MELBOURNE'S inefficient midfield has got the message – and no player has adapted better than Clayton Oliver.

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The theme for Melbourne in its losses over the first eight games of 2020 was clear; the team could generate plenty of inside 50s but the execution was nowhere near where it needed to be.

Clayton Oliver rues a missed opportunity in Melbourne's R9 clash with Port Adelaide. Picture: AFL Photos

Coach Simon Goodwin would surely be lamenting the early games against West Coast, Geelong and Richmond, all games that could have looked very different if his midfielders had delivered the ball with class.

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Melbourne had 22 extra inside 50s but managed seven less marks inside the forward 50 arc than their opponents across those three games.

Oliver had been tremendously wasteful in the early part of the season, but now he's almost looking like a brand-new player, particularly across the last two games.


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The massive disparity in Oliver's 'kick inside 50 retention percentage' is one of the biggest keys to Melbourne's past two clinical wins over Adelaide and North Melbourne.

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Oliver's first instinct had been to bomb it in hope off a step or two in traffic, leading to predictable high balls that opposing defenders could pick off with ease.

His around-the-ground kicking had lacked dare, and even when he tried to take a safe option his execution would let him down.

In the video below against Richmond, Oliver could have kickstarted a scoring chain by cutting a kick through the middle to Kysaiah Pickett, who had plenty of space to run into.

Instead of trying to take the game on, Oliver opted for a shorter chip to Aaron vandenBerg and completely coughed it up.

00:54 Mins
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Oliver embarrassed, Tigers are home

Melbourne's Clayton Oliver produces a kick to forget and is made to pay by Tom Lynch

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Goodwin noted after the Gold Coast win in round six Oliver had started to change his style and begun "driving his legs out of contest areas".

There were still a few bombs, but that shift has completely taken force now.

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His 'kick metres gained' stat has not just skyrocketed quantitively, but clearly the quality of those kicks has improved as he's started to back himself in, more particularly as an outside player.

The below clip against Adelaide shows a side of Oliver as a player not afraid to get caught and far more willing to take the game on with an adventurous kick.

This weighted pass to Bayley Fritsch at full tilt under pressure from the much-faster Shaun Atley is perhaps one of the hardest kicks in the game to nail.

That kick was emblematic of Melbourne's midfield transformation across the course of the year and exactly what could have sparked wins in those early games against the Tigers, Cats and Eagles.

Fellow midfielders Jack Viney and Christian Petracca have looked empowered to take the game on and back their strength to give themselves an extra few steps to hit the right kick.

With Oliver doing that too, Melbourne now has the dare to capitalise on its midfield dominance and go back to that elusive 2018 form.