No side in the Hyundai A-League has had a pre-season quite like Western Sydney Wanderers FC.
At the end of last season a raft of star players - the bed-rock upon which Wanderers built their two successful seasons – were moved on as a major rebuild was launched by coach Tony Popovic.
Yet despite this mass exodus, a remodelled squad in the middle of pre-season with a host of new faces criss-crossed Asia for games and training camps. They subsequently stormed past the region’s elite and into the ACL final.
Is there nothing this extraordinary club can’t do?
Well actually there is. Win a Hyundai A-League Championship - which is next on Popovic’s agenda after the small matter of an Asian Champions League final in a few weeks' time.
Which all makes for another thrilling ride in season 10 if you’re one of the hordes who sing for Wanderers.
THE BURNING QUESTIONS
Can Saba take up the Ono mantle?
He’s already make quite an impression against Asia’s super clubs (including Italian super-coach Marcello Lippi after an astounding, heated clash). But can this former Italian-based Brazilian transfer his form onto the domestic scene and prove to be the red and black’s new playmaker de jour? Big shoes to fill but this wiry Brazilian with a beard to rival Brillante has steel and buckets of belief laced with self-confidence.
Can they finally go all the way?
They’ve proved themselves on the Continental stage, but what about the domestic competition? The Wanderers have lost twice on the biggest day of the season – a third grand final defeat and the dreaded chokers tag will no doubt be bandied about by gloating fans across town.
LESSONS LEARNT FROM LAST SEASON
Can they stop Brisbane Roar FC? Wanderers struggled against the reigning champions last season both home and away and on the biggest day of the season. With the Brisbane boys likely to again challenge and with chief tormentor Bes Berisha now leading the line at Victory, Popovic should have learnt valuable lessons from those meetings. After all, Victory and Roar are widely tipped to be there at the business end of the season – just like Wanderers.
A barnstorming first month kicks-off the red and black season. The two biggest games in the club’s short history arrive in the first few weeks, starting with an ACL two-legged affair in Sydney on October 25 and a week later in Riyadh.
To prepare for that, a Sydney Derby in round two after an opening night trip to Hyundai A-League championship favourites Melbourne Victory.
Lucky those part-timers from Adelaide knocked Wanderers out of the Westfield FFA Cup.
And if they actually win the Asian Champions League – and who’s to say they won’t – Wanderers would be off to Morocco in December to potentially face Real Madrid and the world’s elite at the Club World Cup.
Then there’s the 2015 ACL. Busy year.
However, with Wanderers’ final two Hyundai A-League games at home, this should ensure the red and black finish strongly if, as expected, they make the finals.
Willed on by the remarkable red and black bloc fan-base and over
16,000 members and growing, this is a playing group that’s bought into the Popovic game-plan. And they have supreme confidence in the coaching staff. Players and coaching staff working in unison makes for a powerful concoction.
Another season, another chance for the rest of the league to figure out how to blunt the red and black. Or at least match them for organisation and intensity. On paper given the workload they may begin to fatigue by next April but it’s hard to imagine Popovic would allow that. He’s so well prepared he’s already planned pre-season training for mid 2015.
On the pitch, defence is the bed-rock. Wanderers are disciplined and supremely well organised allowing mistakes in the opposition attacking areas to be pounced on. Transition is lightning quick, width is used well and defensive midfielders have engines to get forward when necessary. It appears the 4-2-3-1 with Juric or Santalab at the point will remain this season.
Daniel Alessi. Hard to believe he’s just turned 17. An early favourite for the NAB Young Player of the Year award.
‘Popa in the Palace picture after Warnock sacking’
DID YOU KNOW?
The Wanderers played their first ever game at Cook Park, St Marys on July 25, 2012. It was a friendly against Nepean FC on a freezing night with just seven contracted players. Labinot Haliti scored the fledgling club’s first ever goal.
Now, just over two years later, Wanderers are in the 2014 Asian Champions League final. From St Marys to Saudi Arabia in just over two years.
Adam Peacock (Fox Sports): 3rd
John Kosmina (former Socceroo): 3rd
Aidan Ormond (Managing Editor FFA network): 2nd
The season kicks off this Friday night live from 7.30pm AEDT on SBS ONE.