2014/2015 Round Five Preview: November 7th – 9th

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Wellington Phoenix vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Westpac Stadium, Friday 7th November)

With all the excitement of the Wanderers’ ACL win settling down, the hard yards need to be faced for the visitors as they try and rise from the foot of the current A-League ladder. Facing them is a quietly confident and talented Wellington, who have in Burns, McGlinchey and Brockie a front three that could cause problems for a potentially tired Wanderers. The Wanderers will also be at a disadvantage with the absence of Vitor Saba due to a one match suspension, and injury to Brendon Santalab. Having said that there is still quality in the visitors’ squad, both with players who may be doubling up on their efforts in Saudi Arabia from last weekend, such as Topor-Stanley, Hamill, Bridge, Haliti, La Rocca and Poljak, plus the majestic Ante Covic. What is exciting is the prospect of new signings Nikita Rukavytsya and Seyi Adeleke hopefully make their debut in the red and black in an A-League game.

For the home team they will have every reason to believe they can win, thanks to their solid early season form. They have a disadvantage in that they played only four days ago, and their stats are not that flash against the Wanderers at home. Their defence may be facing a test from Rukavytsya, Bridge, Juric, Haliti and perhaps Sotirio. Players such as Muscat and Doyle will be key to denying what may be a slightly weary but potent Wanderers attack.

Final Verdict: The exigencies of travel may impact on both teams however don;t be surprised to see the Wanderers perform well even with the last few days experiences under their belts. Wellington will be keen to do well however even with some of their arguably bench players involved the Wanderers look the goods. My Prediction: 0-2 Western Sydney Wanderers

Adelaide United Vs Sydney FC (Coopers Stadium, Friday 7th November)

A clash between two of the three unbeaten teams in this season so far looks to be a cracker, thanks also to the quality and style of Gombau’s Reds having to face an irrepressible and well-motivated Sydney FC under Graham Arnold. Both teams should be near peak fitness for the majority of their stars, and whilst the home advantage and heat may well tell in favour of Adelaide, this current Sydney FC squad believes it can win away from home. Up front the visitors have an advantage even without Shane Smeltz, or the possibility of Alex Brosque not being fit. Gamiero, Janko and Antonis are all quality players with goals these season. The Reds won’t be shy of scoring either, thanks to Bruce Djite and Cirio. Defensively they are also evenly matched, with Ognenovski and Petkovic being matched by Elrich and Malik. Perhaps the biggest disparity in quality is goalkeeping, where Adelaide’s Galekovic being superior to Sydney Janjetovic.

Final Verdict: These two sides are finely balanced and in all honesty I can’t split them on paper. It will be one of those games where perhaps a mistake will divide the two, and even in that context neither the Reds nor Sydney FC look likely to commit egregious errors. My Prediction: 2-2 Draw

Newcastle Jets vs Melbourne Victory (Hunter Stadium, Saturday 8th November)

The chaff is already starting to separate from the wheat this season, and when it comes to last year’s stubble well the jets are certainly in that category right now. They haven’t been that bad, but with three loses and one draw after a month of being on the road, coming home to a newly refurbished Hunter Stadium will be at least welcome from a travel perspective. The lack of an imposing goal scorer up front has been an obvious problem for Phil Stubbins’ charges, and his experienced and creative players such as Flores and Carney have not really imposed their will on the pitch.

The Victory on the other hand are part of the triumvirate of unbeaten clubs this season so they will be coming into this match as red hot favourites. Even though they had to play a match on Monday against the Phoenix, and at the time were missing several key players, they are coming into this game brimming with talent. Berisha, Barbarouses, Finkler, Thompson, Ben Khalfallah and Pain are a great set of attacking players, and Valeri and Milligan are a solid spine.

Final Verdict: There is no way to get away from the expectation that the Victory will be a moral to win, and the Jets could yet again be facing a big loss. My Prediction: 0-3 Melbourne Victory

Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne City (Suncorp Stadium, 8th November)

The mighty have fallen from last season, and right now Mike Mulvey’s squad need to get their act together and win or they could become roadkill before the end of the year. The problems with internal issues (as shown in the departure of Liam Miller), the gaps in their line-up exposed through the departures of Berisha and Franjic and the injuries to Sarota and Theo, and the fact that other clubs have caught up with the Roar has left them very exposed to being stuck in the lower part of the A-league season.

