Category Archives: Match Reactions

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #4

Game Week 4 saw Matchdays 5 and 6 unfold, and what a week indeed! It was goals galore in both matchdays with Tampines slotting 7 past Young Lions and Lion City Sailors racking up 8 goals against Geylang International. In this combined team of the week, we have a pretty diverse line-up from a range of teams.

We are including consistent performers in the team of the week but we also have special mentions for stellar performers in either of the Match Days.

As usual, your opinion may differ from ours, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate.

The Defence

Zaiful Nizam – GK

I think Zaiful deserves more praise than he is usually given. Yes, he may not have had kept clean sheets but he was pulling some really fantastic saves this week. His performances against Geylang helped the team to a 2-1 victory while he kept Balestier in the running against Hougang.

Yu Tokiwa

Another week and another fantastic display from the Japanese left-back. His assist against Tampines helped the White Swans even the score, and his defensive displays at the back frustrated the Tampines offense. An overall solid showing.

Shuya Yamashita

The Japanese centre-back scored twice against Lion City Sailors in the mid-week fixture to ensure the White Swans remain the only undefeated side in the SPL after 6 matches. Alongside Tokiwa and co, Yamashita also marhsalled out waves of Tampines attacks over the weekend.

Nur Adam

An Assist midweek and a sharp showing against Geylang side shows how mature he truly is as a footballer despite his tender age. At this current juncture, Nur Adam will probably become Singapore’s next long term left-back, much to the dismay of Harith Kanadi.

The Midfield

Diego Lopes

He came in with a hefty price tag. He’s showing why he’s the 3 million dollar man. It wasn’t just that he scored a hattrick or that he created 2 assists but rather, the Sailors looked a lot more expressive and confident when Diego plays for them.

Ryoya Taniguchi

Taniguchi has remained a dependable figure for Albirex Niigata this Game Week. Engineering attacking moves and notching in a goal in each fixture, Taniguchi has flourished in his new attacking midfield role this season (last season he was more of a centre-midfielder).

Gabriel Quak

Another week, another feature. Gabriel Quak is really cementing his place as the best winger in the SPL. While he was decent midweek, he was simply incredible against Geylang International. 2 goals and 2 assists against Geylang, he’s in the squad this week.

Reo Nisiguchi

The Japanese left winger seems to have finally settled in at Tanjong Pagar and scored brilliant goals in both fixtures. He is gelling well with the attacking half of the Jaguars and other teams need to watch out for him and Junior because they have finally found a steady rhythm together.

The Forward Line

Tomoyuki Doi

The Japanese forward already has 10 goals this season. It’s only been 6 games. Doi’s brace in the mid-week rescued a point for the Cheetahs and his 63rd minute strike against Balestier, secured another win to extend their unbeaten run to 5 games.

Luiz Júnior

I have always have been a fan of Luiz Júnior and it is delightful to see the 2020 Team Of The Year player finally find his scoring boots again. The Brazilian scored in the thrilling 3-3 draw against Hougang. While the Cheetahs may have denied him and Tanjong Pagar their first win in the mid-week, he bagged a brace against Young Lions over the weekend to help the Jaguars secure their first win in six years.

Stipe Plazibat

The Croatian Hit Man scored a brace against the 8-0 thrashing of Geylang International and scored a vital goal in the draw against the White Swans. Stipe may be 3 goals away from Doi, but as I have said time after time, never count him out.

Special Mentions Matchdats 5 and 6

All Photo Credits to Singapore Premier League

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Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #1

My buddy Kim Ng co-wrote this one with me. Cheers Fam! The 2021 edition of the Singapore Premier League has finally kicked off, and what a thrilling first game week we’ve had. We want to start something new here at SoccerKakis, so we’re launching our very own Team Of The Week Series! Of course, your […]

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #2

Game Week 2 saw a ton of drama unfold, with Matchday 2 and Matchday 3 of the Singapore Premier League being played mid-week and over the weekends, respectively. To stress, we are featuring the players that have been consistent over the two matches. In that sense, don’t be that surprised about the sheer number of […]

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #3

We heaved a huge sigh of relief at end of the International break because we knew that the Singapore Premier League would finally resume again. And boy, it did not disappoint. This week, we have a more diverse team than the previous edition. While Hougang United have continued their incredible run, other players in other […]

UEFA’s Faustian Bargain

UEFA’s impending Champions League reforms are nothing more than a desperate money grab from teams ready to break away A story that has lingered under the surface during this season is now coming into prominence, as the UEFA Executive Committee is holding a meeting next week to vote on, and likely pass, a very serious […]

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #3

We heaved a huge sigh of relief at end of the International break because we knew that the Singapore Premier League would finally resume again. And boy, it did not disappoint. This week, we have a more diverse team than the previous edition. While Hougang United have continued their incredible run, other players in other teams have also shone this week.

As usual, your opinion may differ from ours, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate.

The Defence

Mukundan Maran – GK

Mukundan pulled some important saves against Tampines and helped his team retain their resounding lead. If he keeps this up, a national team call-up could be in the works soon.

Maksat Dzhakybaliev

The Kyrgyzstani defender put in another solid display at the back and his 67th-minute header was truly the icing on the cake. Maksat has truly established himself alongside Lionel Tan as Hougang’s primary central defensive pairing and his performances against the Stag demonstrate why.

Jorge Fellipe

In an impressive debut, Jorge proved to be a solid rock in the Sailors defense, making multiple crucial clearances and generally stifling the Young Lions’ offense. What’s more, the game provided a sneak peek into his aerial prowess, almost scoring on 3 separate occasions with thundering headers. Was unlucky not to net one, but one would think that his time will soon come.

