Tony Popovic and the reigning A-League premiers will look to their Japanese marquee to lead the way against J-League opposition in Parramatta this weekAfter their historic maiden ACL win over Guizhou last week, Western Sydney return home for a clash which looms as pivotal in their hopes of progressing to the knockout phase. With Ulsan Hyundai looking likely to finish top of the group – and Guizhou struggling – the Wanderers and Frontale will battle it out for second spot, which makes the Wanderers' home fixture with the J-League side an absolute must-win.
Tony Popovic's side head into it with some restored confidence after back-to-back clean sheets despite a hectic schedule. Shinji Ono and Matthew Spiranovic both missed the weekend's 0-0 draw with Adelaide and are expected to come straight back into the starting side, as well as striker Tomi Juric, who looked dangerous in a 20-minute cameo against the Reds.
In contrast Frontale have had a dreadful couple of weeks both domestically and in the ACL. They have yet to register a win in three J-League games this season, while their last ACL game ended in a 2-0 defeat to Ulsan. They will still be wondering how they lost their weekend clash to Omiya Ardija, conceding two goals in stoppage time to go down 4-3. But Yahiro Kazama still possesses a squad chock full of talent with the likes of Japanese internationals Masaki Yamamoto and Kengo Nakamura, and Brazilian pair Paulinho and Renatinho.
While fatigue is an issue for every club in the ACL, it will no doubt hit the Wanderers' hardest due to their inexperience in the competition compared to the J-League giants. Wednesday night's clash will be Western Sydney's fourth outing in 11 days and they are sure to be tired after a gruelling 90 minutes on a heavy surface on the weekend. Popovic will no doubt need to freshen up his squad and make a few changes to ensure they don't get overrun by the visitors late on.
Confidence must be at least a slight issue for the visitors. It might be early days in the J-League but Frontale won't be used to sitting in the bottom three and still searching for their first win. They have made a habit so far this campaign of conceding late goals which can often eat away at the belief amongst the playing group. And they won't get an easy ride against a Wanderers side that will go all-out for 90 minutes to secure a victory.
Shinji Ono is a legend in Japan and is the one player the visitors must stop if they are to have success. The veteran midfielder will be fresh after missing the long trip to China and having a 10-day break since his last match. He will undoubtedly lift coming up against a side from his home nation and his ability to find space and time on the ball in what will be a tense and tight affair will be crucial to the home side's chances.
As we've already touched on, this appears a defining game for the Wanderers if they hope to progress, meaning only a victory will suffice in front of their home fans. It won't be an easy task against a Frontale side who are likely to head to Parramatta content to sit back and hit on the break, using the pace and class of their attacking stars. But the return of the imposing Juric and a fresh Ono is a huge boost for the Wanderers and might just give them the edge to take all three points.