2013/14 Western Sydney Wanderers Preview: The Midfielders

First Squad Players: Aaron Mooy (CDM), Matteo Poljak (CDM), Shinji Ono (AM)

Substitutes/Reserves: Jason Trifiro (CM), Yianni Perkatis (CM), Iacopo La Rocca (DM)

The Wanderers have one of the two best overseas marquee players figuring large in their midfield, and one of the most exciting younger Australian prospects sitting right behind him. In Shinji Ono and Aaron Mooy the squad has a core that can be both creative and dynamic, yet also strong at its core in defensive transitions.

Last season started slowly for Japanese legend Shinjo Ono, and whilst it took him a few rounds to acclimatize to the physicality of the A-League style of play by mid-season he was probably the man in the  Wanderers squad most feared by any opposition team. His vision in connecting with defenders and forwards was impeccable and his own skill in using the ball and taking scoring opportunities was only rivaled by Sydney FC’s del Piero. This was made abundantly clear in the second home game against Melbourne Victory where both of Shinji’s goals in that win were sublime (the second possibly the goal of the A-League season). Ono had a great semi-final against Brisbane as the season came to an end however his Grand Final experience was not as hoped.  Shinji  was and again will in most likelihood be Popovic’s first choice for set piece plays and spot kicks in 2013/14. However he may have less opportunities if Aaron Mooy improves this aspect of his game. So long as he is protected and given the support he needs for the upcoming season he should feature prominently once more as one of the Wanderers’ best players, if not the entire A-League’s. Shinji will in most likelihood be Popovic’s first choice for set piece plays and spot kicks.

2013/14 is a make-or-break season for Aaron Mooy, who should by rights dueling with Tom Juric as the first great Wanderer to play for future Socceroo squads. Somewhat mercurial last season Mooy was and is capable of great skill on the ball. There were occasions where his motivation seemed to drop a little, and as a central defensive midfielder I believe he was on occasion too tentative. However as remarked elsewhere he had the drive to deliver one of the signal tackles of the past season when he went in hard (but legally) on SFC’s del Piero in Derby II. Mooy was unfortunate in that his goal scoring results during the 2012/13 season were less than wished for (and the one goal he did score was the result of a deflection). He also was placed into the apprentice role of dead ball specialist by the inclusion of Shinji Ono, and we did not get to see his best work in this area in club games. It is possible some of the deficits in his game play last season were a result of his youth and also the tactical structures and styles put in place by Tony Popovic. However with a more possession based style that is possibly being inculcated among the team for 2013/14 Mooy is starting to look a little more aggressive, a bit more attacking. It was noticeable in the trial against Adelaide in Penrith that Popovic is looking for Mooy to be more responsive in transitional attacking phases than he was last season.

Mateo Poljak was the unsung hero of the 2012/13 Wanderers squad who rarely put a foot wrong. Reliable in defence and a consistent shield to the central pairing of Topor-Stanley and Beauchamp, Poljak got the job done time and time again with minimal fuss. He snagged a well deserved goal against Adelaide in the second game away to the Reds for the Wanderers, and by season’s end his tally of 25 appearances across the entire season made him one of the most reliable players for the team. He may be under some pressure from Jason Trifiro and Iacopo La Rocca however for now, even with a less than happy experience in the recent trial game against Melbourne Victory in Hobart he will be the almost certainly starting on the ground when the new season commences.

Jason Trifiro was often used by Popovic as a replacement through 2013/14 and I would expect more squad substitution duties for him this coming season. Not necessarily the least impressive player on the Wanderers’ books from last season he still has to rise in terms of talent to make more of any opportunities he has. Here’s hoping he can exploit whatever chances he is given in the coming months.

Yianni Perkatis was an unheralded national youth team player who appeared twice for the Wanderers’ senior team last season and he looks to be an exciting prospect. Small of stature and nominally Mooy’s understudy Perkatis demonstrated a vibrant eagerness in his time on the field, particularly against  the Newcastle Jets in the last game of the regular season. Monstered a little in the semi against the Roar his speed and ball skills were let down somewhat by the ability of other larger opposition players to push him off the ball, of beat back his challenges. It would be both a great achievement and I suspect highly probable that he will play more often for longer periods with the senior team in the 2013/14 season.

Iacopo La Rocca may be used in a central defensive role as well as a central defender and what was said about him in the context of previewing the backs holds true if he is in the midfield. It will be interesting to see if he or Trifiro get more opportunities in 2013/14.