Having said that Melbourne City are coming into this match with a less than stellar return on their first four games of the 2014/15 season which is surprising when one considers who they have on their books, including David Villa. Of course the Spanish striker has now left Van t’Schipp’s squad and with Josh ‘Jesus’ Kennedy not due to start with city until January the huge question must be who can score goals for the visitors. They have problems with a core of underperformers who were part of the Heart effort last season, and even their better players (Mooy and Duff) have only been good in patches.

Final Verdict: A must win for both clubs but neither really inspires expectations of victory. Playing at home with arguably still the best player in the A-League (i.e. Thomas Broich) and with Henriques stumping up for his 100th a-League match, the roar may have a slight advantage. My prediction: 2-0 Brisbane Roar

Central Coast Mariners vs Perth Glory (Gosford Stadium, 9th November)

The Mariners are at home and whilst they will be comforted by their return to Gosford , however they are hardly the same imposing team they were last season, or indeed in most of those played since the A-League’s inception. They have not scored a goal off their own boot since the first match of the season, and the inability of them to convert opportunities in their match against Sydney FC last week must be a worry for Phil Moss. There are also rumours of problems in the Mariners’ club house circulating around Eddy Bosnar.

Perth are back on a winning track thanks to their 2-1 win over the Jets, and they must be confident of taking the points away from home, which in itself will be a rare achievement. Key players Andy Keogh, Youssouf Herrsi and Jamie Maclaren will be a sizable challenge for the Mariners. It has to be said that Kenny Lowe has welded together a very decent squad that so far has resisted some of the angst and problems previous seasons’ Glory teams have experienced. The talent of older players such as Thwaite and Nicholls is balanced nicely with Cameron Edwards and Danny de Silva.

Final Verdict: The Mariners are not on the ropes yet but they are a bit wonky. If Perth can muzzle Mitchell duke and get through a stolid defence then they may just notch a rare win in Gosford. My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

 

A Derby Day Diary, Or How Manfred Watched The Smurfs Succumb to the Wanderers at Wanderland

Saturday 11th January 1.18 pm: On the train to Parramatta, with no one checking tickets at the station when I get on. It’s early for the trip to the game but I have important matters to deal with when I get to my destination. The trip is quiet and unlike most others  I take on game day, as I see no other Wanderers fans in my carriage. I guess six and a half hours before kick off is a bit premature for waves of RBB supporters to make the trip. When I finally arrive at Parramatta station there are a few brothers in the home strip. So, it’s off to the Roxy.

2.10 pm: Sitting in a shaded area of the forecourt of the Roxy with about ten other people (almost all Wanderers fans) spread out under cover. It’s fucking hot and whilst I would love a beer I decide to pace myself and not go in too hard. The set up is good, and whilst not as flash as the Woolie there is certainly far more room to maneuver in. Sipping on water and checking out the usual online haunts on my smart phone. Get some text messages from friends in WSW who will be meeting me shortly. Did I say it was fucking hot?

2.45 pm: First of my Western Sydney Wanderers friends rocks up…WhoDoWeSingFor (his nom de plume online). WSWSF and I met in person at the friendly versus Adelaide at Penrith pre-season and had a great road trip to the Mariners away game in round one. He’s feeling the heat and agrees to rehydrate through a beer and some cold water. Once suitably supplied with drinks we chat about life, the game, the Wanderers, basically anything that can somehow be related to the game.

3.00 pm: Lloydy from Coona arrives and we say hello to one of the Wanderers most traveled supporters. Another middle-aged Anglo (thus defying the media stereotypes of A-League/WSW supporters) I have a lot of respect for a man who comes from a country town approximately 6 hours drive away from Parramatta to come see the Wanderers play. We talk a bit about his experiences as a football fan in a town that is typical of many bush places in NSW (i.e. union and league are more appreciated and supported than our preferred code).

