Worrying reports emerging this morning have suggested Socceroos playmaker Aaron Mooy could be ruled out of the Asian Cup with a medial ligament tear.
The Australian suggests the 28-year-old could miss between four to six weeks with the injury, meaning Graham Arnold may have a big decision to make as to whether to include him in the final 23-man squad to head to the UAE.
Meanwhile, reports that Tom Rogic is also battling to be fit for the tournament are circulating.
Here are the burning questions as we digest what Mooy’s potential absence would mean for the Socceroos and his club team Huddersfield Town…
HOW LONG WOULD HE BE OUT FOR?
News of a potential injury for midfield maestro Mooy has been received as a massive blow for the Socceroos ahead of the Asian Cup, but the reported injury length sees hope remain.
According to The Australian , Mooy is set for four to six weeks on the sideline after suffering damage to his medial ligament in Huddersfield’s 1-0 loss to Arsenal over the weekend. That layoff wouldn’t be anywhere near long enough to rule him out of the entire tournament.
Australia begins its Asian Cup campaign on January 6, meaning that should that diagnosis prove accurate, the 28-year-old would certainly miss the opener against Jordan. But he could return for the rest of the group stage and would likely be fit for the business end of the tournament.
It could yield a situation similar to that of South Korean star Son Heung-Min, who will only jet into the UAE to participate in the knockout phases of the tournament – assuming his team qualifies.
The Round of 16 runs between January 20 and January 22, almost exactly six weeks from Mooy’s diagnosis. Should confirmation come of the reported layoff, then the midfielder should return to fitness in time to play a key role in the final crucial stages of the Socceroos’ bid to retain the Asian Cup.
WHO DOES IT OPEN THE DOOR FOR?
There will be midfielders galore lining up to replace Mooy – and potentially Rogic – with the Socceroos crying out for creative players.
While the likes of Mustafa Amini and Jackson Irvine will look to lock down positions, there are three standouts in the A-League.
Mooy’s work as a left-footer is a quality to replace.
That said, there’s one left-footer who’s already proved his qualities on the Asian Cup stage.
James Troisi has been on the outer since being left out of the Socceroos’ World Cup squad.
But the playmaker has enjoyed a fine start to the season, has a lethal left foot and knows how to play at international level. That said, he’s had just one goal and one assist so far this season.
Another man who could float into the frame is his Victory teammate Terry Antonis.
A right-footer, the 25-year-old has come into his own at Victory this season, scoring three goals and assisting four more in his seven games.
Antonis is creative, clever and knows where the goal is. He last played for the national team in 2012 after being handed three caps against the likes of Hong Kong, Guam and Chinese Taipei – and was also a member of the Asian Cup squad who lifted the trophy in 2015, but failed to see a single minute.
Speaking on A-League Hour on Monday night, former Socceroo Mark Bosnich suggested “Right now at this moment in time if I had to pick a team tonight to go to the Asian Cup, yes he [Antonis] does,” and an injury to Mooy would surely only boost his chances.
Another right-footer is Dimi Petratos, who has featured in several recent squads.
The Jet had an incredible 2017/18 season but hasn’t kicked on yet this year, with just one goal and three assists to his name,
HOW COULD THIS AFFECT ARNIE’S PLANS?
Well, first of all, that depends on how long Mooy’s recovery to full fitness takes.
If it’s a four-week return, that would come in the tournament’s opening week, likely after Australia’s first game against Jordan.
A six-week return would look more like the end of the group stage, or even the Round of 16.
Regardless, given the tournament is now less than a month away, Graham Arnold will surely have to prepare for a group stage without Mooy – with the midfielder’s availability at any point considered a bonus, rather than a genuine option.
It seems certain, then, that the duo of Massimo Luongo and Jackson Irvine will feature heavily in Arnold’s plans, while Mustafa Amini has impressed with recent opportunities for the national team. That trio could feature together, especially if Tom Rogic struggles for fitness.
Mooy has played a more advanced role at times of late, and replacing his creativity will be one of the biggest challenges.
That’s where Arnold could be tempted to test a Terry Antonis, James Troisi or Dimi Petratos.
If Mooy is available come the knockout stages, there will no doubt be the temptation to play him – regardless of whether that’s off the bench or as a starter.
That said, by that point, Arnold could be reluctant to mess with a formula – if things are going well.
The other issue is if Mooy is named but unavailable for the start of the tournament, Arnold will have to take a big risk, effectively naming a squad that’s down a midfielder at the beginning — limiting his options in the group stage while denying another player an opportunity — with the hope his side can progress enought to make Mooy a factor as it progresses.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR HUDDERSFIELD?
With Mooy already pencilled in to miss over a month of Premier League action with Asian Cup duties, the impact of his injury diminishes for his Premier League side.
But his absence for a pair of potentially season-defining clashes prior to his scheduled departure could prove a massive blow.
The Terriers face fellow strugglers Newcastle and Southampton in their next two league matches, with both shaping as relegation six-pointers with a gridlock developing at the rear end of the ladder.
Mooy has started all but one of his team’s 16 matches in the competition this season, and forms a key component of their midfield. He’s also their tied top scorer in the competition with two strikes so far this campaign, level with defender Mathias Jorgensen.
Clashes with the Saints and Magpies respectively are a huge chance for Huddersfield to nab some much needed points in the race to avoid the dreaded drop.
However, should Arnold opt not to pick Mooy in the squad for the Asian Cup, he could actually return to club action sooner than previously thought.