The key aspects of how well this midfield plays are what amount of the creative burden will Aaron Mooy take up in 2013/14, can Shinji escape the closer attention he will receive no doubt and how may that open up other parts of the field for his compatriots, and will the second central defending midfielder role remain in Poljak’s hands, or be given to Trifiro or La Rocca. If the Wanderers are to equal or indeed surpass 2012/13 it is vitally important that Mooy lifts in quality and tempo. Ono will still be a constant worry for the opposition however it would be incredible for him to repeat the feats he achieved last season. The midfield is possibly the most fluid and fascinating component of the Wanderers 2013/14 campaign.

2013/14 Western Sydney Wanderers Preview: The Defenders

First Squad Players: Ante Covic (GK),  Jerome Polenz (RB), Michael Beauchamp (CB), Nikolai Topor-Stanley (CB), Adam D’Apuzzo (LB),

Substitutes/Reserves: Matthew Spiranovic (Def), Shannon Cole (Def), Iacopo La Rocca (Def), Dean Heffernan (Def)

Defence was the backbone of the successful 2012/13 campaign for the Western Sydney Wanderers and again Tony Popovic has built what should be a very solid defensive structure to the team. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this line-up is the very recent addition of Matthew Spiranovic who has both unrealized potential not just at the domestic but also national level as well as some quality experience with overseas clubs (specifically Nuremburg in the German Bundesliga).

Ante Covic was without doubt the best goal keeper of 2012/13 and whilst his performance in the trial match against Melbourne Victory was less than adequate he is not the type of player who will let a mistake dictate either his motivation nor future work. His experience is crucial and alongside Beauchamp his guidance of the back four is vital to the team on the field. Last season he also effectively implemented Popovic’s second man tactics, targeting the likes of Dino Kresinger with long clearances to great effect. Even before the 2013/14 season commences Covic is being given new directions by the coach, and it will be interesting to see how he responds.

Jerome Polenz was the star right back in 2012/13 across the A-League, with his defensive efforts continually helping to keep rivals out of the box. The goal saving tackles he put in against Melbourne Victory away were the stuff of legend, and there was no doubt the Wanderers suffered at the end of the season and in the finals without him due to injury. However the most important aspect of Polenz’s game is his combination with Youssouf Hersi. These two are the best defence/attack combo in the A-League and when either one of them is missing the Wanderers lose a sizable percentage of their on-field capabilities. If Polenz can stay fit and maintain that relationship with Hersi (plus avoid the red cards) he should again be a monster at right back.

Nikolai Topor-Stanley was possibly the not-so-secret weapon of the Wanderers in 2012/13, with his booming clearances both a source of wonder and sometimes humour. However this was not the sole dimension to his game. High pressing and willing to get his considerable height up in the opposition’s box he was a double threat at all times. There were some moments where he didn’t get it right (most notably the horrendous back-pass in Derby III that led to a goal from Allesandro del Piero), and it will be intriguing to see how he copes with a potential change in tactics from Popovic. He and Spiranovic could be dueling for the same position.

Michael Beauchamp was both an admirable captain and more than adequate central back for the Wanderers last season and it would be hoped he can do the same again this season. Unfortunately he has had injury problems and there is a possibility he may go through similar rigours this season. Not as forward in positioning as Topor-Stanley and arguably more skilled at ground ball work, he too may be supplemented by Spiranovic during 2013/14. A fierce competitor and excellent captain.

Adam D’Apuzzo is possibly the weakest link in the back four however he is still going to be a logical first choice for the Wanderers come next Saturday. A more dogged and unfashionable defender than his right back counterpart Polenz, D’Apuzzo will put his body on the line time and time again. Also unlike Polenz he is not as adventurous in coming forward with his flanking forward, who is usually Mark Bridge. In fact whilst Polenz and Hersi will patrol higher up the right flank Bridge will often find himself dropping back more on the left to assist D’Apuzzo.

