Although the core defensive unit of last season’s premiers has remained relatively untouched, Western Sydney’s attacking prospects have been changed dramatically. This season has seen them put together an offensive trio of Juric – Ono – Hersi capable of tearing apart back fours.
While Dino Kresinger became a fan favourite in Parramatta Stadium, he remained the weakest link in the Western Sydney makeup. That being said, his contribution was often underrated. Kresinger’s work-rate was second to none, and the pressure he applied up front crucial to the counter-attacking football which the Wanderers made such effective use of. However, as a scorer of goals, he often let the team down. Slightly cumbersome and unable to get the better of opposing defenders, Kresinger was often absent going forward while surrounded by the likes of Ono, Hersi and Bridge.
Enter Tomi Juric, an unexpected signing from Tony Popovic, but one which could prove to be most efficacious. The twenty-two year old, who featured for the Socceroos in the East Asian Cup, is still finding his feet up front for Western Sydney, but in his first start for the club last round verified his potential.
While there were rough moments, such as his heavy touch in the box on the seventeenth minute, there were others which demonstrated his brilliance – particularly, two superb through balls to Hersi. One just before the twentieth minute where he held off Durante and Lia at halfway, swiveled and thread a ball through Caira and Sigmund.
Just before half-time he received the ball in space with Bridge and Hersi running ahead of him; Juric played an unbelievable outside of the foot pass to Hersi, who should’ve scored.
The former Adelaide striker appears to have much more pace than Dino with a similar, energetic work rate. We have yet to see much of him inside the box, but his goal against the Mariners was an example of clinical movement and finishing – something we rarely saw in Dino Kresinger.
But what Wanderers fans will be most interested in, is the combination which appears to have been formed by Popovic between Juric, Ono and Hersi – a potent triumvirate which would likely have reaped more goals if not for the equally effective defending from Wellington duo Sigmund and Durante. The first half demonstrated how dangerous this attacking unit could be.
A scene observed time and time again involved Juric holding up the ball, distributing to Ono behind him, before darting into the box. Ono then played the ball to Hersi on the wing, who sped past his full back and crossed back into the box where either Juric or Ono would make a run to the near post. This was seen multiple times throughout the first half.
In the 39th second, Hersi and Juric almost replicated the goal scored against the Mariners in round one. The exact same move was used two minutes later, blocked by some strong defending from Sigmund. On the twenty second minute, Juric, Ono and Hersi combined with some tiki-taka-esque (dare I say it) football down the right wing, almost resulting in a goal if not again for the saving feet of Durante.
Polenz often joined in on the fun, marauding up from his fullback position and combining with Juric and Ono when Hersi was not in position. Juric was instrumental in these combinations, often dropping back behind half way to receive the ball and hold up play with immense physicality, before distributing to Ono and pushing forward again.
In fact, it was this trio down the right wing, with help from Polenz, which led to the Wanderers first goal of the season against the Mariners.
One player who will miss out, however, with this new attacking focus is Mark Bridge. The Wanderers’ top goal scorer from last season was noticeably absent in the game against Wellington. He worked hard and is still just as talented as he proved in 2012/13, though Popovic’s tactics are leaving him isolated. With attacking movement shifted towards Hersi’s right, Bridge is often left detached on the left and unable to get himself into the game. This can be seen below, where Bridge receives the ball in a good attacking position, but is forced to play the ball across to the Juric-Hersi-Ono combination, who are on the opposite side of the field.
The Wanderers aren’t pressing as high as they were last year and are attempting to construct play more purposefully through Poljak and the back four. Bridge thrived on last year’s strategy, which involved forcing a mistake from their opponent’s defence, capitalising on it with quick counter-attacking football.
This more methodical build-up play, focusing on Ono, Juric and Hersi, has seemingly left him behind. This could be witnessed when would Ono receive the ball in acres of space, with Bridge running down his flank. Instead of playing Bridge through, Ono would turn and distribute to Juric who in turn would feed Hersi – to Bridge’s frustration.
It is still early days for what is a new system for the Wanderers, and fans from Western Sydney will be hoping that in the coming rounds the attacking combination between Juric, Ono and Hersi will grow in chemistry and effectiveness. A weakened, demoralised Sydney FC defence in this weekend’s derby could be the ideal opportunity to do so.