Yu Tokiwa

The Albirex left-back put in a fine performance against Geylang United over the weekend. Making 73 passes with a 88% passing completion rate is certainly impressive and his contributions both in defence and attack helped Albirex to win.

The Midfield

Harhys Stewart

In a game where the Young Lions seemed to have the Sailors’ number (for the first 20 minutes), Harhys was a constant driving force in all 90 minutes of the game, and seemed to be ever-present in both halves of the field. Provided crucial challenges and solid link-up plays, and should have gotten at least one assist should his forwards been more clinical. 

Kaishu Yamazaki

The “engine room” of the Hougang midfield once again was a constant presence against the Stags. The box to box midfielder became a central figure in the attacking moves by the Cheetahs. The Kaishu-Fabian partnership seems to have clicked really well. Other clubs beware.

Gabriel Quak

If there was anyone who doubted Gabriel Quak’s form, the reigning Player Of The Year definitely showed that he was to be a Sailors mainstay with a powerful display last Saturday, as he was a key piece in the LCS’ offensive moves. Beaten to the chase for the year’s first hat-trick, but was very close on numerous occasions, and had to settle for a brace.

Shafiq Ghani

Shafiq Ghani was Hougang’s lightning to Doi’s thunder. Would have been a crime if he had not scored in the game, as he well deserved a goal, but was redeemed with a lovely curling free-kick effort to put the cherry on the cake for a strong Hougang showing.

Kristijan Krajček

Against a poor Tanjong Pagar, the Tigers were constantly on the attack and that was largely thanks to Krajček. The Croatian orchestrated most of the moves, and scored 2 goals. If his form continues, the Tigers could realistically claim an AFC spot this campaign.

The Forward Line

Tomoyuki Doi

Doi once again demonstrated why he is arguably the best striker in the league right now. Notching the first hattrick of the season, Hougang have certainly filled the void left by Stipe’s departure last season. Doi already has 7 in 4 games and he is surely going to add more.

Stipe Plazibat

1 goal and 1 assists this week, Statement Signing Stipe put in a decent showing this week to feature in our Team of the Week. Plazibat notched in his 4th goal of the season and I still believe the Golden Boot award is up for grabs despite Doi’s form. Never count Stipe out.

Photo Credits: Hougang United, Lion City Sailors, Singapore Premier League

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Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #1

My buddy Kim Ng co-wrote this one with me. Cheers Fam! The 2021 edition of the Singapore Premier League has finally kicked off, and what a thrilling first game week we’ve had. We want to start something new here at SoccerKakis, so we’re launching our very own Team Of The Week Series! Of course, your […]

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #2

Game Week 2 saw a ton of drama unfold, with Matchday 2 and Matchday 3 of the Singapore Premier League being played mid-week and over the weekends, respectively. To stress, we are featuring the players that have been consistent over the two matches. In that sense, don’t be that surprised about the sheer number of […]

Fergie’s Greatest Average Manchester United Teams

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Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #2

Game Week 2 saw a ton of drama unfold, with Matchday 2 and Matchday 3 of the Singapore Premier League being played mid-week and over the weekends, respectively. To stress, we are featuring the players that have been consistent over the two matches. In that sense, don’t be that surprised about the sheer number of Hougang United players that feature in the squad. Let’s be honest. The Cheetahs were simply unstoppable this week.

Last week we had fans forum contributor, Kim Ng. This week we have Lions Of Asia creator, Sakda Chan. Follow Lions of Asia on Facebook and Instagram!

As usual, your opinion may differ from ours, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate.

The Defence

Mukundan Maran – GK

Even though Mukundan made two howlers (one in each game), the custodian really redeemed himself in both fixtures with some fine saves. He makes the cut this week because of his undeterred resilience to carry on.

Lionel Tan

Known for having the shortest shorts on the block, Lionel was stellar this week in both fixtures. Scoring a goal against the Sailors certainly was the icing on the cake for the centre-back.

Irfan Najeeb

Irfan has really done well since returning to the Stags and he has been pretty stellar at right-back. Turning only 22 this year, the future looks bright for young Irfan, and it will be exciting to see how this season pans out for him.

Baihaiki Khaizan

As usual, the Singapore icon was consistent this week and came close to scoring as well, with his header bouncing off the framework in one of the fixtures. Ever-reliable, it is bewildering to think that Bai is 37 years old.

The Midfield

Fabian Kwok

The man known as “The Truck” in the Hougang camp was superb in both fixtures this week, and his presence in the middle of the park certainly aided the Cheetahs in their resounding victories over Sailors and Geylang.

Kaishu Yamazaki

The “engine room” of the Hougang midfield, Kaishu, who usually featured as a central defender alongside Tajeli Salamat at Lion City Sailors last season, was a real constant presence throughout the Cheetahs’ midfield in both fixtures this week.

Idraki Adnan

In his first season with Hougang, the former Young Lions player has certainly impressed. An exciting player down the right flank, Idraki really contributes with his off the ball play, and his link up play with the Cheetahs’ attack this week was stunning to see.

Farhan Zulkifli

Like his fellow winger Idraki, Farhan put in another outstanding performance over the course of the week. Still only 17, it’ll be interesting to see how he grows this season. With 2 assists in 3 games, Farhan will surely add to this tally and notch a few goals this season. It’s only a matter of time.

The Forward Line

Tomoyuki Doi

What a talent. What an absolute joy to watch. Doi was in red hot form this week as he notched 4 goals and 2 assists over the two fixtures. It may be early days, but my money is on Doi clinching the Golden Boot at the end of the season.

Boris Kopitovic

1 goal and 2 assists this week, Big Bad Boris put in a decent showing in both fixtures to make it into our Team of the Week. Kopitovic should be scoring more, but it’s only a matter of time until the Montenegrin begins to be racking up the goals.

