Tomorrow the Wanderers make their Hyundai A-League debut against the Central Coast Mariners at Parramatta Stadium. Check out the match preview here.
Date: Saturday, March 6, 2012 Kick-off: 7.45pm AEST Venue: Parramatta Stadium, Sydney Head-to-head: N/A
Previous encounter: N/A
Form: Past five matches: Western Sydney Wanderers: WDWDD Central Coast Mariners: WLDLW
The Game: It's never easy to read much into pre-season form but the Western Sydney Wanderers have shown enough against fellow Hyundai A-League teams and NSW State League opposition to suggest they will be competitive against Central Coast.
Tony Popovic's side haven't lost many matches in the lead-up and would gain a lot of confidence from that. The Mariners have also shown glimpses of their best and rounded off their preparations with a hard-fought 1-0 win over champions Brisbane Roar late last month.
Several injuries and absences saw the club's last scheduled friendly against Sydney FC cancelled and while it gives coach Graham Arnold one less game to iron out any issues the side may have, you can be sure the Mariners will be ready for battle come kick-off on Saturday night.
The signing of youngster Joey Gibbs on Wednesday takes the Wanderers squad to 21 players with Popovic now tasked with picking the best 11 for the club's inaugural match. Skipper Michael Beauchamp will lead a defence that has plenty of Hyundai A-League experience with the likes of Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Tarek Elrich. Imports Jerome Polenz, Lacopo La Rocca and Dino Kresinger will also be worth keeping an eye on.
Nick Montgomery looks set to get the holding midfield role for the Mariners and the prospect of young gun Bernie Ibini-Isei and former Qantas Socceroo Mile Sterjovski in attack is mouth-watering for their supporters.
The big issue: Wanderers - Popovic has assembled a strong squad but the main area of concern will be where the goals will come from. Mark Bridge and Labinot Haliti have a wealth of experience but have never been prolific goal-scorers. The addition of Shinji Ono is sure to help their cause. While the Wanderers are sure to be compact and hard to break down, goals win matches and they will need someone to step up and lead the way.
Mariners - The main question mark over the Mariners side heading into this season will be who can fill the huge boots of departed skipper Alex Wilkinson in the centre of defence. Arnold has used Zac Anderson, Trent Sainsbury and Brent Griffiths in the role alongside Patrick Zwaanswijk in the pre-season, with all three showing they may be up to the job. Whichever one Arnold goes with they will have to perform if the Mariners are to remain one of the best defensive units in the league.
The game breaker: Shinji Ono - The Japanese midfielder only arrived in the country this week but the fact he looks set to at least win a spot on the bench shows just how important he will be to the Wanderers' chances this season. The 33-year-old will add a touch of class to the Wanderers midfield and his combination with the likes of Aaron Mooy, Bridge and Haliti could provide a lot of goals for the new club.
Tomas Rogic - The extremely gifted teenager got a taste of the Hyundai A-League last campaign and showed he belongs and will only improve with a full off-season under his belt. With Mustafa Amini now plying his trade at Borussia Dortmund, Rogic will assume the No.10 role for the Mariners and will be a vital cog if they are to go all the way this season.
Prediction: Wanderers 2-2 Mariners
The Mariners might just be underdone and if the Wanderers are ever a chance of s surprise result, their opening match will be it.