During the balance of the afternoon at the Roxy the courtyard, bar, bistro and other areas slowly fill up. There is a good mix of people, young and old, rabid RBB and passionate regulars, and the mood is positive. Everyone is obviously gearing up for what will be one of the biggest matches of the season. WDWSF and I grab a feed and join Lloydy is keeping our thirst quenched, though we all stick to lights. At one point I feel the need to attend to a call of nature and upon entering the appropriate facilities I can’t but smile at how someone has put a Sydney FC shirt to (good) use. That and the smurf toys do get a well-deserved drenching.

Between drinks and our conversation every now and again a rather attractive female member of the Roxy’s staff passes by again and again, sometimes disturbing my train of thought. We also meet quite casually another Wanderers fan who takes the chance to sit in the shade and like old friends well met we continue our convivial talk about core subjects (i.e. how good are the Wanderers, the smurfs are shit, fuck it’s hot, loving the RBB and Wanderers support, etc).

5.15 pm: The capos and La Banda start up the chants and the Roxy becomes a cauldron of sound and music. Lloydy, WDWSF and I join in however in our shaded nook we find it too difficult to get closer to the action. Whilst the melee of chanting, singing RBB and Wanderers fans isn’t as densely packed as captives in a Borneo death cell moving freely is a big ask. The new diss chant against the smurfs of ESFC gets a good run and sounds like a winner. More and more people are entering the venue, and as we three are not that committed to being in the march we decide to decamp. Also, as both WDWSF and Lloydy having never been to one of my favourite Parramatta haunts, the Bavarian Bier Cafe, I suggest we head there for some German libations.

5.30 pm: Leaving the Roxy and walking to the Bavarian we see a ratio of about 50 Wanderers supporters to 2 policemen to 1 Sydney FC fan. The streets of Parramatta are suffused in a mass of people in red and black, with gaggles of lazying coppers keeping a languid eye on the behaviour of one and all. As we three walk to our next drinking hole another friend unexpectedly joins us. Beerslayer tags along plus provides some valuable information about our next venue (i.e. his sister is a waitress there). I know it’ll be booked out for table seating in the restaurant however I hope that we four can at least find somewhere to stand and have a few drinks.

The Bavarian Bier Cafe is pretty chockers, but that doesn’t stop us from heading into the sweet air conditioned comfort of the main bar and dining room to buy some drinks. As the resident German beer expert (and all round piss-head) I get questioned as to what to order. In the end WDWSF goes for a small Stiegl, Beerslayer for a Spaten and Lloydy for a small Hofbrauhaus Dunkel. Partly because I love the heft of such a beer as well as the taste, I also indulge in a Dunkel, though mine is a full one litre stein.

Back out in the biergarten of the Bavarian it is still warm, and there are a few seccos, coppers, one or two smurf fans and a vast number of Wanderers faithful present. Miraculously we get a table to sit at and enjoy our drinks and chat some more. Beerslayer works at SBS so we have quite a long conversation about Thursday FC. The general consensus is that it’s a decent premise ruined by Matt Okine. The beers are all enjoyed though in my case it takes a little longer to go down (in my defence it was more than three times bigger than those steins tackled by my friends). We all agree that we need to come back here again, which gives me no pain as the Bavarian has been almost my second home when it comes to pre-Wanderland games. Plus as much as I enjoyed my meal at the Roxy I know that the Bavarian does a very tasty huge schnitzel.

6.30 pm: We four start the final part of our pre-game build-up and take a walk from the Bavarian to Wanderland. More and more people are arriving and the attendant police numbers are also on the rise. However the atmosphere is nowhere near as oppressive nor as frantic as I saw at (for example) the pre-season game at Penrith. I know that this might be surprising or a little controversial, however the cops and the fans at a Wanderers home game give no call for alarm whatsoever. With Beerslayer and WDWSF in different stands at the ground they leave me and Lloydy to head to our eastern stand bays.

6.40 pm: Lloydy has gone to sit in his seat in a bay close to the RBB, whilst I am on the tooth again and need to track down the mythical ‘Wanderdog’. Lo and behold, I find it:

In the process of securing a much fabled WanderDog I find myself accosted by a stranger. “Hey Manfred, I know you” comes the says the unfamiliar voice from someone behind me. I exchange greetings (hoping that this isn’t an undercover Hatamoto wanting me banned for crimes against A-League blogging). Instead it turns out to be one of my favourite posters from the West Sydney forum, dmixtaa. We share a Wanderers embrace of shared happiness and I compliment him on his posts in the forum. It’s always a bright moment to put a face to some of the denizens of our social media world. We part with him off to buy his WanderDog, and me to eat mine.

