Asian Football

The SPL Resumes: The Rest Of The Pack

How can I leave the other teams out? Of course, I wasn’t going to. Also, if you haven’t already, do take a look at the title race preview that I previously wrote.

Balestier Khalsa

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League & Balestier Khalsa

Balestier Khalsa find themselves leading the rest of the pack, and it will be hard for the team to bridge the gap between them and the fourth-placed spot. Currently 12 points adrift from fourth-placed Tampines (who have played an extra fixture than the rest of the pack) with only 10 games left to go, Balestier would probably need to win every single remaining game. It’s either that or they need to pray that the other top 3 local sides fall into a prolonged rut of form.

The Tigers have done well this transfer window – recruiting Ho Wai Look on loan from Lion City Sailors, Iqbal Hussain from Chennai City FC, and Max Goh, who rejoins the club after finishing his full-time National Service.

If Ho Wai Loon regains his match fitness, he would be a true asset for the Balestier team and offers competition to Ahmad Syahir for the left-back spot. Alternatively, head coach Marko Kraljević may want to field Wai Loon further up the left flank. However, with Iqbal Hussain’s acquisition, Marko may want to reserve his wing spots for Hazzuwan Halim on the left and Iqbal Hussain on the right. Having to compete with Ahmad Syahir should bring the best out of Wai Loon, who looks to return to his best.

Speaking of Iqbal, it would seem as if he will be a second-half player for the Tigers. He came off the bench against Tanjong Pagar just before the mid-season break, and while it could be a case of Iqbal needing to regain match fitness, I don’t think he’ll be starting. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Iqbal should be on the bench. He needs to be starting for the Tigers, but given the Under-23 ruling, it’ll be hard to accommodate both Hazzuwan Halim and Iqbal Hussain.

Can Balestier qualify for continental competition? Possibly, but they need everyone primed and ready on all fronts. If Marko can get the best out of Iqbal, Shuhei Hoshino, Kristijan Krajček, Hazzuwan Halim and Šime Žužul, Balestier have a truly terrifying offense. However, the problem would like with fitting under-23 players in their midfield and defence. My head is already hurting, thinking about possible configurations to get the best possible team. I can only imagine what Marko is going through.

Geylang International

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League & Geylang International

The Eagles are in a state of disarray after their poor first half of the season performances. Sitting in 6th with 7 points, the Eagles are a shadow of their former selves. The Eagles largely struggled earlier this season due to the absence of their flying dutchman Barry Maguire, who was ruled out for a lengthy spell on the sidelines after getting injured in their first game of the season. Even when Maguire returned to the fold, other injuries hampered the Eagles and exposed how little depth this Geylang side have, especially in defence.

In fact, Barry Maguire was forced to stand in as centre-back at times just before the mid-season break. While the Dutchman has done a decent job in the heart of defence, he was sorely missed in the middle of the park. This was painfully obvious when Geylang looked a different side when Barry played in the central midfield role after his return.

A silver lining this season has to be Moresche. The 22-year-old has been a reliable source of goals for the Eagles. Besides Moresche’s 8 goals, Amy Recha has also shown his clinical prowess and has notched 4 goals this campaign. These players have stepped up during Sylvano Comvalius’s absence – who was out injured for most of the first half of the season – and need to continue being the main source of goals following the towering forward’s departure from the club.

It seemed painfully obvious that Geylang needed to dip their hands in the mid-season transfer market. Thankfully, they did make moves during the window. Realizing the lack of depth in the defense, Noor Ali acquired Abdil Qaiyyim and Afiq Yunos to bolster his squad. Abdil and Afiq have left Lion City Sailors and Hougang United respectively to gain more first-team minutes. Both players have represented the national team and are vastly experienced.

Strangely, Geylang hasn’t replaced Sylvano. I guess Noor Ali is going to rely more on Fareez Farhan in addition to Moresche and Amy Recha since Zikos Chua has left to serve his national service. Asshukrie Wahid rejoins the side after completing his national service. At the same time, Elijah Lim was slated to enlist at the end of June but will instead serve his NS later this year following an injury he suffered recently.

Tanjong Pagar United

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League & Tanjong Pagar United

Tanjong Pagar United have already recorded more points this season than they did for the entirety of the 2020 campaign, which is a positive for a side that finally secured a win for the first time in 2361 days. Yet, this Tanjong Pagar side has the credentials to be true dark horses for the title on paper. They have significantly better players this season than last year, but somehow, things haven’t really clicked early on this season.

Specifically, there were many dubious tactical decisions taken by the management. For example, playing Blake Ricciuto as a centre-back early on in the season was just one of some questionable decisions taken by the Jagaurs.

Thankfully though, the Jaguars appear to have finally found a steady rhythm of sorts with their team selection and tactics. Securing two 2-2 draws in their last two games before the mid-season break, with one of those draws coming against Tampines Rovers, the Jaguars should build on this momentum when they commence the second half of the season this Saturday when they take on fellow strugglers Young Lions. Taking three points against Young Lions would see the Jags leapfrog Geylang to 6th place and be level with Balestier on nine points. Tanjong Pagar has to demonstrate why they should be taken seriously be for the rest of the pack.

Joining them this Saturday will be relatively new faces goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad and right-back Prakash Raj. Both players joined the club during the mid-season transfer window in May. Interestingly both players also help to plug gaps in the Tanjong Pagar defence.

Zharfan is clearly brought in to replace Joey Sim, who left on a free transfer. However, it appears that the Jaguars coaching staff see Zharfan as the new number one and fielded the custodian instead of Fashah Iskanadar against Balestier Khalsa. Perhaps they will rotate between both keepers? Perhaps they go ahead with the more agile but less experienced Zharfan? Only time with tell. Prakash Raj has yet to make his first-team debut for Tanjong Pagar but has already featured on the bench. Given that Hasrin Jailani prefers to deploy his team with three at the back, Prakash offers a viable under-23 alternative to Naufal Ilham at the right wing-back position.

Young Lions

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League & Young Lions

Has the Young Lions project failed? Well, based on their results on the pitch and their position on the table, you could say so. However, they do have extremely talented players in the squad and, under Philippe Aw, have managed to put in some decent performances. The goal of the Young Lions squad is to prepare the cubs for the upcoming SEA Games and 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualification fixtures. Even if the Young Lions end up as the wooden spoonists of the league, which they might, you could argue that the club should remain if they clinch gold at the SEA Games and perform well in the U-23 Asian Cup qualification.

The cubs will be boosted by the return of the ever-physical Jacob Mahler during the mid-season window.

Outside of the mid-season window, the Young Lions have also signed a hot prospect in the form of Jared Gallagher. I’ve been following Jared’s progress with Edge of the Box and if he’s able to settle in fast, the Young Lions have a real talent on their hands. After training the lad for the past few months, Rory Winters believes he is ready for the SPL after putting in so much work both on and off the pitch.

There are also rumours that as well as the additions of Arshad Shamim and Shah Shahiran. If the rumours are true, then they truly boost the Young Lions chances of finishing higher up the table. These players have been remarkable for their clubs before national service enlistment and if they can recapture their pre-NS form, the Young Lions could potentially cause a few upsets.

And that’s a wrap folks. All eight teams have been covered and now, we just have to wait for the start of the season. And what a wait it has been.

It’s been too long, far too long.

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