By FOX Sports staff
Last season, Tampines Rovers needed a last-day victory to hold off the challenge of DPMM FC and win their second straight title, while Albirex Niigata (S) continued their rise by finishing third - their best-ever finish since joining Singaporean football in 2004.
Traditional giants Home United and Warriors FC, previously known as SAFFC, both had years to forget as they finished fifth and seventh respectively, while Harimau Muda emerged as the surprise package - their crop of under-23 players managing a creditable fourth-place finish.
Further down the table, Balestier Khalsa did well to leap up the rankings and finish in the top half, while Hougang United and Gombak United, the latter will sit out in 2013, achieved commendable mid-table finishes despite operating on limited budgets.
It was left to Courts Young Lions, Tanjong Pagar United, Geylang United - now Geylang International - and Woodlands Wellington to battle it out to avoid the dreaded bottom spot, and it was the Rams who eventually earned the unwanted "wooden spoon" after a terrible campaign that saw them win just one game after recording victories in their opening two matches.
This year, 12 teams will do battle to be crowned Singapore's top side, with the league set for a number of fresh twists, including a half-round that will see the table split into upper and lower halves to decide the final positions.
Here, FOX Sports takes a look at all the sides and analyses where they are likely to finish at end of the season.
Albirex Niigata (S)
As it has always been with Albirex Niigata (S), the new season has ushered in a plethora of changes at the Jurong East Stadium, with the club retaining just three players from last season.
Defender Yuki Ichikawa, winger Masatake Sato and anchorman Shuhei Hotta, who has been handed the captaincy, all played key roles for the White Swans last term and will be expected to do the same this year, especially given the departures of Sho Kamimura, Musashi Okuyama and Yasuhiro Yamakoshi, who combined to form a near-irrepressible strike force for much of the 2012 campaign.
Two of Albirex's new signings come with J.League experience, Kenjiro Ogino and Kento Fukada of Cerezo Osaka and Shonan Bellmare respectively, but it is the return of Bruno Castanheira, who netted 12 goals in the 2011 season, that has the fans most excited.
Furthermore, in Koichi Sugiyama, the Japanese outfit have one of the most tactically-astute coaches in the league and, even with a new group of players, a top-five finish is not beyond the White Swans.
Keep an eye out for striker Kazuki Sakamoto, who has already demonstrated an uncanny goal-poaching ability in pre-season, as well as centre-backs Fukada and Masahiro Ishikawa, replicas of Norihiro Kawakami and Kunihiro Yamashita, who formed one of the league's best defensive pairings in 2012.
Performance in 2012: Third
Key players: Shuhei Hotta, Masahiro Ishikawa, Bruno Castanheira
What they said: "Our target is to finish as S.League champions - it is the same every year. I believe we can do it; the team is filled with good players." - Albirex coach Koichi Sugiyama
FOX Sports prediction: Third
Balestier were the surprise package of last season as they briefly challenged for the title before settling for a respectable 6th-place finish in coach Darren Stewart's first season at the Toa Payoh Stadium.
While they have largely retained the same squad from last season with the exception of Australian centre-back Goran Subara who has joined Thai Premier League side Bangkok Glass, the Tigers could face a difficult year primarily because the teams that finished below them have brought in significant reinforcements.
In ex-Gombak captain Obadin Aikhena, the Tigers have a capable replacement for Subara but apart from him, their only notable signing has been Singapore international Qiu Li, who Stewart hopes will be the answer to their attacking woes.
Despite having mean defence that conceded just 20 goals in 24 games - the fewest in the league - Balestier only mustered 23 goals, a tally that ultimately cost them a proper shot at challenging for the title.
If Qiu does manage to find his scoring boots in a more-advanced role than he has played in recent years, then Stewart's charges could easily emulate their impressive displays from 2012. Otherwise, a respectable mid-table finish is still on the cards.
Also, expect a big year from South Korean striker Kim Min-ho, whose form last season has earned him a promotion from the club's Prime League squad.
Performance in 2012: 6th
Key players: Paul Cunningham, Qiu Li, Park Kang-jin
What they said: "Overall, I'm pleased with the performance and the effort [in pre-season]; the fitness levels are good. I'm looking forward to working with the boys again. They're all top lads here and the ones we've brought in are good people." - Balestier coach Darren Stewart
FOX Sports prediction: 7th
Courts Young Lions
Following a difficult year where they finished fourth from bottom, Young Lions look set for another trying campaign following the announcement that the 2013 squad will largely be made up of under-21 players.
A large majority of last season's side have moved on to Malaysia Super League outfit LIONSXII, including the likes of Hafiz Abu Sujad, Faritz Hameed, Zulfahmi Arifin, Faris Ramli and Shahfiq Ghani. Robin Chitrakar is no longer at the helm of the club.
In his place comes ex-Singapore captain Aide Iskandar, a well-respected figure in the country's footballing fraternity, and it will be interesting to see if he can help his side improve on last season's performances.
With a view to developing youngsters for the next two editions of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Young Lions released their foreign contingent for this year, although it later emerged that Sherif El-Masri has been re-signed and will be their sole import.
Despite all their enthusiasm ahead of the new season, it must be said that it will be a tough ask for this crop of aspiring professionals to finish in the top half. They have the toughest of starts with matches with Tampines, DPMM and Albirex - the top three from 2012 - lining up agains tthem in the first five fixtures.
