The Western Sydney Wanderers reached the grand final last season only falling short to the Brisbane Roar in extra-time, marking successive final failures.
With a mass exodus at the club ahead of the 10th A-League season, the battling Wanderers and their ever-growing passionate supporters will face the biggest challenge the club has seen to date.
Last Season: 2nd
Ins: Vitor Saba (Brescia), Brendan Hamill (Seongham), Romeo Castelen (RKC Waalwijk), Seyi Adeleke (Lazio), Dean Bouzanis (Carlisle United), Antony Golec (available for A-League), Daniel Mullen (available for A-League), Golgol Mebrahtu (available for A-League)
Outs: Shinji Ono (Consadole Sapporo), Michael Beauchamp (PTT Rayong), Jerome Polenz (Sarpsborg 08), Youssouf Hersi (Perth Glory), Aaron Mooy (Melbourne City), Jerrad Tyson (Sun Pegasus), Tahj Minniecon (Rochdale City Suns), Adam D’Apuzzo (retired) Dean Heffernan (retired)
Strengths: A feature of the Wanderers is the ability to grind out a result through resilience and counter attacking football, however one of the qualities that makes Western Sydney so attractive is there tempo control. The Wanderers can not only sit back and withstand barrage after barrage but can hold the ball and frustrate teams.
Weaknesses: Tony Popovic’s side are solid from front to back and it is difficult to pinpoint a notable flaw. However upfront is a cause of concern in regards to taking chances. The Wanderers last season were guilty of dropping points due to not capitalising on opportunities when they presented themselves. If symptoms persist it could cause a nasty headache for coach Tony Popovic.
Key Players: Vitor Saba and Tomi Juric
Arriving from Italy is the Brazilian Saba an attacking midfielder that struggled to hold a regular place at Brescia, this season he will be partnered with the promising Tomi Juric. The pair will be under the microscope as individuals and a duo, as they look to be the main source of goals for the RBB to celebrate.
Saba is tasked with filling the boots of the Japanese maestro Ono while Juric will carry a burden of expectancy stemming from the Australian public ahead of the Asian Cup next year. Simply both need to perform in the red and black.
Manager: Tony Popovic
Popa returned the loyalty the fans showed him at the start of his coaching job at the Wanderers early pre-season, after the Australian distanced himself from talks linking him to the vacancy at his former club Crystal Palace. Popovic has brought unexpected success to the Wanderers without actually delivering a trophy, two A-League grand finals and an Asian Champions League final in the weeks to come.
Although this season the squad was rebuilt almost from the ground up and supporters’ faith see-sawed following early results, it was rectified with performances in the ACL. Expect to see much of the same play-style from the Wanderers – why would you change a winning formula?
Prediction: Struggle early but finish strong. Will make the finals but how far up is a mystery. – Jake O’Brien
Top photo from Western Sydney Wanderers’s Facebook page.