PETALING JAYA: After probably the longest pre-season ever, spanning over three months from Dec 1,12 teams will finally go out on the field to slug it out for the coveted Super League title.
At a look, it seems the season is a foregone conclusion with star-studded moneybags Johor Darul Ta’zim set to cruise their way to a seventh title, but there are teams in the league who have prepared well and believe they can give the defending champions a run for their money.
The JDT side led by Benjamin Mora have not added much to the team, but the two signings they have made could be significant to their title chances.
Rightback Matthew Davies and creative midfielder Kosovo-born Liridon Krasniqi, who is now a Malaysian, are expected to enhance the already Herculean team with their class.
Also, the club has an added impetus of playing in a spanking new Sultan Ibrahim Stadium in Iskandar Puteri, which will make its competitive debut today when it hosts the Charity Shield match between JDT and Kedah.
JDT’s challengers are likely to be Selangor, Kedah, Perak and Terengganu, but teams like Pahang and Melaka could also spring a surprise or two.
However, the best bet would be Selangor as they have added several notable names like Malaysian international Brendan Gan and Singaporean international Safuwan Baharuddin to bolster the team.
One would think that Pahang’s foundation is disintegrating with the departure of Matthew and Safuwan, but they still have some pillars in the form Mohamadou Sumareh, Herold Goulon and Nor Azam Azih.
Petaling Jaya City, Sabah and Felda United can be party poopers as they have added well during the pre-season and should not be taken lightly by the other teams.
The relegation candidates look likely to be Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), and Police as their reliance on students and police officers respectively could hurt their chances to stay in the league.
They would surely look to their foreigners to anchor their sides, but in a competitive Super League, strength in depth will be vital. And that is something these two teams certainly do not have.
The second-tier Premier League also begins with newly-relegated Kuala Lumpur and Kelantan likely candidates to move up to the top-tier with Negri Sembilan and Penang as the dark horses.