The Red-and-Black face another tough test in Asia as doubts grow regarding the depth at Tony Popovic’s disposal
Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic must find a way to refresh his side if they are to avoid another AFC Champions League (ACL) disappointment away to Shanghai SIPG.
The Wanderers travelled straight from Western Australia to China after their 2-0 loss to Perth Glory on Saturday night, with Popovic admitting after that defeat that his side weren’t at their best “physically”.
Western Sydney were on a high just over a week ago when they ended Sydney FC’s unbeaten run in the A-League but were pulled apart by Urawa Red Diamonds in their ACL opener last week four days before the loss to Perth.
While Popovic has rotated his squad – he made seven changes before the Urawa match and eight before Glory – the results have indicated he doesn’t have the depth at his disposal that he would like.
Against SIPG – who have Brazilian trio Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson up front – the Wanderers will need to find something special.
The Chinese Super League (CSL) club started Group F with a 1-0 win at K League champions FC Seoul thanks to Hulk’s thunderous winner soon after the break, with Andre Villas-Boas’ side having to hang on for victory following He Guan’s 59th-minute dismissal.
“He’s [Hulk] a machine,” Wanderers playmaker Nico Martinez told AAP.
“He is very good with his left foot and we have to try to block him and not allow him to shoot at our goalkeeper, because it’s going to be difficult to stop it.
“They have three amazing players in front, but also we have to study the Chinese players, because it’s 11 versus 11, and they have eight other players also.”
SIPG qualified for the group stage with a 3-0 win over Thai League club Sukhothai, with Oscar and Elkeson both scoring in that match.
While many will focus on SIPG’s Brazilian attackers, Villas-Boas has an impressive array of China internationals at his disposal including winger Wu Lei and defensive midfielder Cai Huikang, plus Uzbekistani midfielder Odil Akhmedov.
SIPG’s CSL campaign begins on Saturday against Changchun Yatai.
While the Wanderers sit sixth in the A-League, putting them in the box seat to qualify for the finals, Popovic’s men have won just three of their past 13 matches in all competitions.
“We have to change our situation from the last two games, we have to learn,” Martinez said.
“We lost our first [Group F] game and Shanghai won, so we need a good result.
“We came here to win. We know it’s going to be a difficult 95 minutes against a team like this but we have to have this mentality.
“If we can’t win, at least a point away is a good result.”