7.10 pm: My beloved has turned up to share the experience of the derby with me (plus provide chauffeur services post game), and as this is her first chance to see the Wanderers clash with ESFC she is a little hyped. Me; well now that I’ve had a few beers and some meat in tube form to settle the stomach I am tense yet assured.

7.15 pm: The news comes in that Tony Popovic isn’t using Jerome Polenz (ex-Alemannia Aachen legend and hero for me and many a Wanderer devotee). The shock is a little disconcerting, but has been written in both small and incredibly large print, in Popa we trust.

7.35 pm: The stands are well nigh full and I can see some movement below the fence line of the seething mass that is the RBB. It looks as if there will be a massive tifo shown by men, women and children that drive so much of the energy and passion at Wanderland:

7.45 pm: We have kick-off! The crowd goes berko with a combination of confetti throwing from everywhere, and the aforementioned tifo plus a sea of red and black flags in the RBB:

7th minute: The first really serious attack on the ESFC goal, and its that man Tomi Juric taking a shot that skids like a V-1 flying bomb at the right post of the opposition’s goal. It take a hell of a save from Janjetovic to deflect what was part-speculation, part-inspiration into the goal post, then over the line for a corner. The guys are looking very strong already.

16th minute: Well it had to happen…the one true genius in the dross that has been Sydney FC over the last two seasons gets a chance to shoot, however del Piero’s effort is swallowed up by the best goalkeeper of last season in the entire A-League (and pretty freaking good in 2013/14 so far), Ante Covic. Covic is assisted mightily by Nikolai-Topor-Stanley. Yes, it was a nervous moment however there’s plenty of game time to come.

18th minute: Tomi almost scores on a Ned Zelic-like angle. By christ he is good value

20th minute: The RBB raise what I believe is both the cheekiest and most enjoyable banner ever seen at Wanderland, if not any recent A-League game:

For me this is a riotous laugh-inducing joke at the expense of arguably the most craven, illiterate, self-serving know-nothing to have ever got a job in the media thanks to having relations with men of power in the industry. Hats off RBB…well done.

30th minute: Hell of a terrible hack on Iaccopo La Roca by a typical ESFC grub in Matt Jurman. After the last derby at Allianz Stadium there was all kind of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the likes of Richard Garcia and media mates of the sky blues such as Andy Harper over Jerome Polenz. Well that hit on La Rocca was worse than anything JP has done all season. Plus for all the tommy rot over how many fouls the Wanderers commit ESFC have already had two suspensions for reds this season, whilst the home team have had none.

34th minute: Bridge almost gets a goal thanks to a mighty through ball followed by an audacious step-in that opened up the ESFC goal mouth. The angle was just a little too acute and yet again the woodwork saves the visitors from embarrassment.

42nd minute: Holy shit…it’s all happening. First Youssouf Hersi sees Janjetovic in a lazy stupor and from a position closer to the half-way line than the box he takes a lob shot that yes, you guessed it, hits the woodwork (this time above the flailing ESFC’s grasping hands). There is a rebound that falls in Tomi’s way and he gathers gracefully, then drops his foot into the ball like an 88mm flak gun firing an anti-tank round. Unfortunately this too hits the cross bar. For fuck’s sake; four post strikes in 45 minutes of football! Talk about cruel.

8.33 pm: Halftime. The beers have caught up with me so I have to attend to certain matters, and when I return the pristine field of Wanderland has plenty of young tackers running around in either our colours or those of the intruding team east of South Dowling Street. There is also a rapper and DJ on site performing, but I pay them no heed. Like me my partner in life and Wanderers membership is a little frustrated the score doesn’t reflect the dominance of our team over the visitors.

46th minute: Second half starts up and with the Wanderers running from our left to right usually this would be when I can really let my Jerome Polenz man-love out. However his replacement 16 year old Daniel Alessi is there in the right back’s role, and doing a mighty fine job of things.

52nd minute: Emerton gets subbed by Cranky Franky Farina. I used to love Emo’s work as a Socceroo but since he swapped wearing the green and gold with sky blue my estimation of him has dropped several magnitudes. Having said that my lack of support for him is probably still superior to the hatred his own club’s fans feel against him.

