With a Westfield FFA Cup semi-final berth up for grabs this week and the Hyundai A-League just around the corner, Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat has noticed an increase in "the tension" at training.
Victory will visit Bentleigh Greens on Tuesday night for their FFA Cup quarter-final, and it will be the last chance Muscat's squad will get to impress him in a competitive fixture before the 2016-17 A-League campaign begins in two weeks.
After a long A-League pre-season, the realisation that starting spots for Round 1 are being decided is changing the atmosphere at Victory training.
"It's been tense in the last couple of days and it's expected as well because, you know, the playing group have put in almost 12 weeks of work and they sense that the games are going to start and everyone wants to be included," Muscat told reporters on Monday.
"So the intensity and the tension have increased dramatically."
Although Muscat insists he has a good idea of what his starting XI will be when Victory visit Brisbane Roar in their A-League opener on October 7, he is still "constantly reviewing" his preferred line-up.
"No doubt you'll have plans, in terms of the way you want to play and what players will fit into that structure best, but ultimately - I always say - the final decision, the players determine who's playing," he said.
"Ultimately, we pick a team but the players decide that based on their performances and our understanding of what we're trying to do."
Victory have no injury concerns heading into their clash with the Greens, while the reigning FFA Cup winners are in impressive form having won their past six matches including friendlies.
In the last round of the FFA Cup, a Besart Berisha penalty saw Victory account for Hume City 1-0, while Bentleigh defeated Devonport City 1-0 after extra time thanks to Matt Thurtell's goal.
Bentleigh were crowned NPL Victoria premiers this year but were eliminated in their first final to Oakleigh Cannons before also bowing out of the National Premier Leagues' national finals to Edgeworth FC.
It has been a disappointing few weeks for the Greens but Muscat is wary of John Anastasiadis' team.
"We go up against a team that's well organised and well coached, and from our perspective, our attitude's got to be right," Victory's boss said.
"We're going to have to perform well to reward ourselves with a win."