It seems like an eternity, but the Hyundai A-League pre-season is just about done and dusted and there are just a few more sleeps before the Wanderers kick off their eighth season.
An opening game against traditional rivals Central Coast Mariners will see the Red & Black return to Parramatta on Saturday 12 October after three years in the wilderness, away from their spiritual home.
Head coach Markus Babbel and his coaching staff have been working hard for almost four months to get the squad in shape and ready for what will be a tough opening to the season against the Mariners, a side intent on casting aside suggestions they are the easy-beats of the league.
The Wanderers will go into the contest off the back of a solid pre-season in which they performed admirably during a series of friendlies and the FFA Cup.
While there was some disappointment as an under-strength Wanderers were knocked out of the Cup by Melbourne City at the Quarter Final stage, the squad has taken plenty of positives over the last few weeks.
The club’s new signings such as Pirmin Schwegler, Daniel Lopar, Daniel Georgievski, Dylan McGowan, Matt Jurman and Alex Meier, have fitted in well, helping with a new mentality at the club.
Patrick Ziegler’s return from injury is also a huge plus. The German defender missed most of last season with a knee issue, but that appears to have been resolved now and he has worked extremely hard to get back into shape.
Disappointingly, polish signing Radoslaw Majewski will be sidelined for a period with a knee injury, but the others have slotted in perfectly, providing the Wanderers faithful with plenty of hope for a successful season and a return to the heady days when the club was a perennial finalist.
Importantly, there appears to be a lot of competition for spots in the starting line-up and Babbel will have a headache coming up with his final XI.
The Mariners, under new coach Alen Stajcic, will present a tough battle for the Wanderers.
Central Coast have had a very solid pre-season, making the semi-finals of the FFA Cup before bowing out to Adelaide United.
The two clubs have had plenty of great battles since 2012.
Last season, Western Sydney got the better of the Mariners, winning both home games 2-0 before losing 3-1 in Gosford.
Interestingly, there are only three survivors from the Wanderers starting line-up that day in Gosford – Tarek Elrich, Bruce Kamau and Mitchell Duke – so it will be a vastly different side that takes the field on Saturday night.
The Wanderers will be looking to maintain their good overall record against the Mariners having won 11 and drawn six of the 23 encounters between the two clubs.