Gilberto Fortunato

The Brazilian may not have scored many goals, but his hold up play has been instrumental for Hougang’s attack. The Doi-Fortunato partnership has immediately set off, and the rest of the league need to be cautious of this seemingly lethal partnership. Hopefully the duo keep it up.

Special Mentions MD2 & MD3

Here are some honorable mentions – standout performers in each day but could not crack into our combined team because of the consistency of the 11 players we selected.

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League, Tampines Rovers,
Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League, Tampines Rovers

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Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #1

My buddy Kim Ng co-wrote this one with me. Cheers Fam! The 2021 edition of the Singapore Premier League has finally kicked off, and what a thrilling first game week we’ve had. We want to start something new here at SoccerKakis, so we’re launching our very own Team Of The Week Series! Of course, your […]

The Juventus-Ronaldo Project Has Failed

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Everyone Calm Down, Barcelona Is Fine…Probably…

I think…maybe…let us talk about it… So, is Barcelona in crisis? Sort of. I previously wrote a few articles about the developing issues at Barcelona. Their collapse in the Champions League against Bayern Munich last season spelled the end of the disastrous presidency of Josep Maria Bartomeu and really shone a light on just how […]

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #1

My buddy Kim Ng co-wrote this one with me. Cheers Fam!

The 2021 edition of the Singapore Premier League has finally kicked off, and what a thrilling first game week we’ve had. We want to start something new here at SoccerKakis, so we’re launching our very own Team Of The Week Series!

Of course, your opinion may differ from us, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate. 

The Defence

A total of 19 goals was conceded in the four games that transpired over the weekend, and with no team mustering a clean sheet, every coach would surely be concentrating on their defensive organization for the upcoming fixtures. As such, we have gone with a three-man defence, and the 3 players that have stood out for us are:

Takahiro Koga

This was a tough one because almost all of the keepers did not really have the best of days in their opening fixtures. Takahiro Koga and Zainol Gulam were exceptions, but Koga gets the nod from us after his heroic displays against the Cheetahs.

Darren Teh

The ever-reliable Darren Teh shut down many of the Jaguars attacks and remained a pesky offensive outlet on the right flank. His presence stretched out the Tanjong Pagar side and allowed for the advancement of his side into the final third.

Tajeli Salamat

The defensive dynamo played a big part in the Sailors’ opening goals and, while the Sailors’ defensive organization was questionable, Tajeli put in a fantastic individual display, notching an assist with a timely interception and sprint.

Madhu Mohana

Tampines were faltering behind and needed someone to ignite their comeback – that man had to be Madhu. Besides scoring the first goal in what was to be a 3-3 comeback, Madhu also was decent at the back.

The Midfield

We really wanted to maximize the midfield because there were so many spectacular performances by players in the attacking half. Hence, we went with a five-man midfield. Song Ui-Yong is our honourable mention here for scoring 2021’s first SPL goal amidst a dynamic display, but his early substitution and missed chances means he just misses the cut in our star-studded midfield.

Joel Chew

The former Tampines man may have not played the entire match, but he certainly impressed during his time on the pitch. Big things seemingly await Joel, and it’s a treat to witness his progress with the Young Lions this season.

Chiku Kosuke

The Japanese midfielder notched an assist and demonstrated his creative prowess from corner kicks. It’ll be interesting to see how the Albirex number eight progresses through the course of the season. If his performance against Hougang is anything to go by, he poses a real threat from the middle of the park.

Yasir Hanapi

Okay, we know that Yasir Hanapi played as a forward against the Sailors, but cut us some slack. We had to fit the Tampines skipper in somehow, and so we slotted him in an unconventional left wing spot. Madhu may have ignited the comeback, but Yasir sealed the deal. 

Gabriel Quak

The SPL 2020 Player of the Year demonstrated why, once again, he is arguably the best player to be playing in Singapore right now. 2 goals against the Stags is by no means an easy feat, and Gabriel was a constant presence on the pitch. His only mistake – not scoring more when he could have easily done so.

Šime Žužul

The unselfish Balestier target man channelled his inner Harry Kane as he set up Shuhei Hoshino on two instances, with one being the wonder strike. Some have said that Hoshino and Žužul cannot play together, but their outing against Young Lions really proved otherwise. Other teams beware.

The Forward Line

Ah, we really had our pick for this one – we couldn’t include Stipe, Moreseche and Ilhan Fandi. But we went for a dual samurai combination up top. Jumbo and Tsuboi definitely looked menacing upfront. It will be interesting to see how they fare for the rest of the season after truly making a statement on the opening day of the campaign.

Shuhei Hoshino

‘Jumbo’ was definitely on form this Gameweek, with an absolute peach of a volley to score Balestier’s third in what was arguably the Goal of the Gameweek. His first goal was also a lovely outside-of-the-box curling effort that gave the keeper no chance.

Kiyoshiro Tsuboi

It seems that Albirex manages to unearth a new offensive gem every year, and this year’s marquee Japanese forward proved no exception. His brace consisted of a powerful strike (which, to be fair, should have been handled by veteran Ridhuan Barudin), and an acrobatic diving header that thumped into the back of the net.

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League, Tampines Rovers, Albirex Niigata, Young Lions

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The Luke Shaw That Was Promised

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Re-evaluating the Under-23 Rule of the Singapore Premier League

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Statement Signing Stipe Plazibat Shines as Sailors overcome ten-man Eagles

Lion City Sailors have been making waves in the local footballing scene since tech firm Sea’s takeover of Home United. Besides becoming a fully privatized club, the Sailors have recently launched their football academy, and they made the news recently by becoming the first academy in Singapore to receive AFC’s one-star rating. Geylang International were looking to resume where they last left off in the campaign. The Eagles lost their opening tie to Albirex but subsequently scored impressive victories against Young Lions and Hougang United. 

