DESPITE missing three stars to international duty, Kevin Muscat remains "100% confident" Melbourne Victory can topple Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium tonight.
But the coach is still fuming that Socceroos Mark Milligan and James Troisi and All White Kosta Barbarouses will miss the season opener.
And an already undermanned Victory is likely to be dealt another savage blow at the selection table, with Argentine midfielder Matias Sanchez set to miss the grand final rematch with a hamstring complaint.
Muscat needed to shuffle the decks in any case.
But the Sanchez fitness cloud means Leigh Broxham - who is set to be Victory's first choice left back this season - will probably shift to midfield, with Stefan Nigro playing the fullback role.
Intrigue surrounds who Muscat will deploy at No.10, with Leroy George or Josh Hope seemingly his only two options.
Dutchman George was recruited as a winger and is still building fitness, but could play the attacking midfield role as a one-off.
But 19-year-old Hope is a specialist No.10 and Muscat has no qualms throwing youngsters into the furnace - although whether he gives the Tasmanian a starting debut against the defending champions remains to be seen.
"I'm 100% confident in the team that will run out there," Muscat said.
"It will be a big occasion.
"But we shouldn't sweep under the carpet that players are missing out.
"There is a huge investment placed in the players from the board, who support in me and invest heavily financially.
"There's also a huge investment from 24,000 members both financially and emotionally and I think they deserve the opportunity to see all of their players available for Round 1.
"I believe in the squad that we've got. But the competition needs everyone available, because in a salary capped competition no one should be disadvantaged.
"We're contradicting ourselves."
Victory suffered a heartbreaking penalty shootout loss to the Sky Blues in the 2016-17 grand final.
But Muscat revealed the May 7 defeat had not been mentioned during pre-season.
"By then, everyone's been away, the squad has changed, the time for reflection has gone," he said.
"It'll never sit right with me, ever, but I haven't referenced it once."