Isuzu UTE A-Leagues Preview: Wanderers v Wellington

It has been a long time coming, but the 2023/24 A-League Men’s season is finally set to get underway, with the Western Sydney Wanderers looking to get off to a winning start at home against the Wellington Phoenix.

The Wanderers were resurgent last season, as they broke their finals drought and finished in the top four, but also have unfinished business to deal with after an unfortunate exit in the finals, with the side looking to make a first Grand Final since 2016.

And coach Marko Rudan will feel his side is capable once again of being one of the top sides in the league, as many of their leading lights from last season are back in Red and Black once again.

Club captain Marcelo and last year’s A-League Men goalkeeper of the year Lawrence Thomas will once again look to marshall a defence that only conceded 27 goals in as many regular season games, whilst last season’s Wanderers Medal winner and current Socceroo Brandon Borrello will look to have another prolific season in front of goal after scoring 13 goals last season.

There have been some departures, with the likes of Calem Nieuwenhof and Tomi Mrcela departing for overseas opportunities and impactful midseason signing Amor Layouni also returning to Europe after his loan spell ended.

In their place come the likes of Marcus Antonsson, who is already forming a strong bond with Borrello; Dylan Pierias and Lachlan Brook have also bolstered the attack, with the latter scoring a phenomenal five goals on debut in the Australia Cup.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 09: Lachlan Brooke of Western Sydney celebrates after scoring a goal during the round of 32 2023 Australia Cup match between Floreat Athena FC and Western Sydney Wanderers FC at Kingsway Reserve, on August 09, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

In midfield, experienced Josh Brillante has joined, whilst talented Dutch international Jorrit Hendrix has also made the move to Western Sydney, with the defensive midfielder potentially being the key cog in the engine room for the Wanderers.

The side has also seen an injection of youth, with Doni Grdic bolstering the defence, and Oscar Priestman joining from our cross town rivals, who could get key minutes in the midfield this season.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 29: Josh Brillante of the Wanderers controls the ball during the Australia Cup 2023 Round of 16 match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Adelaide United at Marconi Stadium, on August 29, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Fans will also get to look forward to contributions from Academy stars George Antonis and Marcus Younius, who both signed upgraded scholarship contracts in the offseason after impressing for the NPL NSW side.

Whilst there will be a changed lineup on Sunday, the expectations and goals will be exactly the same for the Wanderers, who have already had competitive action in the Australia Cup.

They had a huge win over NPL WA side Floreat Athena, before repeating the trick at home against Adelaide United, where they trounced the South Australians 5-1; their cup run ended at the quarter-finals after a defeat against Brisbane.

Their opponents in the opening round fell in the Round of 16 of the Australia Cup to Melbourne City, and have a new coach after the departure of Ufuk Talay.

Former assistant coach Giancarlo Italiano has been promoted to the top job, and has only made two signings in Jack Duncan and former Wanderer Mohamed Al-Taay.

The Phoenix did reach the finals last year after finishing in sixth place despite having a negative goal difference, but they were second best in their elimination final as they fell to a 2-0 defeat against Adelaide.

They also failed to get the better of the Wanderers in the regular season, as the sides split the point in a December encounter in Wollongong, before the Wanderers had one of their best performances of the season in the return fixture as they put the Phoenix to the sword in a 4-0 win at Commbank Stadium.

The sides have met on 34 occasions, with the Wanderers leading the head-to-head tally with 16 wins to Wellington’s 12, though the Wanderers’ record in the opening round of a season is patchy, with the Red and Black only tasting victory three times in Round One.