The Sailors started brightly against the Eagles, with Stipe Plazibat opening the floodgates with a debut goal in the 8th minute. The assist came from none other than Tajeli Salamat, a player I interviewed a few months ago. Shadan Sulaiman’s corner kick was met by Tajeli, whose drooping header found Stipe in the 6-yard box, whose strike easily found the back of the net. 

In the 17th minute, an unmarked Nur Luqman wasted a golden opportunity to equalize when his lobbed effort beat Sailors keeper Hassan Sunny also beat the post. Minutes later, Stipe came close to adding to his tally, but Zainol Gulam pulled a magnificent save. Similarly, Tajeli once again made his presence known in the match by keeping the visitors out with a goal-line clearance in the 35th minute after a spectacular move by the Eagles.

Drama unfolded just before the break, as Geylang goalkeeper Zainol Gulam committed a nasty challenge on Arshad Shamim in the penalty box, which resulted in a red card for the custodian. Substitute keeper Hairul Syirhan went the right way and almost kept out Song Ui-yong’s penalty, but the South Korean’s strike was too much for Syirhan to handle. Stipe made it three in the 84th minute with another simple tap in from Gabriel Quak’s low-driven pass. 4 minutes later, Singapore icon Sharil Ishak made it 4-0. 

Sensational Stipe: The missing piece for the Sailors?

All eyes would have indeed been on Stipe Plazibat for this fixture. The Croatian transferred from Hougang United to the Sailors during the league’s suspension. He was brought in to replace Australian forward Andy Pengelly, who returned home to Australia following the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Pengelly came in with a lot of promise. He scored an impressive 52 goals in 34 games for the semi-professional outfit, Brisbane Queensland National Premier League (NPL). While it would have been interesting to see how Pengelly would have fared in Singapore, I don’t know if he was what the Sailors needed. He could have been a “Hidden Gem” that potentially set the league on fire. I mean, he did score in his first game for the Sailors. However, he could have struggled later on as well. We would never know. 

Stipe, on the other hand, is a proven striker in Singapore. Scratch that, he is arguably the best foreign player in our shores right now. With him leading their frontline, the Sailors have that statement signing that seemingly eluded them at the start of the season. His double against the Eagles brings his tally to 11 goals in 7 appearances for this season. The forward scored 9 in 6 for Hougang before the league’s suspension. 

At the start of the season, the Sailors looked like a disjointed team that had no bite. Pengelly scored the first goal against Tanjong Pagar, but the subsequent 4-0 thrashing by Tampines showed that the Sailors had a long way to go. The long break of 211 days certainly helped to promote team cohesion, and that probably helped build chemistry. That being said, I Stipe Plazibat’s acquisition helps to lessen the load on Song Ui-Yong and Sharil Ishak, the two primary sources for goals for Home United for the past couple of years. 

This is the Sailors’ first win of the season, and it sees them move up to 6th place. However, with two games in hand, they could see themselves top of the table if they win both fixtures. The Sailors play against Albirex Niigata next, and a win against the three-time league champions would really emphasize their calibre. It would be a real test against the White Swans though, who cruised past Young Lions in a 4-0 win this past weekend. Geylang, on the other hand, are now in 5th place after the loss and host Balestier Khalsa this Saturday. Based on Balestier’s match against Tanjong Pagar, Geylang have an excellent chance to come away with a victory.

Featured Image: Singapore Premier League

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English Football’s Hostage Crisis

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The Singapore Premier League is Back: Hougang Stun Tampines and Tanjong Pagar Made to Rue Missed Chances

After 211 days of local professional football being absent from our TV screens, the Singapore Premier League has finally resumed. However, there were certain changes made by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). Instead of a three-round league, only 2 rounds would be played, with cup competitions cancelled. Moreover, just like many of the European leagues, 5 substitutions are allowed as opposed to 3. More importantly, there is a lot at stake for clubs this season, given how the top 3 teams will be eligible for continental competition next season onwards. The revisions to the AFC Champions League means that the top-placed Singaporean club would have an automatic berth in the group stages, and for the first time in a decade, we will definitely have a Singaporean representative in Asia’s premier continental competition. The second and third placed Singaporean sides would have an automatic place in the AFC Cup group stages.

Kicking the restart of the league off were Tanjong Pagar United, who played against Balestier Khalsa, and Tampines Rovers, who were up against Hougang United. I really wanted to catch both games of the day, even though they occurred simultaneously at 5:30pm. I circumvented this issue by streaming the Tanjong Pagar United vs Balestier game on my phone while I caught the Tampines vs Hougang tie on my computer.

It was intriguing to see a number of players I interviewed the past few months return to action. Syazwan Buhari, Anders Aplin, and Ignatius Ang featured for Tampines Rovers, Hougang United, and Tanjong Pagar United, respectively. It was also good to see Gavin Lee. Delwinder Singh unfortunately was serving a two-game suspension after getting sent off against Albirex Nigata in the Jaguar’s last match before the suspension of the league.

The Tampines and Hougang fixture was an interesting one because both clubs were playing in the AFC Cup prior to the suspension of the competition. The AFC Cup was slated to resume in October, but the competition unfortunately got cancelled, and we would have to wait till next year’s edition. Meanwhile, I was curious to see how Tanjong Pagar would fare. The club rejoined the 2020 edition of the SPL after sitting out of the league for the past 5 years. Many have written them off as whipping boys, but in their first two matches they showed real gusto in their performances. I wanted to see their development as a team.

