Back where we belong

It has been a season of revolution in more ways than one in Western Sydney. Not only was there an overhaul of the playing and coaching staff, but fortunes on the pitch as a result changed for the better.

For the first time in six years, the Western Sydney Wanderers qualified for the Isuzu UTE A-League Men’s finals thanks to a fourth placed finish.

With the side remaining in the top four places for the entire season, it is a testament to the well-rounded side that coach Marko Rudan put together in the offseason, and many of his recruits shone brightly.

At the back, Lawrence Thomas kept the most clean sheets of any goalkeeper with 10, whilst talismanic captain Marcelo was a brick wall at the centre of defence forming a formidable partnership with Tomi Mrcela. It’s little surprise that the Wanderers had the best defence in the league, only conceding 27 goals in 26 games, five fewer than the next best team.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 05: Tomislav Mrcela of the Wanderers reacts during the round 17 A-League Men’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC at CommBank Stadium, on March 05, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

In the midfield, it was two players who swapped Sydney’s east for the west in the offseason that stood out. Calem Nieuwenhof was one of the best midfielders in the league, starting every game and scoring four goals.

Milos Ninkovic meanwhile oozed class in the attacking midfield slot claiming six assists, with the veteran proving he can still be a key contributor to a successful side.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 18: Milos Ninkovic of the Wanderers passes during the round 21 A-League Men’s match between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz Stadium, on March 18, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Up front it was truly the Brandon Borrello show. The speedster returned to Australia after a six year stint in Germany, and had his best season to date.

He scored 13 goals and assisted five more, being one of the most impactful players in the league and earning a recall to the Socceroos side for the March friendlies.

Rudan deserves credit not only for creating such a strong side, but for also making changes mid-season that elevated the team to another level.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 21: Brandon Borrello of the Wanderers celebrates scoring a goal during the round 25 A-League Men’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Wellington Phoenix at CommBank Stadium, on April 21, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The arrival of Amor Layouni helped give the attack another dimension, as the pacy Tunisian was a nightmare for opposing full backs; he also earned a call up to his national team as a result of his performances in Red and Black.

The signing of former Premier League star Morgan Schneiderlin also helped solidify the midfield.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 25: Morgan Schneiderlin of the Wanderers celebrate scoring from the penalty spot during the round 18 A-League Men’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Macarthur FC at CommBank Stadium, on February 25, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

The shifting of Borrello from the wing to striker was also the catalyst for his wonderful form, with 11 of Borrello’s goals coming after his positional change.

There were many moments to remember during the regular season – a comprehensive 2-0 win over eventual top two side Central Coast, and a 4-0 drubbing of the Wellington Phoenix in the final home game of the regular season come to mind – but it’s difficult to look past the two Sydney Derby wins as the highlights of the regular season.

The first in November in front of over 36,000 fans at Allianz Stadium saw a back and forth contest decided by a wonderful Kusini Yengi run and strike that sparked scenes of jubilation in the packed away bay.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 12: Kusini Yengi of the Wanderers jumps the fence and celebrates scoring a goal during the round six A-League Men’s match between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz Stadium, on November 12, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

When the Wanderers returned to the stadium in March, it was anything but a close contest.

They led 2-0 after just 21 minutes, and scored two more in the second half in what was one of the most comprehensive derby victories.

The sides will meet again on Saturday in the first ever Sydney Derby finals match, in front of what is set to be a packed out CommBank Stadium.

Not only does it present the chance to end their rivals season, but it could be the start of a deep run in the finals and to potential silverware.

Such a run would prove to the rest of the league that this season is far from a flash in the pan, instead it is proof that the Wanderers are back where they belong.

Get your tickets to Saturday night’s Elimination Final Sydney Derby here.