Western Sydney Wanderers season preview: Santalab predicts top-four finish
Brendon Santalab knows what it takes to achieve greatness at Western Sydney Wanderers.
The Wanderers' all-time leading goalscorer and Asian Champions League winner was part of the club's dramatic rise to become an international force, however he's had to watch on in recent years as they've struggled for consistency.
But now the Wanderers have returned home and Santalab says the move will result in his former side returning to the peak of their powers in the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 Season.
Last season: 8th
Santalab's predicted position: Top four
A-League.com.au's three things to watch
1. Return to Wanderland
The Wanderers have found a home at Bankwest Stadium after three seasons spent in no-man's land.
Returning to Parramatta to their brand new, state-of-the-art training base and stadium, the Wanderers will hope their identity and winning culture developed over the early years will return in spades for the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 campaign.
2. Crunch time for Markus Babbel
The Hyundai A-League 2018/20 Season was a trying one for Babbel who spent his first year in the country at a club transitioning into a new era.
But after overseeing an off-season filled with key departures and arrivals Babbel should now have all the tools at his disposal to fully express his managerial style and prowess.
3. The Jurman and McGowan effect
Defensive frailty has plagued Western Sydney over the past two seasons, and Babbel has made considerable efforts to amend the issue in the off-season.
The arrivals of Matt Jurman and Dylan McGowan - who have both experienced time with the Caltex Socceroos - could turn one of league's leakiest defences into a tight-knit, resolute unit.
The first five fixtures
Central Coast Mariners (H)
Melbourne Victory (a)
Sydney FC (H)
Brisbane Roar (H)
Western United (a)
Santalab's key match-ups: Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory
"The Sydney Derby has created so much hype over the years.
"It's one of the best games on the A-League calendar, when everyone first looks at the draw they say 'when's the Sydney Derby on?'
"The transfer of Alex Baumjohann over to Sydney FC is going to spice up the Derby once again.
"It's a big game for Australian football and one that will continue to grow, especially when it's hosted at Bankwest Stadium, that atmosphere is going to be electric.
"Melbourne Victory... there was always a lot of fire in the games we played against them.
"It's a really attractive match-up for the fans to watch."
Santalab's players to watch
1. Matt Jurman
"It's massive to get Matty (Jurman) back to the A-League.
"I think it just shows how good the reputation of the A-League is to be able to recruit players like Jurman.
"He's a born leader and fantastic player, I've played against him a number of times and he's very physical, he's verbal on the pitch so with that you have a true leader."
2. Alexander Meier
"The striker Alexander Meier will be a real presence up front.
"It's been an issue over the last couple of years having a proven goalscorer, and should he fire the Wanderers can be a real force this year."
Daniel Georgievski (Newcastle Jets) Story
Pirmin Schwegler (Hannover 96, Germany) Story
Daniel Lopar (St. Gallen, Switzerland) Story
Radoslaw Majewski (Pogon Szczecin) Story
Dylan McGowan (Vendsyssel) Story
Nick Sullivan Story
Mohamed Adam (promoted) Story
Matthew Jurman Story
Alexander Meier Story
Brendan Hamill (Western United) Story
Giancarlo Gallifuoco (Central Coast Mariners) Story
Josh Risdon (Western United) Story
Oriol Riera, Roly Bonevacia, Raul Llorente, Alexander Baumjohann, Jaushua Sotirio, Abraham Majok, Marc Tokich, Rashid Mahazi, John Roberts (all released) Story
Nick Fitzgerald (released) Story
Santalab's squad verdict
"The club has really looked to freshen up the squad.
"The players that moved on did an outstanding job for the club but unfortunately football players come and go.
"There's big shoes to fill for the players that have come in, but Markus Babbel has brought in the players he wants, whereas when he took over the club there were still players there from the existing coach.
"There's a pressure surrounding the Wanderers squad this season that I feel they can handle... it's a huge challenge for the whole club to step up this season and be the force they once were."
Western Sydney Wanderers' 2019/20 Squad
Daniel Lopar, Vedran Janjetovic, Jack Greenwood, Danijel Nizic, Nick Suman, Mathieu Cordier, Tarek Elrich, Daniel Georgievski, Matthew Jurman, Dylan McGowan, Tass Mourdoukoutas, Tate Russell, Patrick Ziegler, Keanu Baccus, Kostandinos Grozos, Radoslaw Majewski, Fabian Monge, Jordan O’Doherty, Pirmin Schwegler, Nicholas Sullivan, Mohamed Adam, Mitchell Duke, Bruce Kamau, Alexander Meier, Jake Trew, Kwame Yeboah.
The boss: Markus Babbel
"This is the year that's going to tell whether Markus Babbel is taking the club in the right direction.
"It's been difficult to see his true strengths over the last 12 months because of all the instability at the club.
"We all admire Babbel for what he achieved as a player, and this season is a fantastic opportunity to show all the quality he had on the pitch in his coaching career."
"I'm expecting nothing less than top four.
"I think with all the energy around the club with the new facilities and stadium there'll be a natural lift at the Wanderers.
"I'm sure that will be their push, and I think this is the season for the club to bounce back."
The Wanderers iconic red and black hoops make a return with a twist for the 2019/20 Hyundai A-League season.
One large horizontal red stripe occupies the chest of the kit, with thinner red and black horizontal stripes running down the kit from below the main sponsor.
The Wanderers' will play their away games in a bold new look this season, in a predominately gold kit with black trim and detailing.
NEW STRIPS: Every club's kit for the new season
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