Tampines Rovers vs Hougang United

Ready with my streaming “set up”, I waited patiently once both matches kicked off for the first goal of the evening. Unfortunately for Tampines, it was Sahil Suhaimi who clinched the first goal in the SPL after 211 days. The former Warriors right winger executed a thunderbolt of a free kick from a really tight angle. 3 minutes later, rising star Farhan Zulkifli tapped in a goal as the Hougang frontline managed to capitalize on the leaky Tampines defence. The Stags were definitely riled up after going down 2-0. Emotions ran high after a scrappy tussle between M Anumanthan and Daniel Bennett, with players from both sides exchanging harsh words with each other. That set the tone of the fixture, and the match was riddled with heavy challenges from both sides after that.

Tampines began the second half much better, and Gavin appeared to calm the players down during his half-time team talk. Both teams made changes for the second half with the Stags bringing in Taufiq Suparno. Taufiq made an immediate impact after the break and the Tampines attack looked menacing, winning a free kick in the 47th minute of the match.

Farhan Zulkifli had the opportunity to finish off Tampines, but he squandered his shot before colliding with Syazwan Buhari. He would rue that chance, because a minute later Nakamura lobbed the ball into the Hougang penalty box and Irwan Shah managed to convert his header. The comeback was on. Tampines played with renewed confidence and continued to try their long ball approach to find an opening. Once again, Nakamura supplied another lobbed pass to the box, with Madhu Mohana the inteded recepient this time round. The Tampines left back managed to recover the ball after an awful first touch and crossed it over to Irwan Shah, who converted the chance, only for it to be ruled offside. Unfortunately, the SPL does not have VAR like the European leagues and thus, the goal could not be reviewed. It was interesting how in that moment, I was reminded of a time when matches were played without VAR. Hougang similarly had a goal ruled offside in the 86th minute of the match. Nakamura’s long range effort came off the post, but Suparno who had a clear view on goal stood rooted to the spot, unable to convert the rebound properly. Taufiq probably thought he was offside, but the flag stayed down.

Tanjong Pagar United vs Balestier Khalsa

In the other match, play was more scrappy. The Jaguars dominated possession and looked more threatening than Balestier but nether team could break the deadlock in the first 45 minutes. Shuhei “Jumbo” Hoshino came close to scoring for the Tigers just before the break, with his shot inches away from the frame of the post just before the end of the half. Ignatius Ang was brilliant for the Jaguars in the first half, frustrating the Balestier backline, and his runs forced the Tigers to concede multiple free kicks at the edge of the penalty box. Yann Motta however, was unable to make the best of the free kicks.

Poor defending from Tanjong Pagar allowed Ensar “Bruno” Brunčević to head in a simple goal from a Balestier corner and giving the Tigers a lead in the process. The massive Serbian was left unchecked and headed in with ease. After the goal, Tanjong Pagar sprang back to life. Ignatius Ang came close to equalizing in the 56th minute, but headed wide from a delicious cross by Takahiro Tanaka. Only registering a single shot on target in the first half, they tested Zaiful Nizam a number of times, but the Balestier custodian managed to keep the Jaguars out with a series of spectacular saves. Balestier came close to doubling their lead but Takahiro Tanaka managed to cut off Haswan Halim’s cross in the 71th minute. The Tanjong Pagar onslaught continued but nothing materialized. Ignatius Ang’s free kick in the 80th minute reached Suria Prakash, who was unmarked in the 6 yard box. However, Yan Motta was similarly unmarked during a corner but his header was off target. Balestier were vulnerable in the back and were hanging onto a thread. They were desperate for to cling onto their meagre 1-0 win and tried everything in their means to keep things that way. Zaiful Nizam was booked for time wasting as he delayed his goal kick.

Tanjong Pagar coach Hasrin Jailani was hilarious when he was unhappy with Faritz Hameed being shown a yellow card. He was speaking with the 4th official and questioned the validity of the booking, arguing that since advantage was given, the yellow should not stand. I chuckled when the cameras managed to capture his response when he regrettably conceded defeat to the 4th official and exclaimed “I’m a PSLE student.”

So what did I learn? Well, a ton.

Learning Points

Match sharpness will be an issue for the first few fixtures. After such a lengthy lay off from competitive professional football, players were naturally rusty. We saw this happen after other leagues restarted during the summer and it will be a while before players get used to the intensity they were used to prior to the suspension of the league.

The match also marked the return of Baihakki Khaizan to Singapore Football, who was substituted in the second half. The veteran defender had spent the last 2 and a half years in Thailand. Bai played a decent game and I think the league seriously needs to rethink the cap it has set for over-aged players. Currently, there is a restriction imposed on each club where only 6 players over the age of 30 can be registered. Granted, I know the move was put in place to increase playing time for younger footballers, I think the rule needs to be evaluated again.

It was good to see the return of Luiz Júnior as well. The Brazilian forward, who featured in same Brazil U-17 team alongside the likes of Oscar in 2007, was injured earlier in the season, and he is one of the few players who was happy with the lengthy suspension of the league as it allowed him to recuperate without additional pressure. While he did not score in this fixture, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see him banging in the goals.

I was also impressed with how effective the Hougang defensive partnership was. Anders Aplin and Zac Anderson played well alongside each other and were effective in silencing Tampines forward Boris Kopitović.

The Jaguars could have easily won the game but their players squandered golden opportunities handed to them. Suria Prakash repeatedly missed chances and an unmarked Faritz Hameed squandered a final effort as well. Also, it was rather weird that the referee ended the Tanjong Pagar game 20 seconds earlier than expected. 15 to 20 seconds could have made a difference, so I’m kind of bewildered by that decision. That being said, Tanjong Pagar need to learn from this game and really take their chances when given to them.

Balestier now find themselves in 2nd place after the win against Tanjong Pagar, who now sit in 7th. Tampines are still at the top of the table with 9 points despite the loss, but Hougang have a game in hand at 3rd place with 7 points. It will be interesting to see tomorrow’s matches as well: Lion City Sailors take on Geylang International while Young Lions face Albirex Nigata. You can be sure that I will once again catch both matches simultaneously.

