Five ways Popovic has transformed Glory

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The former Wanderers coach has worked his magic in Perth this season

This time last year, Perth Glory were knee-deep into their holidays after finishing eighth in the A-League with then-coach Kenny Lowe sacked after another underwhelming season.

Fast forward 12 months and Glory are one game away from the grand final after a stunning first season under Tony Popovic.

After picking up their first Premiers Plate, Perth now have the Championship in their sights and are favourites for the title after Popovic's major overhaul of the club. 

Here are five ways Popovic has transformed the Glory this season...

  1. #1 A dramatically improved defence

    Having been a centre-back himself, it's no surprise that one of Tony Popovic's first tasks when he arrived in Perth was addressing their defence. 

    After conceding 50 goals in Kenny Lowe's final season in charge, Popovic revitalised Glory's backline by signing Socceroos trio Matthew Spiranovic, Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson. 

    Franjic and Davidson have been particularly key as the former Wanderers coach successfully made use of wing-backs to sure up the defence while still giving Perth options in attack.

    Popovic's personnel and tactical changes have worked a treat with Glory conceding a league-low 23 goals this season - 30 fewer than they let in across the 2016/17 campaign. 

  2. #2 Diego Castro

    From nearly retired to resurgent, Popovic is getting every last drop of football out of Diego Castro.

    Close to retirement last season, Castro signed a one-year contract extension with many expecting him to bow out at the end of this campaign. 

    But after scoring seven goals and picking up six assists from 20 appearances under Popovic, the Spaniard has been convinced to sign on for a further two years. 

    He'll be 37 by the start of next season but Popovic has already proven he knows how to get the most out of Castro without putting too much strain on a player that is aging like a fine wine. 

  3. #3 Defiant away form

    The extra distance Perth must cover to play games has always been seen as a factor in their poor away record, but Tony Popovic has refused to use that as a crutch this season.

    The Glory have in fact lost just once on the road this season, a far cry from the nine away defeats they were handed in their previous campaign. 

    But not only have Perth found a way to avoid losing away from home, they've more often than not found ways to wins - picking up eight victories and four draws overall. 

    That transformation on the road has been key to Glory's success this season and will be vital as they turn their attention to the ACL next year. 

  4. #4 Joel Chianese

    He might be 29, but Joel Chianese has found career-best form under Popovic.

    His return of five goals and four assists from 26 games has blown away his previous seasons with the Glory. 

    In 2016/17, Chianese managed just one goal and no assists across 21 appearances for Perth.

    Popovic playing a big part in restoring Chianese's confidence and ensuring he fires in the final third.

    “Popa has put a lot of confidence in me," Chianese told A-League.com.au.

    "He said I don’t believe in myself as much as he believes in me.

    "That’s been a big part of getting my mind right, staying positive and knowing the coaching staff are behind me and the players are behind me."

  5. #5 Fit and firing late in games

    Last season, Glory conceded six goals in the 90th minute or later to throw priceless points away.

    Under Popovic this campaign, they've let in just one during that period, while scoring six of their own to pick up rather than drop points. 

    Popovic's ruthless pre-season regime and attention to his squad's fitness key to that reversal. 

    “It was a lot of double sessions, if not triple. We were basically [at the training ground] most of the day which is a big change to what we were used to at Glory the last few years,” Chianese said.

    “It was a big change. Even when you thought ‘I’m a bit tired and I can’t get through another session’, it was still put on for us and everyone got through it.

    “And once you do get through it you just have that resilience that you’re fit for when the season starts."

    As they prepare for a finals charge, that fitness could prove key, especially if games are forced into extra time.