Season Preview: The sky is the limit for experienced Western United
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 finish our club-by-club season previews with Western United.
How did they fare last season?
Western massively overachieved in their inaugural season as an A-League club, finishing fifth in the regular season and making the Semi-Finals.
Their recruitment policy involved bringing in several more experienced players, aged thirty or older, which came in for much scrutiny before the start of last season.
However, Alessandro Diamanti and Besart Berisha's form shut down that talk, as Mark Rudan's side possessed winning know-how.
In the end, they may be disappointed that they did not at least make the big dance, particularly after a tight semi-final against Melbourne City.
Western followed in the Wanderers footsteps of 2012-13, as they massively exceeded expectations in their first season.
What is expected of them this season?
After such an impressive first season, the pressure will be off and the possibilities endless for Rudan.
Given his ambitious personality, Rudan will want an improvement on last season and a championship might be the club's target.
From the outside looking in, I think a finals place will probably be a realistic minimum target.
Although, the sky is the limit for this Western side.
Spaniard Victor Sánchez is an impressive off-season signing.
He should only add to the foundation laid down by Diamanti and Berisha in 2019-20.
More success will only add more followers to the smaller fanbase as well, something they and the league always need.
Players to watch?
As previously mentioned, Diamanti and Berisha were fantastic last season.
Diamanti registered 15 goals and assists for Western last season. (AAP)
The timeless pair should continue to be at the forefront of everything good for Rudan's team.
The questions surrounding Max Burgess' future have now seemingly been answered, as just this week reports have come out that the club expects the 25-year-old to stay.
Burgess is a favourite of Rudan's having worked with him at Wellington.
The attacking midfielder was excellent during the second half of the last campaign.
Josh Risdon and Connor Pain adapted brilliantly to the manager's preference for wing-backs in 2019-20, setting up an impressive thirteen goals combined.
Any youngsters coming through?
Ayom Majok is a new signing from NPL SA side Cumberland United, where the 17-year-old scored nine times and provided six assists in 21 games for the club.
He also has an inspiring story, having followed a similar path to Socceroo Awer Mabil by growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya and getting his chance in the A-League.
Before Cumberland, Majok was in Adelaide United's youth set up. (One Culture Football)
20-year-old Dylan Pierias is very versatile, and Rudan regularly used him as an impact player from the bench last season.
However, the youngster will want to feature from the start more often this time around.
Ex-Adelaide United prospect Apostolos Stamatelopoulos struggled for minutes last season due to Berisha's outstanding form.
The 21-year-old showed glimpses of genuine promise in Adelaide but will need to make the most of sub appearances to try and force his way into the side at Western.
And how's the manager?
Mark Rudan has done very well as an A-League manager in his two seasons with Wellington and Western.
He exceeded expectations and made finals football in both seasons.
Rudan arguably laid the foundations that Ufuk Talay has built onto across the ditch, whilst he brought a specific identity and way of playing to the Geelong-based side.
Most A-League managers adopt an attacking and possession-base style.
However, Rudan has shown that a more pragmatic style works just as well in the division.
Rudan will have high expectations for the season ahead. (AAP)
Usually favouring a 3-4-3 formation, the 45-year-old's sides are known for being defensively stubborn.
His teams also utilise devastating pace to score in counter-attacking moments.
He also deploys a creative midfielder, whether Sarpreet Singh at Wellington or Italian Diamanti, to help the team break down opposing sides that sit deep and intend to frustrate.
The reliance on wing-backs has also proved fruitful, as most of Western's goals came via their wide players last season.
Fans always fear that a manager who persists with one system will eventually be found out.
However, Rudan's sides have gradually improved during the season by trusting their tactics.
The ex-Sydney FC defender has received praise for his tactical nous but will want silverware to validate the excellent work further.