I’m just really excited for local football to be back.

Featured Image: Singapore Premier League

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Heroes and Villains of the EPL

The Premier League is back, and it has not disappointed at all. Drama from VAR, referees and players have dominated headlines. There have been some surprising results but the resumption of the Premier League have seen some teams make sluggish starts which could be due to the long break. However, once the nerves had settled, it was business as usual. Here are some of the best and worst performers over the weekend.

Heroes over the Weekend

Bruno Fernandes

Fernandes continues his fiery form since his transfer and has been at the heart of United’s best attacking displays. Fernandes was a joy to watch and it seems he is able to visualize the game slightly faster than his teammates. It is also no coincidence that Manchester United has remained undefeated in all of the games Fernandes has started. The Portuguese midfielder is proving to be a talismanic player that United have been lacking. His clever passes, ability to drop his shoulder and change direction allowed him to stay ahead of his marker and get out of tight spaces. Fernandes’ game would only improve with more quality players around him and the Pogba-Fernandes partnership has got off to a great start.

Christian Pulisic

The American star scored after coming on for five minutes in the Chelsea’s game against Villa. With more performances like this, Pulisic could become a more influential player in Lampard’s team. His goal meant that Chelsea have some cushion going into their next fixtures as the Blues still have to face Manchester City, Leicester City and champions-elect, Liverpool. After coming off the bench, Pulisic should have a better shout at starting Chelsea’s next game. It remains to be seen if this is a one-off performance for Pulisic but the American does have the talent to become a regular in Chelsea’s starting lineup.

Phil Foden

The talented English midfielder was one of the top performers over the weekend with goals against Arsenal and Burnley. A tactically astute midfielder, Foden has the ability to pop up in the right places to pounce on opportunities leading to goals. Foden’s left-footed finish from the edge of the box should earn himself a starting place in City’s next game. His talents are wasted warming City’s bench. He should establish himself as a starter at City soon or should seek first team football elsewhere over the summer.

Neal Maupay

A villain in the eyes of Arsenal fans, Maupay had collided with Leno and had caused the latter to land awkwardly. Leno’s knee had bent backwards from the landing and it seems to have damaged his cruciate ligament. However, Maupay’s 94th minute goal against Arsenal could be the one that saves Brighton from relegation this season. The crucial goal meant that Brighton established five points away from relegation. The Seagulls now have a fighting chance of staying in the Premier League and Maupay’s could be the one that saves them.

Villains over the Weekend

David De Gea

Another game, another mistake. Full credit goes to Bergwijn for his determination to drive forward with the ball. A mistake as well from Maguire, who did not have the pace to match Bergwijn. However, Bergwijn’s shot should at least have been parried away by the Spaniard. A keeper of De Gea’s calibre should have dealt with the shot better. The goal was a sucker punch for United as Spurs did not offer as much as they could going forward and allowed United to have the ball. De Gea’s mistake was costly to United’s top four ambitions and would only increase the talk of Dean Henderson taking over the no. 1 spot at Old Trafford.

Jonathan Moss

“Jon, you’re taking the p*ss”, McTominay clearly summarized the performance of Jon Moss after the referee booked James for a foul. Moss had been lenient throughout the Spurs vs Man United match as he did not pull out his cards for earlier fouls. Even if Moss had wanted to limit himself from showing cards after the resumption of the season, he was clearly out of his depth with the second penalty awarded to Manchester United. Fortunately, the intervention of VAR had corrected the wrong decision. It seems like a mistake would eventually be made by Moss whenever he referees a match.

David Luiz

The ultimate disaster-class. Subbed in for Mari in the 24th minute, “assisted” Raheem Sterling for City’s first goal and then brought down Mahrez in the penalty box to give away a penalty that was converted by De Bruyne. Luiz had singlehandedly undo Arteta’s organizational work on Arsenal’s defence as the Gunners were playing well before Mari’s injury. Luiz failed to clear De Bruyne’s whipped cross and the ball had kindly bounced in front of Sterling who finished the goal well. Luiz had also failed to read Mahrez’s movement and the attempt to tackle Mahrez had brought the winger down instead. Luiz’s failure to read the game and clumsy tackling would surely see him transferred out of Arsenal. He is simply no longer the defender he used to be.

Supporting Bayer: Reflecting on my 1st match [Werder 1- 4 Bayer]

The weekend prepared me for this fixture. The Leipzig-Freiburg, Dortmund-Schalke, and Union-Bayern matches hyped me up for the last tie for the match week. I had already decided that I would be rooting for Bayer before the Bundesliga resumed and now it was finally time for me to support the club I had chosen. The match kicked off at 2:30AM on a Tuesday (Singapore Time), and I feared that I would doze off half-way during the game. Thankfully, Bayer truly know how to entertain. Their encounter with Werder Bremen demonstrated how they are an energetic attacking team that look menacing upfront.

In the first-ever match held behind closed doors at the Weser-Stadion, Bayer attacked from the get-go. Bremen’s defence couldn’t handle the fast-paced counter-attacking football that Bayer produced. In many ways, their displays reminded me a bit of how Premier League teams play. Leverkusen were in fine form before the suspension of the league and had amassed a commendable 19 points from 8 games after Christmas. This match highlighted how they were determined to sustain their exceptional run.

The hype is real with Kai Havertz

Operating as a centre forward in this fixture, Havertz posed a constant threat throughout the game. Whether it was dribbling past defenders or dropping back to feed the ball to his teammates, he demonstrated why he was highly sought after.

Havertz always looked like scoring, and he did so in the 28th minute when he opened the floodgates with a looping header that was difficult for the Bremen goalkeeper, Jiří Pavlenka, to keep out. Havertz suffered an impact injury while heading in the goal, and that just demonstrated how much the promising German youngster wants to win for his team. He had scored his 7th goal of the season and his team’s 1000th away league goal.