Of the utility and substitute backs it would be reasonable to expect all bar Jerrad Tyson to get at least 2-3 games this coming season. Shannon Cole can fit into either flank and whilst arguably not as good as either D’Appuzo nor Polenz he has demonstrated in the past the flexibility and motivation to work hard in either slot. Heffernan might be the third choice back behind D’Apuzzo and maybe Cole on the left flank and for now appears to be designated as a squad reserve rather than a potential first team player. La Rocca is a flexible player who may figure in either defence or midfield and again would be considered a reserve squad player first, however he may have opportunities further up the field depending upon Aaron Mooy or Matteo Poljak’s contribution to the defensive midfield. Jerrad Tyson undoubtedly deserves more game time if one considers his work ethic, passion and motivation, however Covic is a lock for goalkeeping duties. Finally, as previously stated Matthew Spiranovic is a major and exciting acquisition for the western Sydney Wanderers who should press repeatedly for inclusion in the first team defensive line-up. Tony Popovic is to be congratulated for assembling such a solid back five

Some Thoughts on the Police Presence at Penrith (WSW vs AUFC Friendly 22/9/13)

Generally speaking I am one of those types of people who has no problem with the police. I understand that they have a very demanding job, can be open to charges that at times may be spurious or aimed purely at provocation, and are attempting to enforce laws that occasionally are less than sensible or can be interpreted in such a way by the courts that the police actions are perhaps unjustly rendered null and void. However, my attitudes changed somewhat after last Sunday’s game at Centrebet Stadium in Penrith, when the Wanderers took on Adelaide United in a trial match.

For the first time ever I felt that I was being considered as some kind of potential miscreant, under the over-eager and ever-watchful eyes of what seemed like a near battalion of male and female police officers. There were multiple vehicles patrolling or stationary at any point that could be considered within proximity to the game’s venue, or the potential routes used by Wanderers fans to get to the stadium. As an example of this, parked outside the pub where I joined some colleagues (both regular Wanderers fans and RBB active supporters) a NSW police car was parked exceedingly close to the entrance (where separate to the police surveillance there were private security men undertaking pat downs and ID checks). Then, as I and my colleague left the hotel to walk the couple of kilometres to Centrebet we were under the ever present gaze of police on the road.

To emphasize the extent of law enforcement deployment at the ground, upon arrival at Centrebet Stadium there was a plethora of vans, cars, police horses, foot patrolling cops, all supplemented by a security force that would do well to be employed on the Green Line in Baghdad. It was as if instead of going to a friendly game of football in outer suburban Sydney my friends and I were being corralled by the old Soviet Army like the Wehrmacht’s survivors from Stalingrad. Even entering the stadium was like some kind of high security rat maze, where we were lined up and drawn towards the gates through wire mesh barriers that would not look out of place in a cattle feedlot.

Now I do appreciate that because of some unfortunate incidents last season my club and specifically the Red and Black Bloc have a mostly unwarranted reputation for some disorderly conduct. I won’t launch into any great discussion of the relative merits of such charges, beyond which I will say that the RBB last season in Parramatta behaved in general no worse than say a gathering on New Year’s Eve in Circular Quay, and I think much better than recent rave festivals held not too far from Penrith. Whatever the RBB’s reputation, the reception Parramatta gave the Western Sydney Wanderers faithful last season grew from tolerant to simply unabashed passion. Yes, the Parramatta police had some issues however in the days before and after last season’s grand final the Wanderers fans and RBB were given the red carpet treatment by the council and local businesses.

Jump forward a few months and in a new town that had never experienced the phenomenon that is the Wanderers the local constabulary (either off their own bat or on direction from political masters) decided that the incoming WSW fans were to be shepherded like convicts being disembarked off the First Fleet’s ships, and at the merest whiff of anything remotely abnormal to their expectations a rapidly descending hand of the law would take the targeted Wanderer fan by the wrist. As far as I am aware there was no undue force or brutality, however this was not where the overreaction lay. It was in the air, the atmosphere of being at an event where I and my colleagues were thought of as crims in waiting.

I could be an anti-authoritarian conspiracy theorist and make some claims about the potential for the police to always look at using brute force or at least the symbols thereof to suppress anything that has the potential to threaten order. Perhaps there may be a smidge of proof to this idea. Personally my belief is this is a reflection of the local commands’ inability to understand the phenomenon of passionate football supporters assembling for the wanderers. I’m also more convinced by the idea of the local command looking to extract as much money as they can out of their paymasters by running up a sizable operational bill on a Sunday afternoon. Whatever the motivational grounds, on Sunday 22nd September 2013 at Centrebet Stadium Penrith the NSW Police made it abundantly clear that they considered the incursion of the Wanderers fans into that area a worse threat to public order than we deserved, and again highlighted the immense cultural gap between the fans and the security elements when football is played in this country.