It’s the time of the year when clubs look towards the home stretch of the season and The Football Sack critiques each club’s progress so far.

Do you agree with our assessments made in the return of our January report cards?

Semester Summary: It’s been a turbulent season for Western Sydney Wanderers both on and off the pitch. The sudden departure of Tony Popovic a week shy of their first game, the only coach the club has ever known, left the club’s preseason preparations in tatters and incited a frantic replacement search before a ball had even been touched.

A first round win at home against Perth Glory eased some of the concern: from there the Wanderers remained steady with a frustrating five draws in a row but rarely showed they were a team with the confidence to secure convincing wins. The radical changes under Josep Gombau to the club’s playing style resulted in an abysmal string of performances which saw the side earn just one win in four games and suffer heavy defeats to rivals Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets just a few weeks apart. Coupled with an extensive injury list the Wanderers have fallen as low as ninth place but a recent turnaround has to some extent redeemed them.

With the worst of the shambolic coaching situation behind them the Wanderers now just have to focus on keeping their spot in the top six. The constant tinkering of the starting line-up has finally ceased but the Red and Black still have a great deal of work to do before seasons end.

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Areas of Excellence: After a painful series of losses some of Gombau’s possession based football is starting to show in the Wanderers. Passing is certainly a strong point for the side who currently hold the best passing accuracy percentage in the A-League at 81%. Oriol Riera has earned his marquee status and when perched up front in a full strength Wanderers line-up can consistently find the back of the net.

When all the cogs are working the possession based, build up from the back style is fluid and effective. Alvaro Cejudo is a stand out when flanking or drifting into pockets of space behind the opposition midfield. Steven Lustica and the Baccus brothers, Kearyn and Keanu, also add to a slick midfield but we’ve yet to see them play together at their best for a game’s entire duration at this point in time.

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Areas in need of improvement: Confidence and consistency. When the Wanderers faced competition leaders Sydney FC in round three they played with conviction and earned a two-all draw. Fast forward to round 10 and they were thumped five-nil in the biggest derby defeat in history. Struggling to obtain back to back wins has placed a huge burden on the side for the latter part of the season. This inconsistency was highlighted again after the Wanderers convincingly toppled Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar only to lose points against Adelaide United and Wellington Phoenix due to late goals in the rounds that followed. The Wanderers have been accused of lacking passion this season, which is fair. Too often this season we’ve seen them go a goal down only to look desperate and disjointed from there on after.

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Top students: The Wanderers’ trio of Spanish signings have all proven to be successful with Alvaro Cejudo, Raul Llorente and Oriol Riera providing a touch of class and skill to the line up. Despite missing several games through injury Riera still leads the Wanderers goal scoring tally and is particularly dangerous in the air with two of his eight goals coming from well struck headers.

Roly Bonevacia is another new addition who has been stellar in the midfield and always looks dangerous with the ball at his feet moving forward. Youngster Keanu Baccus has been hugely impressive for the Wanderers during his appearances in recent rounds. The 19-year-old earned himself a man of the match performance against Central Coast Mariners in round 11 and is one of the brightest midfield prospects in the A-League.

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Class Clown: Josep Gombau admitted that the Wanderers are in dire need of new wingers and therefore pointed the spotlight on Jaushua Sotirio who has proven to be more of a liability than an asset at this point of the season. It’s hard to pin the bulk of the blame on a single player however with the January transfer window in full swing a replacement could be inevitable for the pacy winger. Before being sidelined with an injury Sotirio made just three underwhelming starts including one particularly disheveled performance in their bleak two nil loss to Brisbane Roar. The release of Jumpei Kusukami has also put pressure on any remaining Wanderers wingers now forced to contest against a potential foreign signing.

Grade: C-

Outlook: Josep Gombau believes the Wanderers ‘are close’ to implementing a style that will bring about a turnaround for the club and there certainly have been moments that prove this. They currently sit in a precious sixth place on 19 points but a loss could see Perth Glory close in and edge them out of a spot in the finals. The tight ladder at this point in the season can also work in their favour. Just four points separate them from Melbourne Victory in fourth place and a four game unbeaten streak indicates that some of the issues facing the Wanderers have been ironed out. Expect them to tough it out before an early exit in the finals.

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Bachelor of Journalism student from the University of Wollongong, covering Western Sydney Wanderers for the 2017/18 season.