How will Melbourne Victory deploy their new Japanese superstar?
Melbourne Victory finally have their man.
Former Japanese international Keisuke Honda will look to light up the Hyundai A-League in 2018/19 after signing on for the reigning champions.
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It’s a statement signing from Kevin Muscat’s men, and one that alleviates the departure of Besart Berisha to some extent.
There’s still a lot of work for Muscat and the Victory to do in order to successfully defend their title, but there’s no doubt the signing of the 32-year-old is a huge step in the right direction.
What role will Honda play?
A supremely composed and intelligent player, Honda’s versatility had seen him deployed in a catalogue of positions across the front and middle thirds.
Right wing, left wing, false nine, a pure ten, deep lying midfielder: Honda’s adaptability and excellent technique has made him a coach’s favourite throughout his career.
He made his name as an attacking midfielder at CSKA Moscow where he excelled the team’s chief creator. It was the most prolific stint of his club career – he made 29 assists, as well as scoring 28 goals, in 127 matches for the Russian heavyweights.
The Japanese maestro’s clever range of passes and serenity on the ball made him a precious asset for CSKA, and he formed a strong partnership with front pairing Seydou Doumbia and Ahmed Musa.
This combination saw Honda at his most dangerous: his accuracy and decisiveness in the final third was the perfect marriage for the notoriously swift striking duo, and it was a major factor in the four major trophies won during his time.
A superstar signing in Milan
Although Honda was handed the number 10 jersey when he moved to AC Milan in 2014, he was not afforded the same level as freedom. Brazilian attacker Kaka had cemented his role as the orchestrator at the San Siro, with Honda shifting out to the right wing.
His tactical intelligence and work rate off the ball ensured Honda did not disappoint, but it was a time in which the five-time European champions failed to harness the Japanese’ talents in front of goal.
What will Kevin do?
Kevin Muscat’s plans for Victory have been well guarded during pre-season, but Honda will surely be made the jewel in the crown of Melbourne’s Championship defence.
The departure of Besart Berisha still lingers over Melbourne’s set up, and it could be likely that after the acquisition of Honda, a pure number nine is next on Muscat’s hit-list.
Regardless, Muscat’s preference for a 4-2-3-1 formation could see Honda deployed in his favoured central role once again. If positioned in front of a potential double pivot of Carl Valeri and Terry Antonis, Honda would offer a dynamic and reliable link in transition.
This would see Kosta Barbarouses – who remains the only genuine goalscorer within Victory ranks – retain a position on the right flank, and could see James Troisi pick up where the also left-footed Leroy George excelled in 2017/18.
However, a potential curveball could see Honda employed as a false nine, allowing Barbarouses and a left-sided forward - Kenny Athiu, Jai Ingham or Troisi himself – to occupy a spot on the left hand side of the front three.