Wanderers A-League season preview

The Wanderers open the new A-League season on Friday October 10 with a big clash against Melbourne Victory. This week we are running a special preview of the upcoming season, recapping some of the outstanding achievements of the Wanderers short history and highlighting some of the most interesting story lines.

We spoke to Wanderers captain, Nikolai Topor-Stanley about the side’s hopes and you can almost hear the steely resolve in his responses.

Kate Cohen provided some tactical analysis on what to expect from the Wanderers.

Leading from the front: Captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley believes the club is in a great position to continue to attack on all fronts this season.

Leading from the front: Captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley believes the club is in a great position to continue to attack on all fronts this season.

Is this year’s team better than the last one?

It’s difficult to compare teams. We’ve lost a lot of quality players but also gained some. I know we’re in a good position. The coach knows what he’s doing. He’s recruited well and wouldn’t allow anything but the best standards every day.

As a defender do you set targets on how many goals you concede?

You never know how football is going to go but the standards we hold ourselves to are the highest. The process is what matters. You can’t control the other team. What you control is your effort and how you approach the game.

How have you found the shortened pre-season?

It’s obviously been a bit different. We had the FFA Cup that we unfortunately lost but that’s a positive step for the league to have. We knew what we were up for and came back from our break with expectation it wouldn’t be easy.

What are keys to the success of the Wanderers?

Mentality is the key to the culture and it’s filtered down to everyone. If you don’t buy into that you’re quickly not involved. It’s not about individual; it’s about anyone being ready to play at any given moment.

What do you think the team can achieve this year?

We expect to win the league. We play to win every game. We don’t play to come second or just make the finals. That’s the attitude we always have.

What do you expect from your fans this year?

I’m hoping the fans turn out in numbers again. In a mid-week game against FC Seoul we got just shy of 20,000, which is great. I want this league to grow. I’m passionate about the leage and the sport as an Australian footballer.

Kate Cohen is an award-winning writer with Leopold Method and Guardian Australia. She offers some tactical analysis on the Wanderers.

What things worked for the Wanderers last season?

The biggest feature of Western Sydney’s game is their defensive solidity. Their front players press high up the pitch, with the midfield two preventing easy passes into the middle. Behind them — Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Matthew Spiranovic in the middle and Ante Covic in goal — Western Sydney is as solid as it gets in the A-League.

What things didn't work for the Wanderers last season? Will they have those rectified this year?

In their inaugural season they attempted the most shots in the A-League (428), last season was almost bang on the same (429), but they scored less. They shot a lot from outside the box and with 36 goals in 29 games last season they weren’t prolific. A fit and in form Tomi Juric will help.

The loss of Shinji Ono will be felt by the Wanderers, can they replace the creative spark?

Shinji Ono was a wonderful player to watch and will be sorely missed by Western Sydney but in Vitor Saba, they have signed someone who describes himself as a traditional number 10. Saba has already spoken glowingly of the supporters and coaching style of Popovic.

Is it possible for an A-League club - especially one so young - to keep performing in the A-League as well as the Champions League?

Over the club’s short, two season history, ‘Popa’ has made major changes to the team’s starting side regularly. While squad depth will always be an issue, by utilising everyone in the squad and rotating where necessary, they can be right up there despite playing in Asia again.

What tactical changes are you expecting from the side this year?

You can expect Western Sydney to evolve slightly when it comes to what they do in possession. In their first season, playing out from the back was non-existent. Last season they were more patient with the ball during build up and that will be another area that will evolve and improve this season.

This year Wanderers are coming off a remarkable off-season that included progressing to the Asian Champions League final and are looking for a third straight A-League grand final appearance.

Fox Sports host, Tara Rushton ran through the major story lines for this Wanderers season.

Star striker, Tomi Juric and experienced forward, Mark Bridge spoke about their preparation and goals for the year.

Primed for a big year? Tomi Juric is the Wanderers most lethal goal-scoring threat. If he can stay on the pitch can he lead the league in scoring?

Primed for a big year? Tomi Juric is the Wanderers most lethal goal-scoring threat. If he can stay on the pitch can he lead the league in scoring?

How have you found the shortened pre-season?

It’s been great so far. Obviously we’ve been getting fantastic results in the champions league and into the final. So it’s been going well and the team has gelled fantastically.

Is this year’s team better than the last one?

Yeah I mean the players we’ve brought in are quality players and you’ll see that throughout the season. We’ve got a great set up to take ourselves forward.

What do you think the team can achieve this year?

We think we can do a lot and we’ll be setting high goals this year. We set our standards high again.

It’s definitely possible, it’s a long season a head. We’ll stay positive and consistent in our results to deliver those results on the field.

As a forward have you set a goal-scoring target for the year?

