Can new coach Catherine Cannuli push the Wanderers into finals contention? (Photo: Western Sydney Wanderers)

Will a new coach and young talent in spades see a finals return for the Western Sydney Wanderers, or another year of building cohesion?

The Western Sydney Wanderers were a touch of class below the five sides competing for finals in 2021/22. With a new coach and the addition of more young talent, will it be another year of building or will it be a return to the big stage?

Last season: Sixth (13 points, four wins, one draw, seven losses)

Biggest in:

Making the switch from Canberra United after playing 10 games in her first season at the top level, Bianca Galic will look to come in and make an immediate impression on the Wanderers midfield.

She’s already familiar with the Wanderers system, training with the club in 2019 and forming a strong bond with new coach Catherine Cannuli.

A long time Sydney University player in the NPL, the 22-year-old made herself known in the A-League Women last season.

Though she’s a holding midfielder by trade, it was her attacking play that drew eyes at Canberra.

Her first league goal came from an absolute screamer against the Brisbane Roar, floating the ball over the entire defence and the keeper with ease.

Galic started the season as a substitute who came in to reinvigorate the hard-working midfield, but eventually found herself with a starting central or holding midfield spot.

She demonstrated a versatility to be able to switch between attacking or defensive play to suit her team’s needs. The midfielder can slot into a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1 formation without much fuss.

The Wanderers played both formations last season, as did United. With Cannuli an assistant before making the jump to head coach for the past four years, Galic should find a place in her midfield.

Biggest out:

Courtney Nevin departs the Wanderers now as a capped Matilda, with five appearances for the national team under her belt.

She’s only received limited opportunity so far, playing just 172 minutes, but the teenager did start as a centre-back in the friendly against Ireland in September.

Nevin distributed 35 passes at 85.3 per cent, holding her position along the left wing while also dropping back when needed, notching up a clearance.

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The 19-year-old already has 27 A-League Women’s matches under her belt, starting in all but three of them.

She joins a Melbourne Victory defensive group that is relatively settled. Claudia Bunge, Polly Doran and captain Kayla Morrison played almost every minute of the 2020/21 season.

The addition of Teigen Allen and the re-signings of Danika Matos, Caitlin Cooper and Margaux Chauvet should help to alleviate the loss. Playing just six games of her own in 2020/21, Chauvet in particular will be one that will need to step up in Nevin’s absence.

More A-League Women Season Previews:

2021/22 A-League Women Season Preview: Perth Glory reinforced and ready

2021/22 A-League Women Season Preview: Wellington Phoenix are the new kids in the comp

2021/22 A-League Women Season Preview: Newcastle Jets fueling up for better-placed season

What to expect:

Early doors, expect the Wanderers to work on gelling and settling the best formation under a new coach.

While they made the final four in the 2019/20 season, it was just a year earlier they were bottom of the table. They were once again clearly a level below the top five teams last season.

The additions of Galic and Malia Steinmetz into the midfield as two players with cool heads despite their age should help the line both offensively and defensively.

Looking at how they often shaped up last year, a back four seems most likely. The group may take a few matches to find their swing, but will continue to grow together.

The Wanderers already struggled to find scores last season – putting just 13 balls into the back of the net – and this may prove difficult once again against some of the experienced defensive groups of the league.

Rosie Galea scored four goals last season as the club’s Golden Boot winner, but isn’t a striker by nature. With Leena Khamis unsigned, it leaves the main avenues to goal very young.

Bryleeh Henry is also a Matilda, but is only 18. Similarly Teigan Collister has shown flashes of brilliance, but is just 21-years-old with only 20 top level starts under her belt.

If Erica Halloway can shake her injury issues, she’ll go a long way to adding leadership and guiding the youngsters around the net. The 37-year-old hasn’t scored since the 2018/19 season, but the time she’s spent both in the A-League Women system and with the Wanderers adds a level of seniority on the pitch.

The forward group has got the distributors and playmakers in the midfield to give them opportunities to score, but whether that happens consistently will be crucial to tabling more wins.

Predicted XI:

(Photos: Western Sydney Wanderers, Design: Will Cuckson)

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