The winds of change have swept through Western Sydney on the dawn of the Hyundai A-League season
Following what seems an annual clear out of the side that made their third Grand Final appearance in four years last season, the Wanderers find themselves entering the new campaign in a state of flux.
In the long game it has so often proved the blueprint for success for Tony Popovic but the Wanderers manager will hope the newest instalment in this self-styled evolution bears immediate fruit when the Wanderers host their archrivals for a huge blockbuster derby at ANZ Stadium.
The season might officially have begun last night but this is undoubtedly the opening to the new campaign both sets of fans will have wanted and the kind of fixture – brought to you by Event Cinemas – that ought to give the 12th Hyundai A-League season the jumpstart it needs.
With a Grand Final rematch against Adelaide in the City of Churches looming next week, the Wanderers know the importance of breaking their turgid spell against their neighbours.
Although the Red & Black have finished above their rivals in all but one Hyundai A-League season, there is no doubting that recent results against Graham Arnold’s side are beginning to sting with a little more poignancy.
Western Sydney are winless against the Sky Blues in their last seven matches, a run that dates back to January 2014. The Wanderers faithful will hope that the clean slate they begin the season with will offer a reprieve in this manner, but it also offers a series of question marks for the derby curtain-raiser.
The Wanderers were hit harder than most by departures in the off-season, losing five members of their Grand Final eleven beaten 3-1 by Adelaide in January.
Spaniards Alberto and Andreu were both landmark figures in the Red & Black’s newfound preference for possession football, while in Mark Bridge the Wanderers have lost a cult hero.
Scott Jamieson flourished under the new system and his sensational season bombarding down the left flank was rewarded by a lucrative move to Swedish heavyweights IFK Goteborg.
For all his frustrations, Romeo Castelen spearheaded his side’s charge into the Grand Final on the back of some of the finest individual showings ever seen in Wanderers colours.
With such weighty changes in personnel amongst a rift of other squad departures, it looks clear that the Wanderers will look to alter their direction slightly for the new campaign, even if they maintain the framework that served them so effectively in 2015/16.
Although the losses of Andreu and Alberto were bitter blows, the retention of Dimas, who balanced the midfield so superbly in his first season down under, is a huge win for the squad. The former Guardiola protégé has no shortage of suitable midfield partners with Popovic reimbursing his middle third with the arrivals of former Brisbane double-winner Steven Lustica and experienced Uruguayan Bruno Piñatares.
After an explosive stint at the Wanderers in 2015, Auburn born Kerem Bulut will look to make the number nine position his own while Japanese import Jumpei Kusukami and Argentine playmaker Nicolás Martínez arrive with similarly big expectations.
For all their chopping and changing, the Wanderers have always proven they will be in the mix and have missed just one Grand Final day in their existence. A Derby win to christen the new campaign would give the new Wanderers no shortage of belief that they could go one step further this year.