Melbourne derby shapes the narrative of city's A-League rivalry

As Melbourne Victory have stuttered along in stop-go fashion this season, their increasingly impatient fans have begun muttering about a sense of complacency around the club.

They have, when things have not gone right, castigated coach Kevin Muscat for his commitment to trusted veterans, arguing he puts too much faith in older men and players whom he recycles. Those, like Mark Milligan, James Troisi, Kosta Barbarouses, who have been at the club, left it and are welcomed back again.

Victory have endured a stop-go season for a variety of reasons, much of it to do with the absence of Milligan, Troisi and Barbarouses on international duties in the first six weeks of the campaign. At the end of the season Muscat's recruiting policy will be judged solely by the league table and where the club finishes up.

But one thing that can be said for Victory's approach is that it does also bring a sense of continuity through a group of players who have been together a long time and inherently understand the club's culture and its expectations.

That's certainly not the case at Melbourne City, where the past few seasons have seen a revolving door of personnel as the City Football Group-owned club searches for the right mix of players and coaches that will enable their franchise to really make a mark on the A-League.

In 12 months, City have had three coaches: John van 't Schip, who returned to the Netherlands for personal reasons, Michael Valkanis, who filled in for the second half of last season, and now Warren Joyce, who has been in charge since the winter off-season.

There has also been a huge turnover of players as Joyce seeks to inculcate a new culture at the club and do so with players who buy in to his vision for a tougher, more defensively tight and disciplined side who are more team oriented and prepared to work harder than their predecessors.

With the traditional Melbourne Christmas derby set to take place on Saturday night, it's instructive to look at the line-ups of both sides from last year's Christmas derby night to illustrate the rapid rate of change.

Six of Victory's starting line-up that night can be expected to be involved right from the start, or certainly at some stage, on Saturday.

For City the number is much less. Goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis will probably retain his spot, but aside from him, perhaps only Luke Brattan of the XI that kicked off that evening will be in the starting side on Saturday.

Gone are the likes of Tim Cahill, Josh Rose, Ivan Franjic, Nicolas Colazo and Fernando Brandan. Neil Kilkenny has hardly figured all season, Bruce Kamau has been in and out in recent times, while Ruon Tongyik is another who has barely had a look in under Joyce.

The A-League is known for its rapid rate of turnover, but that is some going even by local standards.

Brattan, who only joined City on loan from his owners, Manchester City, for the 2016-17 season, is now one of the club's longest-serving players.

If selected for the derby - he was dropped for the round-two encounter having played in the season-opening win over Brisbane -Brattan will be playing his 100th A-League game, the majority having been with his first club, the Roar.

Brattan says the high turnover is not something that puts him out particularly.

"I have seen a fair bit of change," he said. "There are a fair few faces that have come and gone, some people have come in, others have gone out, but that's how life is in football. Its something you have to get used to.

"It's no big deal. You are a team, it's a sport. It's not just players. It's coaches, staff, too. It happens a lot. It's a results-based business.

"It's always like this in the game, you can't take anything for granted."

Brattan says the turbulence reflects the way City, having been bought by the CFG a few years ago, are trying to define its identity.

People largely know what Victory are: a club with a huge fan base, strong corporate support and a history of success. For many, City are a northern suburbs-based offshoot of a multinational football business.

"We are still trying to work out fully what we want to do, to develop the culture the club wants. It's a work in progress ... JVS added to what had come before, then Mickey V did and now it's Warren's turn to tweak and change things."

Under Joyce, City's watchwords are toughness, accountability, unity, team orientation and defensive solidity.

"Last year we didn't have that winning mentality. When things got tough we went missing a bit. We now work hard for each other, roll up our sleeves and dig in. He talks to us a lot about running, tracking and being disciplined."

This season Brattan has sported a new look. Gone are the long, flowing locks and he has trimmed down - something Joyce told him he needed to do.

"I have lost some weight but Warren has not got the best out of me yet, I still think there is some way to go and I can be a lot better," he said.

"He's on at me every day, to get fitter, to work harder. He told me when he came that I had to be better physically, which I knew myself.

"The training is a lot different to last year. I am doing a lot more gym work and am lifting heavier weights than last year.

"I went into last season feeling pretty good, and my form showed that, but my back could not cope with the training loads.

"I had a bad back and could not do what I wanted to do, but now I can push myself a bit harder in the gym and with my running."

Last year Brattan was on the verge of making an international breakthrough, which could have given him hope of making the World Cup squad. Now he is well down the pecking order having fallen off previous Socceroo boss Ange Postecoglou's radar.

"With Ange it was all about current form. I played well at the start of the season and got called up, but in the second half I knew I was not playing well enough and got left out of the squad. I knew it, I wasn't kidding myself that I was doing enough.

"This season I played the first game, then got dropped for the derby. I knew with the new coach I would have to put my head down and work my arse off at training and do everything I could to get back into the squad.

"I knew I would have to wait for my turn, but I also knew that I had to take the chance when it came. I can't be complacent, I have to work just as hard now and not take anything for granted."

This story Melbourne derby shapes the narrative of city's A-League rivalry first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.