A little bit but nothing too much to occupy my thinking. I just out there and try to score as many as I can or set up and assist. Whatever it takes to get my results for the team. That’s the most important thing.

Do you think you’ve developed as a player at the Wanderers?

I think this is the perfect environment for myself and to get to a good standard for my career. As a player in general I’ve improved dramatically in my time here. The biggest improvement is my mental strength and the way I look at things, prepare for games and prepare for training.

Tara Rushton is a Fox Sports Australia host and football fan. She outlines some of the major Wanderers storylines to watch heading into the season.

Is the Red and Black Block still a big deal?

It’s unbelievable. Visiting Wanderland you can see the fans have galvanised around the team; the love, support and passion is relentless. They really are that 12th man on the pitch that carries the team.

Having those people game-in and game-out is powerful. They’ve captured the imagination of football fans and fair-weather football fans too. If you could bottle it you would.

Do the Wanderers still capture the imagination of the city?

Absolutely they do. I think it’s because there’s so much success in a short period of time. The team make you feel like anything is possible. The Wanderers come up against barriers and still continually break through and overcome obstacles.

What is a standout feature of the Wanderers play?

They are a team that just gets the job done. Some of the FC Seoul star players they took on were remarkable, and they were on a winning streak in the K-League as well. But the Wanderers came out, still during pre-season, and get it done.

Which stars are you watching this year?

What’s great about the Wanderers is players that other team didn’t want are becoming favourites. It’s a real team there.

Nikolai Topor-Stanley has really transformed there, and flourished with the captains arm band. The journey he’s been on at the Wanderers has brought the best out of him as a player and a leader.

Someone like Shannon Cole, who two years ago might not be considered the strongest in the squad, has had a transformative period and stepped up.

What players still to be introduced should fans look for?

Romeo Castalen is still to be added to the team and will be a fantastic team personality.

Spiranovic hasn’t played a part of all the big games in pre-season but he’ll come back and strengthen them at the back.

Experienced campaigner: Mark Bridge is one of the older heads in the Wanderers line up. His knack for scoring important goals is a valuable addition.

Experienced campaigner: Mark Bridge is one of the older heads in the Wanderers line up. His knack for scoring important goals is a valuable addition.

What is your role in this team? As an experienced player do you have a mentoring role?

I like to feel that I can contribute as an older player and a leader for the team. With the new boys coming in you help them as much as you can and help them fit in. We’re a very close-knit bunch and everyone knows what it expected. We have a great coach who is a great leader and everyone takes on a leadership role at different times.

As a forward do you set goal-scoring targets?

I think I just aim to be as fit as I can an injury free. I take care of those things the rest takes care of itself. I have an individual target in my head that I keep to myself, and if I reach that goal then I reach it. But I keep the target to myself.

How have you found the pre—season with so many games?

To be honest I think the pre-season has been a bit more difficult with the travel and getting match fitness a bit more quickly. But we’ve adapted well and we’re looking strong. Our match fitness is definitely a bit there and mentally playing games is easier than just running for 12 weeks.

What can the Wanderers achieve in the A-League?

We want to go one better and win the big grand final. We have made the previous two grand finals. And we are disappointed not to get the victory in the final.

What do the fans and RBB mean to you as a player?

It’s amazing. I was lucky enough to be there from the start. The quickness it took off was incredible; I don’t think Australian sport will ever see anything like it again.

We had 5,000 people turn out at our first ever training game. The fans set the standard in the league. They are the best and all the rest are trying to catch up. We cherish them as a club.

Loud support: A combination of early success and the Wanderers vocal fan-base means the club has built a big reputation quickly.

Loud support: A combination of early success and the Wanderers vocal fan-base means the club has built a big reputation quickly.

Squad changes

Player losses: Shinji Ono, Aaron Mooy, Youssouf Hersi, Adam D’Apuzzo, Jerome Polenz, Josh Baressi, Michael Beauchamp, Dean Heffernan, Tahj Minnicon, Jerrad Tyson.

Additions: Dean Bouzanis, Brendan Hamill, Vitor Saba, Romeo Castalen.

Memberships

Wanderers 15,967

Sydney FC 10,268

Penrith Panthers 14,902

Wests Tigers 9,505

Parramatta Eels 16,520

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 15,847

(Rugby League memberships as of May 2014)

A-League results

2012/13 A-League: First place. W 18, D 3, L 6. 57points.

2013/14 A-League: Second place W 11, D 9, L 7. 42 points.

A-League Win-loss record all time including finals

Overall record: 31 wins, 12 draws, 15 losses.

Derby results

It doesn’t matter where the teams are on the ladder, the Wanderers and Sydney FC clash is always a fiery occasion. How have the Wanderers fared?

2012/13: Lost 1-0, won 2-0, drew 1-1.

2013/14: Won 2-0, won 1-0, lost 3-1.

Overall:

Three wins, one draw, two losses.

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