MELBOURNE will hope it's case of Dee-ja vu.
Last season, Simon Goodwin's side had won just one game in a month heading into a round 20 clash with Gold Coast that would define its campaign. The reigning premier will be wanting this year's round 20 clash to have a similar knock-on effect.
Like last year, Melbourne shot out of the blocks this season. Have won its first nine games in 2021, it went one better in 2022 to start the campaign 10-0 and immediately return to premiership favouritism.
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But, like last year, momentum has stalled somewhat. Last season, that came in the form of a spluttering attack. Having averaged 89.8 points per game during its unbeaten start to the season, it then averaged 69.3 points in the six weeks leading into round 20.
That clash with the Suns, where the Demons had 38 scoring shots and racked up their second-highest score of the season in a 98-point win, then revitalised their year and sparked a seven-match winning streak on their way to the flag. Melbourne averaged 106.1 points per game for the remainder of the campaign.
This year, Goodwin's team is once again facing dilemmas as it heads into a round 20 trip to Optus Stadium to take on Fremantle. But most of them are at the other end of the field and most of them were sparked by their initial round 11 loss to the Dockers.
So much of Melbourne's recent success has been built from its elite backline, and the structure and players that form it. So, what happens when that structure gets a bit shaky? The last eight weeks, where the Dees have gone 3-5, perhaps answer that.
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In the first 10 weeks, with Melbourne unbeaten and streaking ahead of the competition, the Demons ranked No.1 for contested marks conceded at 7.9 per game. Post-Fremantle, Champion Data notes they rank dead-last in that category and are conceding 13.9 per game.
In the first 10 weeks of the campaign, Melbourne also ranked No.1 in the League for contested one-on-one loss-rate at 19.0 per cent. But, again, post-Fremantle it has now fallen to No.14 in the AFL in this category with a loss-rate of 28.1 per cent.
In the most basic of terms, Melbourne has also gone from being No.1 in the competition for points conceded in the first 10 weeks of the year at 58.1 per game. Post-Fremantle, that has drifted to No.8 in the League at 79.6 points per game.
Last week's defeat to the Western Bulldogs, where it conceded 17.8 (110), was the most points Melbourne has conceded in a match since round three, 2019 – a total of 1205 days – and the first time the club has copped a triple-digits score since round 19, 2019.
One element of this, clearly, has been personnel issues. In the eight games since the side's defeat to Fremantle, its defensive generals Steven May and Jake Lever have finished just four games together on the field.
May was concussed and substituted out of the loss to the Dockers by quarter-time, missing the Dees' subsequent games against the Swans and the Pies. Lever then missed last Saturday's clash with the Dogs due to a shoulder injury.
But in the four games they've both finished, Melbourne has recorded convincing victories over Brisbane, Adelaide and Port Adelaide. They did, however, lose to the high-flying Geelong.
There is another slightly concerning factor to Melbourne's recent run, and that is the side's record against the best teams in the competition. Last year, on its way to the flag, the Demons finished the year 11-2 against top-eight teams. However, this season, it is now 2-5 against the sides currently entrenched in the finals positions.
But with a month-long stretch against top-eight teams – Fremantle on the road, Collingwood and Carlton at the MCG, then Brisbane at the Gabba – to finish the season, Melbourne will get the perfect chance to correct that record in the coming weeks.
On Friday night, the Demons have the opportunity to right a few wrongs. Like last year, the club can begin to turn its season back around in round 20. But this time, it can do so against a Fremantle side that perhaps started the mini-rut that it finds itself in. Knocking off a fellow premiership contender on its home deck will only add to the incentives.