City sweating on fitness of star duo after falling under injury cloud

Melbourne City were on the end of a heartbreaking late leveller from Chinese side Zhejiang as they drew 1-1 in the AFC Champions League.

Melbourne City duo Mathew Leckie and Jamie Maclaren are the latest Socceroos to be under an injury cloud heading into the Asian Cup.

Leckie sustained a potential hamstring injury in City’s 1-1 draw against Zhejiang in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday night, while Maclaren is battling an ongoing ankle concern.

The former played from the start at Ikon Park, filling in at the point of City’s attack in place of Maclaren who took his place on the bench in order to rest the ankle injury that he’s been carrying through recent games.

The 32-year-old limped off the field just after the hour mark after an innocuous incident on the edge of the penalty, and was replaced by Maclaren – who played out the remainder of the contest.

It means the duo may be at risk for City’s next Isuzu UTE A-League fixture against Central Coast Mariners on Sunday evening, and potentially beyond that for the Asian Cup, depending on the severity of their respective injuries.

MATCH REPORT: City dealt Champions League blow as late Zhejiang equaliser compromises path to knockouts

“I hope not,” he said when asked if it was anything serious.

“I’m going to get a check tomorrow. I felt my hamstring a little bit. It was just a simple change of direction movement. So hopefully that brings luck on my side a bit. It wasn’t any explosive movement. So I just have to wait and see.”

This is the second injury Leckie has sustained in a matter of months, having only just returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for almost three months on November 29.

“Obviously I’ve had my knee now and I’ve worked really hard to get that right and been training super hard to keep myself in good shape,” Leckie said.

“I felt good against Perth and I felt good going into this game. So it’s just one of those things. A bit unlucky at the moment and hopefully it’s nothing serious.”

Featured image credit: 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC)

Meanwhile, Maclaren confirmed post-game he has been nursing an ankle injury during a packed schedule at both club and international level.

“I’ve just got some bone stuff in my ankle,” Maclaren said post game.

“I’ll scan it tomorrow and see how bad it is. It’s been a couple of weeks but obviously [there’s been] a lot of travel and stuff. It just blows up after flights.

“It hasn’t been ideal but you always try and put your body on the line for the team and sometimes it can be [your] downfall. That’s something that we’ve got to do.”

The duo are the latest Socceroos to fall under an injury cloud on the eve of the tournament, which kicks off on January 12 in Qatar.

Socceroos boss Graham Arnold is expected to name his 23 man squad in the weeks to come, who is already sweating on the fitness of captain Mat Ryan after he sustained a fractured cheekbone. His club, AZ Alkmaar, confirmed he was set to be “sidelined for several weeks.”

Middlesbrough’s Riley McGree and Hearts full-back Nathaniel Atkinson are also in a race against the clock to be fit for the tournament.

However, St Mirren’s Ryan Strain and Western Sydney Wanderers attacker Brandon Borrello have already been ruled out of the tournament through injury.

Leckie was a notable absentee from the last two Socceroos squads due to his prior knee concern, but has been a key contributor in previous camps.

“It’s one of those things. You saw it at the World Cup. There were some big names missing across all the teams,” Leckie said.

“We’ve got a job to do at our clubs. As a player, you always just go out there and play, you don’t think too much about what’s going to happen. From a coach’s point of view, they want to look after their players but if you get injured just before a tournament, that’s football, it’s unlucky.”

Maclaren is currently in a race for one of the available striker spots, but has been a regular in Arnold’s Socceroos squads for the best part of the last year.

Portsmouth’s Kusini Yengi and Melbourne Victory’s Bruno Fornaroli are among the players mounting a red hot case for selection after red-hot starts to the 2023-24 season.

“I’m not guaranteed selection,” Maclaren said.

“All the talk’s been about Bruno and rightly so he’s in cracking form. But me, I’ve just got to get my head down and get us back up the ladder in the A-League Men because our form has been pretty good.”

With the Champions League group stage over, City will now return to a less taxing schedule, having clocked serious mileage as a result of their league, Asia and Australia Cup commitments.

City has already played 17 games in eight different cities, including trips to Japan, China, Thailand, New Zealand and Perth.

It’s something Maclaren is looking forward to, having also gone to Kuwait for the Socceroos’ World Cup qualifier against Palestine.

“You don’t want to make excuses, players always want to play. But you look across Europe there and the travel, [it’s] two hours flights. We’re travelling 14, sitting on buses for three hours and have been doing that for the last month and a half,” Maclaren said.

“Not only for myself with Kuwait, Auckland, Tokyo. It’s been tough, taxing on the mind and body and I’m sure the players feel the same way and you can see obviously boys are pulling up sore after games and it’d be nice to go five days six day breaks. I hear other A-League coaches talk about short turnarounds, no one’s had a short turnaround like us.”