Hyundai A-League season preview: WSW

After a somewhat underwhelming Hyundai A-League 2016/17 Season, Tony Popovic has overseen another big clean out with 14 players leaving the red and black. But "Popa" has recruited extremely well.

Wanderers have brought in some eye-catching foreigners and established Hyundai A-League players to form a squad which should again challenge for silverware in 2017/18.

Ins and outs

Ins: Josh Risdon, Michael Thwaite, Roly Bonevacia, Abraham Majok, John Hall, Nicholas Suman, Oriol Riera, Marc Tokich, Mark Bridge, Álvaro Cejudo, Chris Herd, Raúl Llorente.


Outs: Dimas, Mitch Nichols, Scott Neville, Bruno Piñatares, Ryan Griffiths, Liam Youlley, Stefan Zinni, Emilio Martinez, Nicolás Martinez, Terry Antonis, Shannon Cole, Mario Shabow, Jackson Bandiera, Aritz Borda.

The burning questions

Has Tony Popovic assembled the squad to finally take the final step to the top of the podium?

How will all the new players mesh?

Will Roly Bonevacia and Josh Risdon bring their form from their previous Hyundai A-League clubs to Wanderland?

Lesson learnt from last season

Consistency is key: to Popovic's great frustration, it wasn't until round 22 last season that Wanderers won consecutive matches.

That inconsistency was the major road-block in their quest for a top four finish as they spent the majority of the season in the bottom half of the table before eventually finishing sixth and losing on penalties in the first week of the Finals Series.

Road ahead

The season starts with two home games at Spotless Stadium as Wanderers host Perth Glory and Central Coast Mariners in the first two rounds.

But it's hard to ignore the blockbuster Sydney derby in round three at Allianz Stadium.

The season's first month is completed with a trip to Newcastle.

Expected strengths

The more you look at the WSW squad, the more apparent it becomes just how strong it is, especially in attack.

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While Brendon Santalab had to shoulder the bulk of the goalscoring load last season (the next best after his 14 goals was Nico Martinez's four), he's been joined this year by a relative torrent of attacking talent.

Spaniard Oriol Riera has already shown his eye for goal in the Westfield FFA Cup while countryman Alvaro Cejudo is very highly regarded.

Add returning club legend Mark Bridge, attacking Dutchman Roly Bonevacia, Japanese striker Jumpei Kusukami and Santalab himself and there are now a plethora of front-third options.

Brendon Santalab's muted goal celebrations have become a feature this season.

Potential weakness

On the face of things, there don't appear to be too many.

From front to back, it's a well-balanced squad with good depth in key areas.

One of Tony Popovic's major challenges may well be settling on his best 11 and managing the egos and expectations of players who might not feature as often as they'd like.

Tactical approach

Popovic has adapted his philosophy - he's now a coach who treasures possession, with Wanderers more often than not enjoying more of the ball than their opposition in recent seasons (in stark contrast to their first few seasons when they often would hurt teams on transition). 

However, it was when he gave his attackers a bit more free license that the best results came last season.

In games when possession was partially sacrificed in favour of a high-paced, fast-break approach the goals flowed more freely.

Oriol Riera will obviously become the focal point of Western Sydney's attack and getting Alvaro Cejudo and Roly Bonevacia on the ball will be a key plank in their attacking strategy.

Breakout star

Marc Tokich. Last season's winner of the Foxtel National Youth League Player of the Year award has long been regarded as one of Australian football's brightest prospects.

The 18-year-old attacking midfielder has a wide range of skills and is well-known for his versatility and excellent technical ability.

Best-case scenario

They've won the Hyundai A-League Premiership and the Asian Champions League, but the coveted Championship eludes them, despite three Grand Final appearances.

The vocal Wanderers faithful will believe 2017/18 is the season when their side goes all the way.