However, in the span of a minute, Werder Bremen somehow equalized after the restart. After gaining a corner kick, Gebre Selassie flicked in the goal from Bittencourt’s cross in the 30th minute. Prior to this fixture, Bayer had only ever conceded twice from corners during this campaign. A lack of match sharpness could perhaps explain the questionable defending that led to Selassie finding space to convert his chance.

The quickfire response by Bremen could have put a massive dent on Bayer’s resolve, but it did quite the opposite, Bayer kicked off with every intention of restoring their lead and did so in the 33rd minute. In those 5 minutes, 3 goals had been scored in this fixture, and I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed the first half-hour of this match. Once again, it was captain Kai Havertz who headed in a cross from a Kerem Demirbay free-kick.

Bayer are good, really good

It wasn’t just Havert’s brilliance that shone through that match. Other Bayer players put in fine performances as well. Moussa Diaby was one stand out player for me, the pacey french winger showed a lot of grit and determination and created space to provide two assists.

While Diaby occupied the left wing, it was a real spectacle to behold Florian Wirtz play in the right wing. Making his debut for the club, he surpasses Harvertz and now holds the record for being the youngest ever player to feature for Leverkusen in the Bundesliga at 17 years and 15 days. Incidentally, Havertz made his debut 4 years ago against Bremen as well. It was a real treat to see him play and if his performances this fixture are anything to go by, Wirtz is one to watch for the future.

Kerem Demirbay also produced a quality performance that night. Besides assisting Havertz in the first half, he also scored his first-ever goal for the club since joining from Hoffenheim in 2019. The no. 10 gracefully chipped the keeper to round up the 4-1 thrashing of Bremen, who find themselves stuck in the relegation zone.

In all honesty, though, Bayer’s fine performances were also because Werder Bremen were absolutely awful that match. The Bremen defending was virtually non-existent, and this was especially evident with Demirbay’s goal where the Bremen players seemed to have lost the will to play. Bayer ensured they killed off the game and despite letting in Selassie’s goal, their defence effectively dealt with Bremen’s offence for the rest of the game.

Onto the next game

Supporting Bayer was indeed a unique experience, and the team has grown on me. Their thrashing of Werder Bremen demonstrated their prowess, but in all honesty, Supporting Bayer was indeed a unique experience, and the team has grown on me. Their thrashing of Werder Bremen demonstrated their prowess, but in all honesty, there was a serious gulf in quality between the clubs and Werder paled in comparison. Leverkusen’s next game against Borussia Mönchengladbach would be a better test to show their quality. Gladbach find themselves third in the table after winning their first match against Eintracht Frankfurt in a comfortable fashion. Knowing the quality of players that both clubs possess, it is a tantalizing contest that I’m looking forward to this weekend.

My first Bundesliga Experience: RB Leipzig vs SC Freiburg [1-1]

For the first time, I plotted myself on the sofa and watched an entire Bundesliga match from start to finish. I have to say it wasn’t a bad experience at all. Sure, it wasn’t as fast-paced and physical as the English Premier League, but I don’t think that was a bad thing. Instead, it showed a different style of football that I was less accustomed to. The Leipzig-Freiburg encounter emphasized how technical ability was the primary focus in the German topflight. While I often had to rely on google to find out who the commentators were talking about, seeing familiar names like Timo Werner and Ademola Lookman did help me ease into the game.

Besides the final scoreline, I daresay that Jack’s prediction on how this match would turn out was fairly spot-on. Julian Nagelsmann’s didn’t enact the team’s high-pressing approach to full effect. The Leipzig manager probably toned down their usual playing style due to the squad’s lack of match fitness. Yet, even if Nagelsmann wanted to, Leipzig would have struggled to successfully utilize their high-intensity pressing because of how the Freiburg team were effective in closing down Leipzig players and snuffing out passes in midfield. 

Initially, Leipzig started brilliantly against Freiburg and dominated the initial minutes. I thought that Christopher Nkunku’s thunderbolt of a strike, which forced an incredible save from Alexander Schwolow, was supposed to set the tone for the rest of the fixture – or so I thought. Instead, after the first 10 minutes, the rest of the half was truly a sluggish affair between both sides with Leipzig coming close on a few instances only to be denied by Freiburg’s outstanding shot-stopper. The only player that looked dangerous during the first half for Leipzig was Nkunku. Unlike the former-PSG Frenchman, other players like Timo Werner, Yussuf Poulsen, and Angeliño were mediocre at best in the first 45 minutes.

Image by jorono from Pixabay

The match seemed like a drab affair when out of nowhere, Freiburg took the lead through Manuel Gulde. The goal itself was bewildering because of the nature in which it was scored. With zero shots registered at that point in the game, Freiburg suddenly won a corner after making a rare attack. Vicenzo Grifo took the corner, and the football appeared to find its way into the goal without coming off any player in the penalty box. However, upon replay, Grifo’s cross subtly flicked off Manuel Gulde’s heel, and the ball was sent to the back of the net, as everyone watched on. Christian Günter came close to doubling Freiburg’s lead before the break, but alas that was not to be.

However, it was within their own half where Freiburg saw most of the action. Leipzig peppered the Freiburg goal with 17 shots. Out of these shots, 7 were on target, but the Freiburg custodian managed to deal with most of these attempts effectively. Schwolow’s performances have thoroughly impressed me, and he played a critical role in ensuring that Freiburg didn’t concede as many goals as they did. The highlight was when he saved Timo Werner’s effort in the second half. After finding himself ample space, Timo Werner drilled a low-driven shot which was a sure goal. Somehow, Schwolow’s managed to block the effort with an outstretched leg.

