End of 2021/22 season report card: Western Sydney Wanderers

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Despite high expectations coming into the 2021/22 A-League Men season, Western Sydney Wanderers missed out on finals football for the fifth season in a row.

With talks of a complete rebuild coming for the Wanderers, let’s take a look at their most recent campaign.

Season Summary:

The 2021/22 season was meant to be a turning point for the Wanderers, as they assembled a squad that many tipped would return to the finals for the first time in five seasons. Unfortunately for them that would not be the case.

Despite a positive start, remaining undefeated in the first three rounds, it soon went downhill for the Wanderers.

Scoring just nine goals over their first 10 matches demonstrated a clear lack of strike power up front, something that remained a problem throughout the season.

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Whenever Western Sydney were able to pick up a win, their 2-0 defeats of Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC included, they couldn’t keep the momentum going, falling to a disappointing loss after all but one of their six victories this season.

With finals football seemingly out of the question, the Wanderers did have the most fruitful period of their campaign during the back end of the season, losing just three times in their last 11 matches.

Only two of these games were wins, however, with their six draws contributing to a 10th placed finish and a position in the Australia Cup play-off round.

After taking a 1-0 lead early in that match they ended up falling 3-1 to Brisbane at home, capping off a bitterly disappointing season.

Areas of excellence: Defence

In a tough season for the Wanderers it is difficult to pinpoint one part of their game that has been excellent, however, credit must be given to their defensive efforts throughout their campaign.

After losing former Socceroo and club captain Rhys Williams for the season due to a ruptured hamstring tendon just six games into the competition, many would have not blamed their defence if they crumbled under the pressure.

Instead they stood strong, ultimately conceding the second lowest amount of shots of any team in the A-League Men, allowing the third lowest amount of shots on target and winning the second most tackles.

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Only Melbourne City were statistically better at stopping shots throughout the season, a defensive line that includes the likes of Socceroo Curtis Good, former Sporting defender Nuno Reis and ex-Arsenal player Carl Jenkinson.

Compare this to a Williams-less Wanderers and this is a brilliant achievement.

The likes of Adama Traore and Tate Russell stood tall for Western Sydney throughout the season, ultimately resulting in Traore being voted into the A-League All Stars side.

Unfortunately for the Wanderers, their goalkeepers were not up to the same standard, with both Tomas Mejias and Daniel Margush having the second worst save percentage in the league.

With the best of the Wanderers defence likely to stay for another campaign alongside the rumoured reinforcements, Western Sydney looks to be in safe hands at the back.

Areas of Improvement: Goalscoring

With the attacking options of Keijiro Ogawa and Tomer Hemed, as well as proven A-League Men goalscorers Bernie Ibini-Isei and Dimitri Petratos, getting goals should not have been an issue for the Wanderers this season.

Unfortunately for them it certainly was, with Hemed’s six goals over his 13 starts being the best of an otherwise disappointing bunch.

The next highest goalscorers were able to find the back of the net just three times, a poor return for the quality attacking options that they had.

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Their constant turn over in the starting squad did not help this, however, that can’t be the only excuse.

Combined, the team were able to score just 30 goals at marginally over one per match, with the Wanderers scoring one or fewer goals in 16 of their 26 fixtures.

Heading into the 2022/23 season, scoring more must be a priority for the Wanderers, as another season with the third lowest total goals in the league will do them no favours in their push for a finals return.

Star Student: Adama Traore

Whilst the Wanderers had a tough year in terms of results, some players rose above the rest in terms of individual performances this season. Keanu Baccus was awarded the Wanderer medal to go with his move to the Scottish Premiership, whilst Steven Ugarkovic was his ever consistent self.

Instead we have opted to give this award to left-back Adama Traore, who after a rocky end to his Melbourne Victory career, certainly proved his worth this season for Western Sydney.

In an otherwise inconsistent side, Traore was one of the pieces that held the team together, starting 23 of the clubs matches this season.

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The Ivorian would go on to lead the Wanderers in interceptions made, whilst sitting second in most tackles won and third in most crosses completed. He would also finish inside the top 10 league wide in both tackles and interceptions, while completing 183 recoveries.

In a side that finished 10th, these statistics are truly remarkable, earning him plaudits from around the league.

For his troubles the defender was awarded with the Rod Allen Media award for Wanderers Media player of the year and the Wanderers Members’ player of the year, whilst also being voted into the A-Leagues All Stars team by the fans.

The 32-year-old will be crucial in the upcoming Wanderers rebuild, with his efforts in both attack and defence this season highlighting his vitality to the current Western Sydney side.

Class Clown: Bernie Ibini

After leaving the Newcastle Jets with Carl Robinson just before the beginning of the 2020/21 season, expectations were high for the former A-League Men wonder-kid.

His first season at the club produced four goals and four assists, a handy return that almost saw a surprise return to the Socceroos set up. His 2021/22 season did not go to plan however.

Over his 20 matches, that included 10 starts, the striker was only able to find the back of the next once, a goal in just the second match of the season against his former club the Jets.

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He was not able to contribute a goal or an assist in his following 18 games, his joint lowest goalscoring season in the league since his debut campaign, and his first without an assist since 2016/17.

Whilst all of the team’s goalscoring issues should not rest fully on the shoulders of Ibini, teams expect proven A-League Men scorers to step up in the biggest games and unfortunately he wasn’t able to do that at all this campaign.

This ultimately led to the club opting not to re-sign the striker, with the veteran on the hunt for a new team.

Grade: D

Outlook

Whilst the Wanderers have all the capabilities to put together a championship-contending side for the 2022/23 season, their track record over the last five years will leave fans nervous about their prospects heading into a new campaign.

With Mark Rudan confirmed to be at the helm for the upcoming season, this will give him the opportunity to shape the squad into one that he feels can genuinely compete to break their finals drought.

Four of their international players have left the club this winter alongside other Australian talent, leaving Rudan with room to make a squad of his liking.

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The players that have been retained certainly still have the ability to compete at the highest level, with Adama Traore and Jack Rodwell proving throughout this season that they can play an integral role in a finals bound Wanderers team.

Ultimately it will all come down to the Wanderers recruitment over the coming months. If they are able to pick up talented players who buy fully into the club they could well be on their way to a big 2022/23 campaign, however, if their recruitment process stays the same expect another lacklustre season.

Feature Image Credit: Steve Christo

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William Makepeace
Current Intern covering Canberra United. Sports Media student at University of Canberra who lives and breathes Football

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