The next twenty minutes are incredibly frustrating as time and time again the Wanderers get themselves into forward positions yet lose the ball or play an ill-aimed pass or cross. Hersi particularly gets me grumpy, as he has moments of listlessness than is atypical of him from previous games and especially contrasted with last season. The visitors don’t cause too many heart palpitations however I confess to my partner that I am nervous that this may the kind of game where the Wanderers play all over the opposition yet they steal a goal on the counter or through some egregious fuck-up. Tomi is subbed for Santalab, joining Trifiro as a second half sub. There is plenty of run in the boys but it seems just a little aimless.

80th minute: Time for the Poznan. Like everyone else in red and black I join in and jump rather non-athletically in spot, arms linked with my neighbours. I don’t stay the course for the entire Poznan as things are afoot on the pitch. Shinji has a dead ball chance to send the ball into the ESFC box, then whilst it ends up as a fruitless endeavour del Piero is yanked by his boss from the game. As the ageing Italian marquee meanders grumpily off the field he gets a loud and rather effective ‘who are ya’ yell from all the home fans. Frankly his effort tonight ranged from somewhat threatening to slow and old, with a dive here and there to spice up his acting resume.

After this amusing moment the familiar feelings of frustration and exasperation boil up again. I may have used a few rude words in some loud pejorative comments aimed at officials, ESFC players and even Youssouf Hersi after yet another failed effort to keep the ball, then…

86th minute: The maligned player I had just been swearing at sends up a slightly shanked cross that Brendon Santalab takes control of in the box, and then before you can say ‘suffer ESFC dullards’ the ball is in the net. Just like about 17,000 fellow Wanderers fans I go into a crazed screaming moment of pure euphoria, exultant at a thrust into the very bowels of the opposition’s rapidly diminishing hopes of sharing the honours at the derby. As the happiness fades just a little up comes the nerves; will we get through the dying minutes of the match including injury time and win, or will there be some dastardly conspiracy from the fates or the referee to screw us over, as per the last minute draw against Victory two rounds ago.

Thankfully my concerns were unfounded, and aside from more thuggery from the likes of McFlynn, Gamiero and Janjetovic the Wanderers survive, scoreline intact. The ref blows the whistle on the fourth minute of injury time and that’s it; our fourth derby game in a row undefeated, and three wins out of five against the evil empire that is ESFC. Oh frabjous day, calooy callay!

The remainder of the night was a long dark journey home, illuminated by my smart phone and checking out all the bitterness and self-lacerating hate being spun by the Cove and other ESFC fans on their social media sites, and the mutual congratulation coming from Wanderers fans. Leaving Wanderland was marked by a bevy of handmaidens and servants of Rupert Murdoch, giving away free copies of one of his slimy tabloid publications which gives voice to red neck bigots like Rebecca Wilson. I made sure to reject any offering, though I didn’t accompany this action with a sincere diatribe at the dross being proffered to me.

Then there was a blockade of O’Connell Street mounted by the men and women of the NSW Police Force (Parramatta LAC) ensuring there was no revival of some half-remembered 1980s English soccer hooliganism. The ESFC fans were give untrammeled access to their avenues of return to all points east, north and south of Parramatta (with perhaps one or two deluded folk possibly heading west). Then, after about ten minutes a senior sergeant said “let the Wanderers fans go’ and we were free.

So there it was, done and dusted, another derby consigned to history. Each one has been special in their own way, however this one was especially convivial. Whilst humiliating the smurfs is now commonplace what took the day to greater heights was the way in which camaraderie, entertainment and sport collided in a melange of pleasure. It’s days like these that will stick in my football memory for years to come, alongside the Socceroos win over Uruguay in 2005 and Japan in 2006, or seeing both of Dino Kresinger’s goals last season (including the massacre of the Reds at Wanderland).

100 Moments, 100 Memories: The Wanderers in 2012/13 (Part Six)

Another ten moments that helped define the magic that was the first full A-League season for the Western Sydney Wanderers.