Luck was soon to run out for the keeper, and before you know it, a tactical change made by Nagelsmann proved to be effective in their equalizer. In the second half, former Everton forward Ademola Lookman was brought on for central midfielder, Nordi Mukiele in the 46th minute. In the 69th minute, Marcel Sabitzer was brought in for central defender, Tyler Adams. In doing so, Leipzig transformed from a conventional 4-3-3 formation to a wildly unorthodox 2-4-4 formation with 2 defenders, 4 midfielders and 4 forwards. This radical change arguably reflects how desperate Leipzig were to ensure they remained in the title race with Dortmund and leaders, Bayern.

The formation change resulted in Leipzig engaging on the attack more. Lookman came the closest to scoring just before the equalizer. Kampl’s long ball managed to find Lookman in the box, and somehow the English forward managed to miss what seemed like a simple goal. In fact, it was harder to miss such an open goal than score it. But Lookman’s miss also demonstrated to the Leipzig players that the Freiburg defence was cracking and this motivated them to push on.

Image by jorono from Pixabay

In fact, their break came in a similar fashion. Once again, Kampl was the architect. The Slovenian’s lobbed pass found Poulsen in the box. Before this, Poulsen was having a torrid time in the final third. While you couldn’t fault him for his work ethic and perseverance, he wasn’t clinical upfront. This time, however, he made no mistake. The Dane rose up and headed the ball expertly into the bottom left corner of the goal, well beyond the reaches of Schwolow. It was a real shame for the Freiburg no. 1, who had been the best performer on the field up to that point.

However, the equalizer didn’t cap off the night and in stoppage time some drama unfolded as Robin Koch poked in what was sure to be a late winner from a Freiburg free kick. Yet his goal was ruled out for offside after a VAR review.

Had I not known about Leipzig’s high-press approach before the match (thank you, Jack), I would have thought that the game was a drab affair. Even though I know players were not fully match fit, the match appeared slow and sluggish because that was Freiburg’s game plan: to stop Leipzig’s high intensity attacking play. Their initial formation of 3-4-3 morphed into a variation of 8-1-1 by the end of the game. Freiburg controlled the tempo for much of the game and frustrated Nagelsmann and co.

Besides the actual gameplay, the ambience, or rather the lack of one, made the fixture feel like a training game. Perhaps, the Bundesliga could emulate what the K-League has done and incorporate artificial fan chants.

Nevertheless, my first encounter with the German topflight was a refreshing one, and I cant wait to see the team that I chose, Bayer Leverkusen play. It will be interesting to see how teams perform when players are more match fit and more used to empty stadiums.

What the K-league opener has taught other leagues

I missed football, and many elements of the K-league opener has reminded me why: Artificial fan sounds, a somewhat sluggish affair, and a wild moment when a 41-year old legend scores. The K-League opener has reminded football fans what we’ve been missing out on – the beautiful game. I don’t even watch the K-League but the chance of catching any new football was too good to miss out on. Thankfully, the opener was streamed for free on YouTube and certain things stood out for me, which I feel the rest of the footballing world could learn and benefit from.

The artificial fan noises broadcasted around the stadium do help create the atmosphere for the viewer that there are fans around the stadium. I couldn’t catch the match from the start, so when I did drop into the stream, I was under the impression that a designated section was allocated for a group of fans. It was only much later did I realize that the noises were artificial. It did significantly alter the game experience for me as a casual fan and this is something that European teams should look to incorporate if or when their seasons resume. I remember viewing highlights of the clash between Manchester United and LASK and the lack of ambient noise made it come off as a training session instead of an actual football match.

Seeing 41-year-old Lee Dong-gook grab the winner for Jeonbuk in the 84th minute was something special to see. I remember watching Lee play for Middlesbrough in the Premier League more than a decade ago. The veteran striker failed to score a single PL goal during his time at Boro but managed to pull off a near-post header from Son Jun-ho’s corner. It was a heart-warming moment to see an absolute legend who could still muster a fine performance despite his age. By contrast, Bluewings forward Adam Taggart was quiet that night. His display paled comparison to his exploits in the 2019 campaign. The former Fulham and Perth Glory forward was sensational upfront for the Bluewings last season, banging in 20 goals in 33 league appearances.

At the same time, the match between Jeonbuk Motors and Suwon Bluewings also demonstrated how match fitness would be an issue for some time to come. Two months is a long time out of the game and even though players can maintain their overall fitness, they need playing time to build up their match fitness. The opener was a sluggish affair which is a far cry from the high standards that these teams have consistently put in over the years. Perhaps Taggart was experiencing a lack of match fitness and in due course, we could see more goals from the Australian international.

While the global pandemic has forced the K-league to postpone the start of the season, many other leagues, that were in the midst of their seasons, had to undergo an indefinite suspension. The momentum that players, like Man United left-back Luke Shaw, had been riding on has been disrupted. Therefore, it is a tough ask for players to immediately continue the fine form they exhibited before the leagues’ suspension. Fans need to understand this and not overly pressure their club’s players. Instead, we should cherish the fact that football is back.

With the Bundesliga’s official resumption around the corner (May 16, 2020), the K-league’s commencement of their season has brought hope for me that football may soon return to many parts of the globe. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating for football matches to take in countries where the coronavirus is rampant. Safety should be everybody’s concern and people should co-operate with their respective governments so that the disease gets controlled and hence, stringent measures can be lifted. Korea has done a remarkable job in controlling the disease after it rampantly spread across the country. The return of football to Korea represents the light at the end of a long tunnel. Containment and quarantine policies around the world have robbed us of sporting events and many other activities. Even with the resumption of football, it might not be entirely the same with the absence of fans and the inclusion of more substitutions each match.