The one thing that’s struck me watching the Western Sydney Wanderers this season is just how calm and composed everyone is, and much of the credit for that appears to lie with the three-pronged Spanish anchor on the field and their little compatriot sitting next to Tony Popovic on the bench.
There isn’t much in stature to Andres Carrasco, Popovic’s assistant, but there’s an almost Dalai Lama-esque air of calm about the way he goes about work at both training and match-day.
Armed with a clipboard, walking at a relaxed pace, seemingly never rushed or flustered, Carrasco appears to have brought these qualities into the way the Wanderers work this season.
Mentality is an often undervalued attribute in the success or otherwise of a football team, and the Wanderers appear to have struck gold with the mentality of the four Spaniards brought in in the off-season.
While Carrasco adds the composure and tactical smarts alongside Popovic, one can’t underestimate the influence that Andreu, Alberto and Dimas have on the pitch, each a key character in the implementation of Popovic and Carrasco’s blueprint.
Experienced, tactically mature and also demonstrating a relaxed demeanour, they are the base on which the Wanderers’ greater possession game is built.
Andreu is the fulcrum, the number six that sets the tone of the team from his anchor in midfield, turning one way, jinking the other, utilising tiny pockets of space to prompt the Wanderers attack.
He is equally a defensive ball-winner and a prompter of attack, generally keeping his distribution simple.
Andreu’s work in tandem with Dimas and Alberto is a joy to watch. They are the new control merchants of the A-League, setting the team’s tone around where they win the ball, how high up they press to win it back quick, and how high the defensive line is.
Alberto is all calm at back, with and without the ball. He reminds me of those old fashioned liberos I grew up watching here, the likes of Milan Ivanovic and Ante Juric.
Alberto doesn’t look like he’d get flustered by much, let alone Besart Berisha. Indeed, you’d even back him to tame Diego Costa.
He sets the position of the defence.
Rather than drop-off and defend deep, the Wanderers stay high and win it early. It’s all about controlling the opponent by proactively chasing the ball to win it quick, no doubt a quality Carrasco is familiar with from his almost 15 years at Barcelona’s famed La Masia.
The work-rate is phenomenal and Scott Smith clearly has them fit.
By no means are Andreu and Dimas ball-playing maestros in the mould of a Sergi Busquets or Xavi, but they are clever, comfortable on the ball and keep it moving.
Apart from their mentality, some of their best qualities are also in the feistiness of their defensive work, sussing out the danger and shutting down opponents quickly. Dimas snipes away in midfield.
This is a combative and physical Wanderers side, but one that also features quality and calm on the ball.
It is not the expansive, possession-based control of the Ange Postecoglou Roarcelona, but rather a combative control, featuring physical work to win and keep the ball, and intensity and calm when in possession.
It’s clear the qualities brought by the Spaniards now run through the entire Wanderers squad.
Watching the way Nikolai-Topor Stanley relaxes in possession at the back, looking for a short play-out combination, is the stuff of transformation legend.
To his left, Scott Jamieson, all hustle and bustle, feisty and competitive, presses high to pressure opponents, but then, if nothing is on quickly, stops and puts his foot on the ball, keeping it.
Meanwhile, in front of Andreu and Dimas is the hitherto enigmatic Mitch Nichols, arguably the key influencer in attack this season.
He works brilliantly with the two Spanish midfielders, always moving to find pockets of space, knowing they’ll feed him quick, where he can turn to face forward and influence in attack.
While marquee Federico Piovaccari failed to hit any heights before suffering a strain, there has still been enough quality from Nichols, Romeo Castelen, Dario Vidosic and Mark Bridge up front to convert the game-control into points.
Meanwhile, Jaushua Sotirio, who I wrote about earlier in the season, had continued to get game-time and continued to improve.
Only a third of the way into the season, it’s perhaps a little too early to be talking titles, but the one thing that’s been clear is just how focussed and composed this squad looks on match-day.
And the influence that Carrasco, Alberto, Andreu and Dimas have brought shouldn’t be underestimated.
The original version of this piece mentioned Adam Waterson, who has left the Wanderers. He was replaced with Scott Smith.