Can Gombau’s rejuvenated Wanderers fire against Sydney FC?
Following the bombshell departure of Tony Popovic a week before the season kicked off, it’s fair to say that Western Sydney Wanderers struggled to adjust under new coach Josep Gombau.
Gombau took over from interim manager Hayden Foxe after Round 5.
He guided the Red and Black to a solid 1-1 draw against City in his first match in charge.
But a run of three straight defeats followed, highlighted by a 5-0 loss to Sydney FC in Round 10 in one the most one-sided Sydney Derbies in recent memory.
The Wanderers conceded nine goals in those games, scoring none. Alarm bells were ringing.
A breakthrough win over Central Coast Mariners in Round 11 brought some relief to an under-fire Gombau.
But a horror performance in a 4-0 loss away to Newcastle Jets the following weekend drew widespread criticism (and found him without Foxe, who quit as an assistant coach immediately after the game).
Some began to question whether Gombau was the right choice.
His possession-based, attacking philosophy had been hugely successful in Adelaide but his methods weren’t reaping the same rewards at Western Sydney.
The Spaniard insisted his style would take time to implement at the Wanderers and pleaded for patience.
Back-to-back wins over Melbourne City FC and Brisbane Roar FC restored some confidence, while consecutive draws against Adelaide and Phoenix extended their unbeaten run to four matches.
Successive losses to Victory and Glory followed but in a sign of a maturing team, Wanderers rebounded.
A narrow 2-1 win over Central Coast and a 4-0 thumping of Wellington followed while it took a world-class strike from Andrew Nabbout to deny them a win against Newcastle last weekend.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the Wanderers’ current three-game unbeaten run has coincided with the January signings of attacker Chris Ikonomidis and Argentine playmaker Marcelo Carrusca.
The duo has given Gombau’s side a new attacking impetus in recent weeks, with Spanish striker Oriol Riera the main beneficiary in the front third.
Riera has scored four goals in the past three matches and appears to be relishing the ever-improving service from Carrusca and the Caltex Socceroo Ikonomidis, on loan from Lazio.
While far from the finished product, Wanderers have shown signs of progression under Gombau.
But the real test is to come later today against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium.
With the Sky Blues unbeaten in their last 26 matches at home, it looms as a herculean task.
After the humiliation of the 5-0 drubbing in the last Sydney Derby, Wanderers will be desperate to turn the tables on their cross-town rivals.
How far have the Wanderers come under Gombau in 10 weeks? We’ll find out on Sunday.