It's officially time to be concerned about the Demons, who have lost five of their last eight games against fellow top-eight sides, writes Ronny Lerner.
WOULD YOU say it’s time for Melbourne to panic?
Yes, I would, Kent.
Would you say it's time for Melbourne to crack each other's heads open and feast on the goo inside?
That’s probably a stretch.
And it might not be total panic stations just yet at Demonland, but any chance to quote one of my favourite bits of dialogue from The Simpsons, I’ll take.
However, there is no doubt that for the first time this year, this writer has concerns over Melbourne’s ability to win back-to-back premierships.
The Demons looked set to be cruising towards another flag this year when they sat two games clear atop the AFL ladder, undefeated after ten games. At that stage, their winning streak had reached 17 matches all up, when taking last year’s finish to the season into account.
Yes, things were looking just rosy for Simon Goodwin’s men.
But, then, the unthinkable happened. They lost. Then they lost again. And then they lost again.
In fact, as if we were transported to some parallel universe, losing has become quite a normal experience for Melbourne who has now lost five of their last eight games — all against fellow top-eight sides Freo, Sydney, Collingwood, Geelong and the Western Bulldogs.
They did smash the top-four Brisbane Lions by 64 points in round 15, but that has proven to be a rare shining light in an unimpressive two-month period.
They've "slumped" to second position on the ladder, ceding top spot to those wily, old, evergreen Cats from down the highway.
Some might point to the fact that the Demons experienced a similar trough last year – they went 4-4-1 between rounds 10-19, before winning seven in a row and clinching their drought-breaking premiership in Perth – as evidence that the people whose hearts beat true for the red and the blue shouldn’t be concerned.
But there are plenty of reasons why the Demons are struggling to look like their 2021 selves regularly and alarm bells would be ringing for Goodwin.
To put it bluntly, the reigning premiers seem lazy, selfish and lacking intensity.
In their most recent loss to the Bulldogs, four of the five goals they conceded in the final quarter resulted from slack manning up, allowing Dogs' players enough time and space in their attacking zone to ultimately win the game.
That’s an unheard-of trait to be associated with the vaunted Melbourne backline that conceded just 64 points on average per game last year and 53 per game in its first ten matches this year.
The Bulldogs ended up kicking 17.8 (110), which was not only the biggest score Melbourne has conceded this year by almost three goals but also the biggest score they’ve conceded in three seasons. And for that to happen so close to finals is really shocking.
Selfishness is also creeping into the team. Last year they were so selfless and team-oriented, but this year, there have been quite a few instances, mainly involving Bayley Fritsch, where a Melbourne player has gone for goal instead of passing it to a teammate in a better position.
And the Demons’ pressure has also been off, especially in their forward half which was a cornerstone of their run to a flag last year. The likes of Kysaiah Pickett, Charlie Spargo and Alex Neal-Bullen were relentlessly ferocious on the opposition ball carrier and created countless goalscoring opportunities for their team as a result.
However, that manic attack on both the ball and man has been sorely lacking for far too long.
Complacency looks like it is creeping in as well. Perhaps as a result of winning the premiership last year, the Demons seem as though they think the wins will just happen from whatever position they find themselves in during games.
But it’s a fallacious belief, as has been proven by the fact they have given up decent leads this year on the way to suffering defeat.
They led the Dockers by 30 points, the Swans by 14, the Magpies by 22 and, most recently, the Dogs by 27 and all games ended up in losses which each involved turnarounds of six goals at a minimum.
Make no mistake, Melbourne can still win the flag. It cannot be ignored that the team showed last year it is capable of turning a slump around and as good as Geelong has been, the Cats have also looked vulnerable at times during their current nine-game winning streak. There still isn’t a clearcut obvious standout premiership favourite.
But with top-four contenders Fremantle, Collingwood, Carlton and Brisbane in their final four games, the Demons have a huge battle on their hands to remain inside the top four.
And as we all know, without a double chance, winning the premiership becomes a much tougher proposition.
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