It was a cold, wet and miserable night at Deakin Stadium, but there was plenty to warm the heart after Tuesday's 3-0 win over NPL ACT league winners Canberra FC.
Here’s what we saw.
New boys fit like a glove
The match marked the unofficial debuts of marquee man Federico Piovaccari and Spanish duo Dimas and Alberto – and boy do they look good in a Wanderers kit.
In his 45 minutes on the pitch, Piovaccari showed why he’ll be a handful for A-League defenders this season, throwing around his bullish frame to good effect and looking to goal at every half opportunity.
He threatened early when he cannoned a shot off the post, before cutting back to Mark Bridge to set up the opener. Soon after, the Italian displayed his in-the-box instincts, reacting first to the keeper’s parry of a Bridge shot to slot home and open his account for the Wanderers.
Meanwhile in midfield, Dimas gave us a glimpse of how he might compliment compatriot and fellow holding mid Andreu, once the latter overcomes injury.
Part orchestrator-part destroyer, Dimas is seemingly as comfortable dropping between the centre-backs to collect possession and jumpstart the attack, as he is hounding the ball carrier and pinching possession. And he sure doesn’t shy away from a physical challenge.
In the heart of defence, Alberto was largely untroubled by the Canberra FC frontline during his first-half display. He showed a solid understanding with centre-back partner Brendan Hamill, and was calm and measured when playing out of trouble. Encouraging signs from a man who’s only been in the country for a coupe of weeks.
Our style is evolving – slowly
Much has been said about the arrival of new Spanish assistant coach Andrés Carrasco and what type of impact he might have on the Wanderers’ style of play.
Though whether it’s Carrasco’s influence or Tony Popovic tweaking the status quo, the times appear to be changing indeed.
Arguably a traditionally counter-attacking team, it looks as though the Wanderers are adopting a more progressive style of play, one that is proactive rather than reactive, more front-foot than back-foot – where meaningful possession is valued above all else.
Whenever the ball was lost, there was a burning endeavor to win it back immediately and an even greater focus on keeping hold of it thereafter.
Our block of six at the back was typically compact and structured when tested, but there now seems to be an active focus on making the opposition do most of the defending instead.
It’s certainly easier on the eye.
Santa’s back and hungrier than ever
One of the most pleasing stories to come out of the game was the long-awaited return of Brendon Santalab.
You could’ve forgiven Santa for taking a bit of time to find his feet but the striker had other ideas, rocketing home a square ball across the box with his first touch of the game after a surging run from Jaushua Sotirio.
“I’ve worked very hard and I’m very happy to be back,” Santalab said after the game.
“You always want to score and when you score so quick it’s a little bit of a surprise, but I’ll take it and move forward from this and take a lot of confidence from tonight.”
He was only on the pitch for just under half an hour but Santalab showed enough of his trademark tenacity to suggest he’s well on the road to regaining his form and fitness.
Operation 8 October is on track
Time and time again, Tony Popovic has stressed that the pre-season period is geared entirely towards having the team in the best possible shape come day one of the A-League season.
In what is an exasperatingly long off-season, timing is everything – fail to meet targets and the competition will run away from you; peak too early and be prepared to run on empty sooner rather than later.
Yet Popovic and the backroom staff are being meticulous and calculated in their player management. No one is being rushed into situations their bodies can’t handle, as every substitution, every minute spent on (or off) the park is pre-planned and rationalised.
The next step in Operation 8 October comes on Tuesday as the Wanderers take on Palm Peach SC in the Round of 16 of the FFA Cup.
It remains to be seen what kind of line-up Popa will send out on the pitch at Cbus Super Stadium, but you can bet there’ll be a reason behind every selection.
For a full play-by-play summary of the match, please click here.