Wanderers boss Tony Popovic says marquee striker Federico Piovaccari must fight to earn a spot in the league-leaders side ahead of Saturday night's blockbuster with Melbourne Victory.
Italian striker Piovaccari has been one of the few disappointments in a team that’s excited its fans and sits atop the ladder after 17 rounds.
Despite a CV that includes Serie A clubs, La Liga and Romania, the 31-year-old has started just 10 games this season and come on as a sub in a further two.
He’s been subbed off seven times in those 10 matches, and played a total of 808 minutes for two goals.
Piovaccari's omission in recent weeks has prompted speculation about his future in the side.
Popovic hinted “Pio” may need to work harder off the ball, but stressed he was up for selection against Victory in Saturday night’s blockbuster at Etihad.
“He’s got to fight for his spot,” the coach told reporters when pressed on Friday.
“He came here and there was an expectation with ‘Pio’. At the moment he’s having a run where he’s not in the team.
“And it’s up to him today to train well and force his way into a team that’s on top of the table and looking to get beter.
“Everyone’s fighting for positions and it shouldn’t be any different for Pio...
“It’s unfair to speak about Pio in that respect,” he added when quizzed on what he needs to do to force his way back in.
“But as a striker there are certain expectations that we have and it’s not just goals,” Popovic said.
“Regardless of who plays on the weekend, those expectations are put on those players as well.
“And we need to see that. Whether that’s with Pio or without Pio.”
As for the Wanderers’ highly rated Spanish trio of Dimas, Alberto and Andreu, who are off-contract at season’s end, Popovic was non-committal.
“We have a process in terms of signing players and for me that’s a real positive that there is talk about our players, it means they are doing well.”