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.