50. Dino Kresinger’s first A-League goal

In the massacre of John Kosmina’s Adelaide United in Round 12 at Wanderland the big Croat up front at the pointy end of the Wanderers attack finally scored his much desired first goal in red and black. After 11 rounds of every fan wondering if, let alone when our bald headed number 9 would convert he finally nailed the back of the net to rapturous acclamation. I can proudly say I was there that night and saw Dino score!

49. Shinji Ono re-signs to the Western Sydney Wanderers

In a great affirmation both of the Wanderers’ belief in Shinji and his willingness to continue his mission with the red and black the great Japanese no.21 re-signed by the end of April 2013.

“Yes I want to [stay] but actually I have just a one-year contract, and we have to speak about next season. I don’t care how much the contract [is worth], but if they give me a chance to play . . . I want to do what I can possibly do.”

48. Youssouf Hersi re-signs to the Western Sydney Wanderers

Another vital cog in the red and black machine, Youssouf was the first major overseas signing to re-commit to the club:

“It was difficult because I wanted to go somewhere else, maybe, But I thought no, it’s better to stay here, follow my heart.”

47. The Mark Bridge and Adam D’Apuzzo combination on the left flank

The manner in which these two players were able to work together was one of the best combinations in not just the Western Sydney Wanderers but also the entire A-League during 2012/13. Bridge particularly shone understanding how and when to respond to the defensive challenge faced by D’Apuzzo whenever the opposition threatened their flank. D’Apuzzo was also able to distribute many balls up to Bridge which put the left wing forward into strong offensive positions. With D’Apuzzo injured late in the season there was a noticeable drop-off in the team’s capabilities on the left.

46. Aaron Mooy scores his first goal for the Wanderers

In the only home game against Perth Glory during 2012/13, in round 22 Aaron Mooy finally delivered on his promise throughout the preceding games. His shot from outside the Glory’s box took a fortuitous deflection however considering Mooy’s lack of luck in earlier games this was fair recompense. IN a very tight and defensive game Aaron’s goal was the difference between the teams.

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45. A ten-man Western Sydney Wanderers’ team beats Perth Glory 0-1 away from home

In the early stages of the Round 7 game at nib Stadium in Perth the Wanderers went a man down thanks to a red card being show to Youssouf Hersi (the victim of some nasty niggling from Scott Jamieson). In a demonstration of the team’s character and stamina, a successful combination of Iacopo La Rocca scoring in the first half and Ante Covic saving numerous shots resulted in a fine win away from Wanderland. This victory ended Perth’s early unbeaten run at home of 3 games and put the Wanderers into fifth position on the table.

44. The reaction of the Wanderland faithful to Dino Kresingers’ goals

In both occasions during the 2012/13 season Dino’s goals set off wild celebrations within both the RBB and the other stands at Wanderland. From personal experience I can verify that no other player electrified the Wanderers faithful than Kresinger when he put the ball in the back of the opposition’s net.

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43. Ante Milicic…Popa’s Right Hand Man

Whilst other clubs had problems with their coaching staff during 2012/13, the Wanderers had the ideal pair to lead the squad through its debut season. Milicic had already shown his talents as an assistant coach at Melbourne Heart, and preceding that he had  experience as a head coach at the NSL club Sydney United, and in joining with Tony Popovic he formed the best pairing of coaches in the A-League since the Roar’s Postecoglou and Vidosic. There is every expectation that Ante will coach A-League club in the near future (hopefully after Popovic moves on to a European club).

42. Michael Beauchamp named as first captain of the Western Sydney Wanderers

A true son of Western Sydney football, Beauchamp went through many clubs over his first twelve seasons of senior football before becoming the inaugural club captain for the Wanderers. Bringing experience ranging from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, through Bundesliga appearances and A-League stints with the Mariners, Heart and Sydney FC, Beauchamp formed a highly effective pairing with fellow centre back Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the Wanderers’ first season. Hard to get past and always on the look out for transition passes out of defence, Beauchamp also set a great example for the team off the field in media and community engagements.

41. The Wanderers squad appearance at Westfield Parramatta

From the willingness of the squad to meet, greet, talk with the fans and sign autographs, through to the amazing passion shown by hundreds of RBB supporters in the middle of Sydney’s largest shopping centre, the Wanderers’ day at Westfield Parramatta was one of the best community/club engagements all season.

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