per game. This year, that number has fallen to a career low of 1.6.
‘He seems lost to me. He’s not last year’s player,” King said.
King pointed to several passages in the game from Melbourne’s loss to Sydney where Lever struggled with and without the ball.
Lever spent most of the night matching Swan’s young pistol Logan McDonald, who kicked three goals from 16 disposals and five marks in a striking display.
According to King, the Swans were sometimes actively looking for McDonald, who made Lever “look stupid at times”.
“Teams go through him. You always try to go through the interception player, but he wants to stay aggressive. He never backs down, he knows a way,” he said.
“(But) they’re almost waiting for McDonald to get back to the kicker. They are almost waiting to grab a man and isolate him. They work all the way through the field, picking on one match-up.
“Then he starts to gamble a fraction because he thinks ‘I only take one interception mark a week,’ so he sits down next to a man if he (McDonald) is in usable range and you get a great shot on target.”
Lever’s struggle with the footy was then highlighted by King, who said the All-Australian made “cold falls and cold mistakes”.
“Right now, his impact on games has dropped by about 40 percent in terms of engagement with scores and interceptions — and he’s just not reliable as a defender,” he said.
“Even when he gets the ball he looks so skittish and panicky. He just makes plays that aren’t there. This isn’t the version we saw last year
“(Steven) May’s absence emphasizes it even more, but he needs to get back into shape if they (the Dees) want to go anywhere this year.”
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