The Wanderers have played in – and lost – three Hyundai A-League Grand Finals in their short and remarkable history. Is this finally the year to win a Championship?
Last season, Wanderers finished the regular season in second spot and fell short of winning the championship on Hyundai A-League grand final day in Adelaide.
A successful year of sorts with the club back in Asia and back in the Finals Series. But their grand final heartache mirrored a previous two attempts in 2013 in Sydney and Brisbane 12 months later.
It’s been the one blot on an otherwise stunning first four years of this extraordinary club.
With this in mind, it’s been an off-season with a large personnel overhaul.
Their pre-season results have been mixed, but that’s more a reflection of coach Tony Popovic’s desire to try things.
Their trip to Japan last month would’ve been key in bedding down the team’s philosophies and ambitions.
With a blockbuster Sydney Derby at a new home ground in Round 1, they will want to hit the ground running.
But look for the Wanderers to build. It’s not where you start, but where you finish.
And we think they’ll finish strongly.
The burning questions
*Can they turn their new homes at ANZ and Spotless into a fortress?
*Can the Wanderers become Kings of Sydney again? They are without a win in their last seven clashes against the Sky Blues in the Sydney “Classico”
*How will the ACL affect them at the back end of the season?
*Will the unpredictable Kerem Bulut fulfil his potential? Wanderers really do need him to hit double digits this season
Lessons learnt from last season
*Recruiting of imports. While Andreu, Dimas and Alberto generally did well, Piovaccari struggled badly. If he’d have fired, they might have won the Championship.
No FFA Cup, but there is ACL group football later in the season.
Wanderers have a Sydney Derby blockbuster to open the season, before a grand final rematch with the Reds six days later.
Considering they have never won a match in the opening two rounds of a season in their history, it could be a tricky start.
Back-to-back home matches against the Jets and Mariners complete their opening month.
The two months from mid-December to mid-February will be the big test for the side, with six out of eight games in that period away from home.
But it’s easier on the run home – which coincides with the start of their ACL commitments, with six of the last nine matches at Homebush, including games against City, Victory and Adelaide in the last month.
*Nichols, Martinez, Bulut, Jumpei and Santalab are all exciting players in the front third, all with different facets to their game. If they can click, the Wanderers could be hard to stop.
*Another major turnover in the squad, could take time to gel.
*ACL commitments may affect them at the back end of the season.
The Wanderers’ evolution from a defensively solid, counter-attacking style to a pro-active, free-flowing passing game was one of the highlights of last season.
And with the players they have recruited this off-season, it should be more of the same.
In their 4-2-31 system, a strong defensive base will again be their bed-rock, with Nikolai Topor-Stanley likely to be partnered by highly rated Spaniard and new signing Aritz Borda.
Scott Neville has the right-back position sewn up but the left remains open, with Jack Clisby and indefatigable foundation player Shannon Cole as options.
The holding midfield roles are likely to go to imports Dimas Delgado – who was excellent last season – and Bruno Pinatares, while in front of them the options are electrifying.
Kerem Bulut or Brendon Santalab will be the central striker up top, with the service to come from the likes of Mitch Nichols, Nicolas Martinez, Jumpei Kusukami, Steve Lustica and Jaushua Sotirio.
Kerem Bulut. The 24-year-old is back in the Hyundai A-League with a point to prove. Has had a chequered past but is a genuine goal-scorer when he gets it right.
The Wanderers squad looks as strong as last season and one of the best in the entire Hyundai A-League. After finishing so close in 2015/16, nothing less than silverware is acceptable for the ambitious Popovic.