Melbourne's Mr Versatile

One of the key reasons behind Melbourne Victory's strong performance this season has been Ernie Merrick's message of flexibility and attack to his players. Key to that message being carried out on the field has been Victory's Mr Versatile, Matthew Kemp.

One of the key reasons behind Melbourne Victory's strong performance this season has been Ernie Merrick's message of flexibility and attack to his players. Key to that message being carried out on the field has been Victory's Mr Versatile, Matthew Kemp.

Kemp arrived in Melbourne at the start of last season from bitter rival Adelaide not knowing quite what to expect at his new club. He initially faced a battle for his position with Joe Keenan, while niggling injuries saw him start just three of the first six games of the season.

But his ability to play midfield or defence on either side of the field won him favour and he started in every game from Round 7 onwards. He carried that on into the Asian Champions League, starting in all six games. Come this year's Pre-Season Cup, Kemp was there again in all four games, and he has now started in all seven games of this season.

It now means it has been over a year since Kemp has not been named in Melbourne's starting line-up, a period extending some 32 matches. The man himself admits his versatility makes him a hard man to drop.

"I've been moved around a lot all my career. I've played a lot of different positions. It doesn't really bother me. I don't want to be stuck in one position," he said.

"If you don't get that role you are sitting on the bench. I'd rather be out on the park in a different position. It doesn't really bother me. If it's centre back like on the weekend, or out on the wing, or left or right, it doesn't really bother me. I just enjoy being out there."

Merrick said last week that he needs his players to be willing to play in different formations. That particularly applies to the defence where he wants the flexibility to go with four or three at the back. The match against Perth saw Kemp switch from wide out on the left to a centre back role.

"It's not always easy to change positions, especially mid-half but it's something that paid off for us," he said.

Kemp said the flexibility of Victory's formation has allowed Merrick to utilise multiple routes of attack when going forward.

"We practice a lot playing different formations. We changed it several times over the weekend and for everyone to know what's going on and to change in that way we can attack the opposition and we can move ourselves around and exploit them. That's a big factor in our mentality," he said.

But despite his long run as an established member of Victory's starting line-up, Kemp is taking nothing for granted. He knows that if he doesn't do what is expected of him, there is a good chance, given the club's depth, that he will be replaced. The loss to Queensland at Telstra Dome in Round 6 was a strong reminder to him having been replaced at half time for not getting forward enough.

"Often the best way to defend is to attack. If I'd put (his opponent) under a bit more pressure going forward, then he might not have had the opportunities to run at me so much. I didn't do so well in that game," he said.

"It's something I've worked on. Ernie likes to play attacking football and regardless of who I'm up against or how the game develops, if I'm in that role, I needed to push on and help out in attack."

Evan Berger was the player who replaced him for that match, but the much-improved wing-back has done much of his work on the opposite side of the park to Kemp this season. The experienced Kemp and the tearaway young Berger make for an interesting contrast on either side of the field, but Kemp said Berger's emergence has been a massive bonus for the club.

"Evan's done amazingly well. He's a fantastic little player. He showed signs last year, he didn't get much of a run, once he got his chance he would take it and he really has. He's earned his spot and I think he's been one of our best players this year," Kemp said.

"He's fast, he's aggressive, he gets stuck in and he doesn't take a backward step. I think we are going to see a lot more to come from him. If he can continue to do what he's doing, he's going to have a big season. He's a big asset to the team, he's got a good engine, and he gets some good balls into the box. He's a real player for the future."