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Alan Baro – Signing Under Scrutiny

A rugged, no nonsense 31 year old, 180cm defender from the third tier of Spanish football.

No, it isn’t the sexiest of signings, but it looks to be the perfect addition to a side that lacked a hard edge in last season’s disappointing domestic campaign. Of course, no transfer is a sure thing, but assuming he is able to adjust to the league and stay fit, the Spaniard could be the first of a few crucial additions to the Victory squad as the reigning FFA Cup champions aim to re-establish themselves at the pinnacle of Australian football.

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Figure A – How Victory will look to line up next season, with a new signing likely required for the right wing position, unless Mitch Austin or Jai Ingham are given the role. Broxham may also be replaced in the starting lineup with a new signing. 

It is no secret that Melbourne Victory need a re-build of sorts. The swash-buckling 2014/15 championship team has been almost entirely dismantled – just over half of the regular starters from that side remain at the club. The loss of talismanic forward Archie Thompson only symbolises the transition phase the Melbourne club has been thrust into.

Despite the calibre of attackers that have departed the Victory, such as Gui Finkler, Kosta Barbarouses and Thompson, arguably the most important outgoing player to replace is Matthieu Delpierre. Delpierre was immense in his two seasons in the league, showing brilliant ability to play from the back, dealt with most strikers without any cause for concern, had the ability to step in and intercept play and provided an experienced backbone to support the extremely young defence around him.

The squad has been stripped fairly bare of central defenders with Thomas Deng, Giancarlo Gallifuoco and Delpierre all exiting the club in very different ways; Nick Ansell is the only remaining recognised centre half from last season. Meanwhile, James Donachie has recently joined, likely to add to depth of the squad rather than to the first team itself.

Baro is the most probable option to replace Delpierre on most occasions in the first eleven, stepping in to the left side of a central defence pairing, with Nick Ansell staying on his preferred right hand side. Baro naturally seems to be one that likes to step out and make tackles, but both defenders in this pairing have the pace to recover on the turn if needed.

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Figure B – Valeri will look to drop into any holes left in the centre of defence with Baro stepping out to intercept and break up play. May also require a more disciplined left back at times to sit deeper, rather than push on as Georgievski did much of last season. 
Ansell will have more responsibility on him to clean up balls over the top and win important headers, something Delpierre was expert at. 

Where Baro becomes a potentially brilliant transfer is his versatility to push forward into defensive midfield in place, or maybe on occasion in addition to, skipper Carl Valeri. The manager stated that Baro “Gives [the side] some options tactically” in his ability to be deployed in multiple locations across the park. The unfortunate loss of Valeri to illness for the majority of last season forced Muscat into playing Rashid Mahazi perhaps more than he would like to. In particular, in the game against Brisbane last season where the Roar overran the Victory winning 5-0, Mahazi was exposed many times on the break and was unable to halt the onrushing attack. Baro gives Muscat a more experienced and solid option to replace Valeri, as shown in figure C, so that such a large responsibility is put on the shoulders of Mahazi in protecting the defence.

In figure D below, Baro is the deepest central midfielder, allowing Valeri freedom to advance forward and play more balls forward to Berisha and the wingers. Muscat and his staff would likely only play this lineup in an absence of options to partner Valeri (through injury or suspension), or against the premium opposition in the league who play a possession brand of football, such as last season’s champions Adelaide United, where the idea is to soak up pressure and hit back on the counter.

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Figure C (left) – Baro, if deployed in a central midfield role, will give fantastic cover for his centre 
halves and break up play, at times almost acting as a third stopper. His passing range, as shown in figure C, gives the option to release quick balls out wide to the wings, as the centre backs split and push the full backs on to create 2 on 1 and overlap opportunities.

Figure D (right) – If the coaching staff elect for a double pivot in defensive midfield, Valeri is able to play a more free role while the back 4 is given additional cover, to deal with tough opposition would like to keep the ball and probe in and around the box for openings.

If you are looking for a player to compare to Baro, you wouldn’t want to go too far past the man signing him, Kevin Muscat; a rugged, physical and hard tackling defender with an underrated ability to find and make a pass and the versatility to step into midfield or play as a centre half. Victory fans will be hoping his disciplinary record is markedly better than their current manager’s. Muscat was known as being too aggressive and on occasion dangerous on the field as a footballer, both for the Victory and overseas, particularly in England.

Baro recorded 11 yellow cards in 35 appearances at SD Ponferradina in Liga Segunda last season, a rate of 0.31 bookings per match (per WhoScored.com). This rate would see him sit 3rd in the Melbourne Victory’s all time list for bookings per match (minimum 25 matches), behind notorious card receivers in Adrian Leijer and Muscat, something he will have to be wary of as to not miss key matches in the relatively short season due to suspension.

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Figure E – Melbourne Victory’s all time bookings per match table (minimum 25 games).
*Baro’s data per WhoScored.com from his 15/16 season with SD Ponferradina.

Stylistically, Baro looks a front-foot, physical centre back who, with his ability to pick a long range pass forwards, seems perfect for quickly turning defence into a smart counter attack, similar to how Delpierre often brought the ball forward and played out from the back, but perhaps with more urgency. Muscat stated that Baro is “a natural fit” for the club and “fits into how [the club] wants to play.“ The highlights video posted on the Victory website displays Baro’s main attributes, with his quick witted intercept play and passing ability highlighted toward the end of the video.

We may seen as soon as Victory’s FFA Cup game against the Jets on the 3rd of August, or perhaps earlier in pre-season matches how Muscat intends to primarily use Baro, and whether or not the Spaniard can adjust to the Australian game.

Written by Analytical A-League -> Follow @ALeagueTactics on Twitter.
Feature Image via aleague.com.au

Who is the most important player for Victory to replace?