Bad start but don't count the Wanderers out just yet

Western Sydney Wanderers are not off to the best of starts but it is far too early to write them off with Tony Popovic at the helm.

A-League Rd 1 - Western Sydney v Sydney FC

Tony Popovic shows no emotion on the sidelines Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

Popovic is undoubtedly one of the best coaches Australia has ever seen and may end up being our best of all time. Big call? Not really - he’s already in the top handful.

Beyond him, the club is well-run by an excellent CEO (John Tsatsimas), and in financial terms, the Wanderers want for nothing thanks to generous owner (Paul Lederer) and his cohorts at board level. 

But all three men will be scratching their heads about how the Wanderers’ season has started. The table reads as such: four games played, one win, two draws, one loss. 

Those last two draws have come against Newcastle and Central Coast, sides that could not fire a shot last season - and would appear unlikely to do so again this season given the major recent upheaval at both clubs. 

Worryingly, both of those draws came at their temporary home, Spotless Stadium - and their horrific loss, the 4-0 battering at the hands of Sydney FC, across the road at ANZ Stadium. It's not been an easy transition from Parramatta to Homebush. 

Their only win came away, a minor revenge for last season’s grand final defeat against Adelaide. But the Reds, too, are floundering.

It’s obvious why Adelaide have slid so far. Bruce Kamau, Stefan Mauk, Pablo Sánchez, Bruce Djite and Mate Dugandzic all left - a massive chunk of their attacking power. Add the injured Sergio Cirio, out indefinitely, and even making the finals looms an uphill battle. 

So far, Adelaide are the equal second-worst attacking side in the league. Wellington, with one goal in four games, are another story altogether. 

Which takes us back to the Wanderers - and to address the question Adelaide are battling to answer. Have they been able to improve their squad since last season? We already know Sydney FC, Perth Glory, both Melbourne sides and perhaps Brisbane Roar have, too. 

Mark Bridge, Scott Jamieson, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Andreu and Alberto were nailed on starting XI players last season. So too Romeo Castelen when he was fit. Dario Vidosic never quite hit his best but was always an option. 

Critically, that’s three of the four starting defenders from last season’s grand final and one of the two holding midfielders. Talk about ripping out your spine - and losing both your attacking wingers. 

There probably isn’t a huge amount of difference between, say Robbie Cornthwaite and Nikolai Topor-Stanley in terms of experience, physical presence and technical ability. But one was a part of the Wanderland furniture since day one. 

The Wanderers have found some able replacements in the form of Jacob Melling (who will shine when he gets game time), Steven Lustica and Jack Clisby but it really does take time to adjust to a new coach and new surroundings. 

It’s doubly hard for the foreigners, who face pressure from day one in addition to the difficulty it takes to settle in. 

Pleasingly, Jumpei Kusukami looks like he's slotted in well. Nicolas Martinez has shown glimpses but, by his own admission, isn’t 100 per cent fit. That’s understandable for the on-loan marquee but he’d not want to wait around too long. 

The Wanderers are still haunted by the helpless figure Federico Piovaccari, who could never find fitness, let alone the back of the net. 

Aritz Borda made a rocky start against Sydney FC but the coach has kept faith. Is he better than the ever-reliable (albeit a little injury-prone) Alberto was - or better now than exciting youngster Jonathan Aspropotamitis? We’ll soon find out. 

Which brings us to Kerem Bulut and Bruno Pintares. Only those inside the camp know why they were dropped in the hours before the Mariners’ game, suffice to say Popovic gave enough away by saying he wanted to “see more in training”. 

Enough gets written about Bulut already. But he wouldn’t want to mess around much more, even if Popovic seems resolutely determined to resurrect his career. Pintares is a relative unknown but will surely know by now he needs to do everything right just to break into the first team. 

These are the standards that have underpinned three grand finals and an Asian Champions League triumph in their first four years. So let there be some lessons from history before we pass judgement on this slow start.

This time last season, they had one point less than they do now. But after round three, they went ten matches unbeaten, eight of which ended in wins. It’s a fact worth remembering.

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5 min read
Published 3 November 2016 at 1:50pm
By Sebastian Hassett