Season Preview: Nix must adapt to coronavirus adversity and continue progress under Talay
With the new A-League season right around the corner, Front Page Football will be breaking down each club's chances and what we can expect from them in 2020-21.
Today we break down the Wellington Phoenix.
How did they fare last season?
Despite the uncertainty heading into the 2019-20 season, mainly due to Mark Rudan leaving for Western United, Ufuk Talay maintained finals football for the club.
The Phoenix lost their first four games but still finished third, mainly due to a nine-match unbeaten run from November to January.
It was the first time Wellington had finished in the top three in their thirteen-year history.
Talay stuck to his 4-4-2 formation, which was defensively rigid whilst simultaneously allowing them to be devastating on the counter.
In the end, the Nix lost in the elimination final to Perth, and on reflection, they will be kicking themselves that they didn't go further than that.
What is expected of them this season?
The Nix arguably suffered more than anyone from having their players poached by the Indian Super League, with three key players leaving for there in the off-season.
Steven Taylor, Gary Hooper and Matti Steinmann all left, whilst Liberato Cacace and Callum McCowatt also departed for pastures new in Europe.
Taylor and Cacace's departures will have the most significant impact.
The pair formed part of an impressive defence that was statically the third-best in the division last season.
Liberato Cacace departed for Belgian side Sint-Truidense in August. (Getty Images)
Meanwhile, Wellington will be based in Australia again, meaning some players will be away from their families all season, which is likely to impact their chances negatively.
It is unlikely that the Nix will achieve another top-four finish in 2020-21.
The damaging departures of key players, coupled with the pandemic's impact, mean they should worry about making the finals in the first place.
Players to watch?
Ulises Dávila was a creative juggernaut for Wellington last season, registering twelve goals and five assists in his maiden campaign.
The Mexican has even been appointed as the captain for the upcoming season, highlighting the amount of trust Talay has in his star player.
Tomer Hemed is vastly experienced from playing in England, Spain and Israel throughout his career.
The centre forward is brought in as a replacement for Hooper.
Talay will hope he can understand how to link up with Dávila and Englishman David Ball going forward.
Stefan Marinovic was excellent in goal last time around, making spectacular saves that helped his side either retain a win or a draw, on more than one occasion.
Any youngsters coming through?
Reno Piscopo and Cameron Devlin were two outstanding youngsters who burst onto the scene last season.
Both players took time to nail down a regular place in the starting eleven, but once they did their spot was secure.
Talay will now hope they can pick up where they left off this time around.
Piscopo celebrates a goal against Sydney FC last season. (Getty Images)
Mirza Muratovic has joined from the Roar after a promising campaign last season, where he broke out under Robbie Fowler's guidance.
Ben Waine is highly rated at the club and could feature more often this season.
And how's the manager?
Talay rightfully earned plaudits for the free-flowing style he introduced across the ditch last season.
He was named A-League Coach of the Year, after a fine first season as a head coach in the division.
What was most impressive was his ability to adapt the system to the strengths of his squad.
Most A-League coaches prefer to play one striker instead of two upfront.
However, Talay decided to go with a pair because it suited Ball and Hooper.
Ball was able to play off Hooper's ability to hold the ball up, whilst Dávila could roam free and cause problems with his wand of a left foot and excellent vision.
He should stick with a similar system, particularly as Hemed possesses the same target man-like abilities as Hooper.
He'll most likely start alongside Ball in their attack.
The main issue Talay must resolve is his defence, as Taylor and Cacace's departures have left a gaping hole.
The quicker he sorts out his best back four, the more freedom their attacking players will have to work their magic.