Wanderers boss Tony Popovic says Friday night’s top-of-the-table clash against Melbourne City is the type of challenge his side will relish and has implored his troops to 'back the way we play'.
The competition’s top two and arguably most entertaining sides do battle at Pirtek Stadium in a blockbuster start to Round 17.
Western Sydney currently lead the league, two points ahead of second-placed City, with the top five clubs separated by just three points.
It sets up an intriguing run to the Premiers’ Plate over the next 11 weeks.
While three points - especially against your nearest rivals – will be vitally important, Popovic feels his side are already the real deal, regardless of Friday night’s result.
“Every game is a big game as you get in the second half of the year, the intensity rises and you’ve probably seen over the last few weeks in all the matches,” Popovic told reporters on Thursday.
“It’s where you want to be, you want this type of challenge…you’re challenging at the top of the table, the type of game as a player in front of your home fans, you can’t wait for.
“I'm very confident that we can keep performing the way we have, even in the three games we didn’t win we performed well,” the former Socceroo defender added.
“What it will tell us after the game is that we'll be challenging at the end of the year.”
The two sides met just three weeks ago, with City stealing a late 3-2 win in a pulsating clash at AAMI Park.
The Wanderers came from two goals down on that night to draw level before a Harry Novillo cracker won the points for John van ‘t Schip’s side.
“We’ve got to back the way we play, Melbourne city will certainly back the way they play, and it will be two teams that are confident going at each other,” added Popovic when asked if he needed to tinker his game plan for this clash.
“When we reviewed that match we saw the many good things we did in that game.
“To be 2-0 down to come back and probably should have come back and won that match is a real positive.”
Popovic confirmed skipper Nikolai Topor-Stanley would return to the starting side after serving a one-game ban, with youngster Jonathan Aspropotamitis the player to make way.
“He’s our captain, he’s our leader, he’s done fantastic for us this year and it will be great to have him back,” Popovic said of Topor-Stanley.
“[Aspropotamitis] is maturing day-by-day. We gave him a great experience last year…when there were issues with injuries, performances were tough, and you mature, you learn a lot as a young player in those periods and he always did well in tough times.
“He looks more of a man now than a young boy last year. He’s growing in confidence and improving every day.”