We are half way through the season and it’s a good time to look back at the five things we have learnt from the Wanderers so far. With the AFC Champions League on the horizon and the second half of the season upon us, the next four months will be extremely busy for the Wanderers.
Popovic has definitely used the first 14 rounds of the A-League to ensure he has plenty of options to cover for injury and fatigue, when the Wanderers playing schedule intensifies to 3 games in 7 to10 days, with continental duties. He has kept opposition managers and fans guessing, week in week out, as to what the line-up on game day will be.
With the exception of Covic, every player in the squad has been rotated throughout the first half of the season.
Questioned a few times about his philosophy of rotation, Popovic believes that every player in the squad “should be ready… and flexible [to play in different positions]”
Popovic’s rotation policy and positional tinkering is something that is done with a great deal of care and astute planning. An example is Appiah-Kubi’s return from injury; he played up front in the National Youth League, and reprised that role when called upon in his return to the A-League.
Popovic has proven his statements regarding player flexibility, when he switched Hersi and Appiah-Kubi on the flanks, deployed Santalab wide and through the middle, Bridge fills in at number 10 when Ono is substituted, Mooy has played as a number 6 and number 10 and Cole has been utilized on the flank.
Second Year Syndrome
The fairytale of the Wanderers debut season, as well as the ability to surprise the opposition, was always going to make season two in the A-League a greater challenge. In anticipation of the latter, Popovic went about changing the style of his team.
The Wanderers are now playing out from the back, utilizing the distribution skills of Australian international, Matthew Spiranovic.
The ability to retain possession and strike on the counter, has kept the Wanderers a step ahead of their opposition, this is highlighted in the statistics to date.
At the same stage last season the Wanderers were in third, this season they are currently second.
After 14 rounds last season the Wanderers had 23 points, scored 17 and conceded 11.
This season at the same stage the Wanderers have, 26 points, scored 16 and conceded 11.
What is most impressive is the Wanderers have achieved a higher position in the ladder and more points, with the added pressure of expectation, other teams having the off-season to study their game, and an increase in rotation.
Last season’s success ensured that the media hitched a ride on the Red and Black bandwagon with the club and supporters receiving rave reviews across media the country.
This season while much has been the same, the RBB have come under fire in recent weeks, for “Anti-Social” behavior. Most notably the altercation between Wanderers fans and Victory fans, which has cost both, clubs a suspended 3-point sanction.
The ugly scenes that played out between the two sets of supporters, has brought widespread condemnation from the media.
While nobody condones the behavior of these individuals, some journalists have taken it upon themselves to target the Wanderers supporters as a whole and even link the nature of the game to hooliganism.
Rebecca Wilson’s opinion piece on the Wanderers’ supporters was farcical and disrespectful, to football supporters across the world.
The Wanderers due to the richness of football history in Western Sydney have the largest pool of young talent available of any A-League team, so far this season they have attempted to lay the foundations for progression from youth to senior team.
Only half way through the season and already several youth players have graced the Wanderers team sheet.
The most notable contribution coming from 16 year-old Daniel Alessi, who debuted in the 1-0 win, against Sydney FC.
Other youth players to have made the A-League squad are, Alusine Fofanah, Mark Cindric and Jaushua Sotirio.
In the first half of the season Tony Popovic has shown he is willing to give the young boys a go, this strategy could reap great rewards during the AFC Champions League period, as Popovic will have to rotate his squad to mitigate fatigue.
Unlike last year when the Wanderers had to throw together a squad to get on the park, this season the Wanderers have had the luxury of recruiting players to fit their playing system and more importantly their culture.
The four key players recruited were Dean Heffernan, Brendon Santalab, Tomi Juric and Matthew Spiranovic.
With the exception of Heffernan, the new recruits have seen substantial game time, with Juric and Spiranovic nailing down regular spots in the first XI.
Juric has given the Wanderers a more direct route to goal as a target man, comfortable with his back to goal or running at opposition defenders.
Santalab as illustrated in the last Sydney derby, adds his goal-poaching instincts, as well as playing of the shoulders of the opposition defenders.
Spiranovic has made the biggest contribution of all the off-season signings. Establishing himself as one of the best defenders in the A-League, comfortable on the ball, ability to distribute possession, and a good understanding of the game.