THE Wanderers' premiership triumph was a neat antithesis to the widespread belief that sides could only succeed by playing like Brisbane Roar.
With an overwhelming number of coaches promising to emphasise possession-based football last season, Western Sydney’s success was refreshing (not least because of the incredible fairytale). They averaged the least possession of any side and were the purest counter-attackers in the A-League.
Head coach, Tony Popovic’s 4-2-3-1 demanded hard-working players right across the pitch, but the attacking quartet had to be particularly industrious - asked to close down relentlessly when the ball was turned over, and break forward quickly when it was turned over again.
Amazingly, the Wanderers didn’t win a single game last season that Youssouf Hersi didn’t start. His ability to take on defenders and his incredible work rate made him an ideal fit for Popovic’s strategy to pressure high up the pitch from the right flank, before helping drive counter-attacks forward by receiving quick passes to feet and taking on defenders.
Furthermore, Appiah-Kubi couldn’t fully replicate Hersi’s tough tackling, with the difference between the semi-final and Grand Final a case in point.
Western Sydney’s surprising goal tally from their wide players – with Mark Bridge chipping in 11 - proved useful in the absence of a prolific centre-forward.
Strikers don’t have to score goals to play well for the team and Dino Kresinger’s work ethic and physical hold-up play proved useful in the semi-final against Brisbane. It allowed the centre-backs to play quick long balls forward and alleviate the pressure from Brisbane’s intense closing down. Kresinger’s stats show his usefulness as a target man...
...but the stats also show his profligacy in front of goal - two goals for the season is hugely underwhelming.
With the rest of the side virtually unchanged, that's probably the biggest concern for Popovic – whether Tomi Juric and Brendan Santalab can succeed where Kresinger and Joey Gibbs couldn’t.
The Wanderers will want to reduce their over-reliance on Hersi. Finding a dependable goal scoring centre-forward would be the ideal way to do so.