The stats behind the Wanderers defensive resurgence

The Western Sydney Wanderers have been reborn this season, with the club sitting on the cusp of making the Finals for the first time since 2017 much of that success has been down to a rock solid defence.

The Wanderers currently have the best defensive record in the league, having only conceded 18 goals in 21 games, which is less than a goal a game and seven less than the next best defence.

The side are on track to have their best defensive record since the 2013-14 season.

Head coach Marko Rudan – a hard nosed defender in his playing days – spoke of wanting to rebuild the side to be difficult to beat, and made multiple key signings at the back in the offseason that have paid off handsomely.

Former Joe Marston medal winner Lawrence Thomas arrived from Denmark and has been a sturdy presence between the sticks; he currently has the most clean sheets of any goalkeeper in the league with nine, and his saves percentage is the second-highest in the league at 75%.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 01: Lawrence Thomas of the Wanderers celebrates the goal of Ramy Najjarine of the Wanderers during the round 10 A-League Men’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Macarthur FC at CommBank Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

At right back, Gabriel Cleur has been hugely impressive since arriving from Italy’s Serie C. He can lock down opposition wingers and has the stamina to patrol the right flank for the full 90 minutes.

He also has an average of 1.1 interceptions per 90 minutes, whilst last year’s Members and Media player of the year Adama Traore has recorded 1.3 interceptions per 90 at left back.

It is in central defence where arguably the Wanderers have looked the best, with Tomi Mrcela and Marcelo forming a formidable partnership that helps hold the defence together. Their physicality and aerial presence is a menace to strikers across the league.

Mrcela permanently signed with the Wanderers this season after spending the second half of last season on loan, and his good run of form has continued. He scored the winning goal in the round two win over the Melbourne Victory, and has 1.2 blocks and 5 clearances per 90.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 04: Tomislav Mrcela of the Wanderers celebrates a goal scored by Brandon Joel Gaetano Borrello of the Wanderers during the round 19 A-League Men’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners at CommBank Stadium, on March 04, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

But Marcelo has been the player who has won plaudits for his performances across the season.

It was clear that Rudan saw him as a lynchpin of the team when he was named captain before he had kicked a ball for the club, and he has led by his actions on the pitch.

He has made 2.0 interceptions and 6.4 clearances per 90, and also picked up an assist with a fantastic long ball in the round three draw with Brisbane. He is always willing to put in a crunching tackle, use all of his 6ft 3 frame to trouble opposing strikers in aerial contests, and he shows an excellent ability to read the game in front of him to cut out danger.

Marcelo Antonio Guedes Filho of the Wanderers instructs his team during the A-League Men’s soccer match between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Macarthur FC at Commbank Stadium in Sydney, Sunday, January 1, 2023. (AAP Image/Jeremy Ng) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

His impact can be seen by the fact that the side has only conceded 12 goals when he has been on the pitch; his passion and enthusiasm galvanises the side in crucial moments.

His experience gained in the French and German top flights is shining through.

The new look defensive unit that Rudan has created has helped see the side claim a crucial 1-0 away over the Victory, as well as two shutouts away to Sydney FC.

They also held league leaders Melbourne City to a 1-1 draw, despite their opposition having 30 shots on goal. They also managed to keep top scorer Jamie Maclaren scoreless, which no side had managed to do previously.

The old saying is that defence wins championships, and with the race for the top four places being as tight as ever, this watertight defence will be central to any success that Western Sydney achieves this season.