Muscat talks up talent influx at Sydney FC

Sydney FC’s shrewd mid-season recruitment will equip the injury-cursed Sky Blues to mount a genuine title challenge in the second half of the Hyundai A-League campaign, according to Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat.

A nightmare run of incidents in November and December saw Corey Gameiro, Ali Abbas and Nick Carle all suffer torn anterior cruciate ligaments.

They were joined on the sidelines for the rest of the campaign by Sasa Ognenovski, the victim of a nerve issue in his thigh.

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Sky Blues boss Graham Arnold acted decisively in the January transfer window, bringing in French-born Senegal duo Mickael Tavares and Jacques Faty, as well as Australian Robert Stambolziev.

Speaking ahead of Victory’s match away to Sydney on Saturday night, Muscat suggested the new recruits are at least the equal of some of the sidelined personnel.

“From one perspective they’re disappointed because they’ve lost players but I think deep down Arnie’s probably quite happy, because he’s probably ended up with better players than he started with,” he said.

Pressed on whether or not those reinforcements will allow Arnold’s side to close the eight-point gap on league leaders Perth Glory and push to win silverware, Muscat was unequivocal.

“The way it works in the A-League, without doubt they’ve got a chance,” he said.

“They’ve got a good team, make no mistake.”

Having played out a 0-0 stalemate at Allianz Stadium in Round 6, the previous meeting between these two sides in December ended in a 3-3 draw, with Muscat expecting his team – who kept a clean sheet in their 3-0 derby win over Melbourne City last time out – to offer a stiffer test to the Sky Blues’ attack this time around.

“I expect us to defend a lot better than that game,” he said.

“As a team, I don’t think we got that side of the game right.”

Club captain Mark Milligan is likely to return to the starting XI in place of Leigh Broxham or Carl Valeri, with Muscat hoping the midfielder – an Asian Cup winner with the Socceroos last month – can start hitting the back of the net during the run-in to the finals.

“If there’s one thing I’ve spoken to Millsy about, it is about getting some goals,” he said.

“He’s certainly got licence to get forward. It’ll be nice to have him around for some consecutive games and really get some continuity into that part of the field.”