Wanderers coach plots success in ‘toughest ACL group'

Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic has hinted at a more pragmatic approach for the 2017 Asian Champions League, which kicks off tonight when the 2014 ACL champions face J-League heavyweights Urawa Red Diamonds in western Sydney.

Popovic said he felt their group is the toughest of all in this year’s ACL, with big-spending Shanghai SIPG and K-League danger FC Seoul also in the mix. 

With this in mind, Popovic hinted at a less expansive Wanderers than what fans have seen since the evolution of their playing style in the last two years after they lifted the ACL trophy in Riyadh in late 2014. 

“There are certain different ways you can play in this [ACL group] format, first and foremost we need to get results to get through,” Popovic told reporters on Monday.

“We have a very tough group and we have to find the best way to get enough points to come out of the group [and progress to the knockout stage].

“We have a few different plans and ideas on how we can do that. But that’s also dependent on what the opponent does and the quality they have.”

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Popovic had spies in Yokohama on Saturday as Kashmina Antlers beat the Saitama-based Reds 3-2 in the Japanese Super Cup.

And he says he’ll make changes from his winning derby starting XI for Tuesday night’s clash in Campbelltown.

“We’ll have to make some changes, no doubt about that.

“All the players want to play, those who played on Saturday night, but you expect that,” he added with a smile.

“But they also understand this [busy] period and we have a big squad and a lot of players have been waiting for their opportunity.”

One player who could come in is striker Ryan Griffiths.

Wanderers striker Ryan Griffiths

The former Chinese Super League forward has been on the fringes since signing in the last month, but his Asian experience could be key in Campbelltown.

Popovic is also delighted his team is playing such a big ACL game just three days after their emotional Sydney Derby win over the Sky Blues.

The coach batted away concerns the high drama and emotion of the derby will have sucked mental and physical energy out of his troops, as they prepare to face the powerhouse of Japanese football.

“When we reflect on that [derby] game I think it’s very good that we have a match of this magnitude so soon,” he noted.

“Because it’s easy to get caught up in four or five days of thinking about the great result and the spectacle, so this is a good thing and I’m happy to have this game so soon.

“The players trained yesterday and were quickly reminded to move on to the ACL which is a prestigious tournament, something which we’re proud winners of this tournament.”

His team, as expected, had a light recovery session on Sunday and trained again on Monday, night, allowing Popovic a chance to further assess his players though the Wanderers coach said he had no injury concerns after the derby.

Urawa Reds arrived in Sydney on Sunday after Saturday’s loss to Kashima Antlers in southern Tokyo. 

The J-League outfit trained for around 45 minutes at Valentine Park late on Sunday afternoon.