Plenty will be needed from some of Aide's older boys like captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman, winger Fazli Ayob and midfield general Shamil Sharif if Young Lions are to avoid becoming this season's whipping boys.
Performance in 2012: 10th
Key players: Fazli Ayob, Shamil Sharif, Nurullah Hussein
What they said: "As you can see, more than 90% of the boys are below the age of 21 - it's good to see this batch given a chance and a platform to showcase their talents and develop. This represents an invaluable opportunity for our younger players to step up and boost their chances of being called up to the SEA Games squad later this year." - Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar
FOX Sports prediction: 11th
Despite being set a top-five target, DPMM exceeded all expectations last year in their first season back in Singaporean football by finishing as runners-up in the league, and taking the League Cup along the way.
Having built his squad around a stable crop of local players, including captain Rosmin Kamis, forward Shahrazen Said and wing-backs Azwan Salleh and Subhi Abdilah, coach Vjeran Simunic has added a bit of foreign flair in his side in the form of Guadeloupe captain Stephane Auvray, ex-Valencia man Joao Moreira and striker Ivan Bosnjak, who represented Croatia at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Simunic, who was named S.League Coach of the Year in 2012, will fulfil a dual role this year after being handed the Brunei reins for March's AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, although he has stressed he will not be distracted by his national team commitments.
Overall, it promises to be another excellent year for the Bruneian outfit - one that could see them challenge for top honours once again.
Performance in 2012: 2nd
Key players: Rosmin Kamis, Shahrazen Said, Ivan Bosnjak
What they said: "I think it will be an interesting season. Many clubs have reinforced and are looking very strong - teams like Home, Warriors and Tampines. Here at DPMM, we want another good season again. We've changed all our foreign players and now the question for me is how to make my new team." - DPMM coach Vjeran Simunic
FOX Sports prediction: 2nd
For a side once labelled as the "Manchester United of the S.League", the past four years have been agonising to say the least for Geylang. One barren season after another, accompanied by a seemingly perpetual slide down the table have brought little cheer to the Eagles faithful.
That perhaps has been the reason behind the recent upheaval at the club, beginning with a new moniker - Geylang International - reflecting their desire to return to their former days of glory.
The Eagles have kept their faith in coach V. Kanan and his squad has retained the same youthful, exciting look it had in the latter half of 2012, peppered with a little Japanese spice. Familiar names such as Yazid Yasin and Syed Fadhil have departed with their places taken by the likes of former Tanjong Pagar United skipper Delwinder Singh and the returning Yasir Hanapi, in addition to the new Japanese backbone comprising of custodian Takuma Ito, defender Norihiro Kawakami and ex-Home attacker Shotaro Ihata.
It has not all been chop and change though, as Stefan Milojevic, Khairulnizam Jumahat and Fabian Kwok have been retained, while the last season's joint-second highest scorer Jozef Kaplan has been given the honour of leading his team-mates in 2013.
Geylang might have finished in the bottom half in the previous campaign, but the rapid improvement of just two losses during the last eight games and a berth in the Singapore League Cup final has given fans hope that Kanan's first full season in charge will see the club return to the upper echelons of Singaporean football.
Performance in 2012: 11th
Key players: Jozef Kaplan, Takuma Ito, Fabian Kwok
What they said: "I think making the top three might be a step too far for us but I'm definitely targeting a top-five finish. It will be a big step towards returning to Geylang's glorious era but hard work will definitely be needed if we are to achieve that." - Geylang coach V. Kanan
FOX Sports prediction: Fourth
Finishing fourth with an under-23 side was a terrific achievement for Harimau Muda under Ong Kim Swee, but with the 2013 SEA Games on the horizon, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) have decided to send their under-19 side to play in the S.League this year.
It is unlikely that Razip Ismail's teenage charges will cause the same stir their seniors did in 2012 and like Young Lions; it looks like it is going to be a long and trying season.
But should the focus truly be on youth development, a full campaign playing in the S.League will do this crop of Malaysian youngsters a world of good, especially if they are given a test on a weekly basis like they were in their pre-season defeats to Tampines and Balestier.
In those losses, a number of players showed signs to suggest they could follow in the footsteps of the now-established likes of Mahalli Jasuli, Fadhli Shas and Wan Zack Haikal, including centre-back Wan Ahmad Amirzafran, winger Ridzuan Abdulloh Pula and striker Faizat Ghazali.
Harimau Muda will have the benefit of home advantage this year as they are scheduled to play most of their home games at the Pasir Gudang Stadium, and they will need all the help they can get from their supporters if they are to avoid finishing bottom of the pile.
Performance in 2012: Fourth
Key players: Wan Ahmad Amirzafran, Ridzuan Abdulloh Pula, Faizat Ghazali
What they said: "Every game will be hard for us and we need to improve further and play well in every game, even though the odds are stacked against us." - Harimau Muda coach Razip Ismail
FOX Sports prediction: 12th
Even though all of the sides have made significant changes to their squads, none look more different than the Protectors, who have retained just five players from 2012.
With top scorer Frederic Mendy leaving for Portugal, the goal-scoring burden will fall on new Japanese striker Masato Fukui and ex-Hougang livewire Jordan Webb, who is capable of weighing in with a couple from the wing. Plenty of attention will also be on marquee signing Lee Kwan-woo, a former captain of K-League giants Suwon Samsung Bluewings with 13 caps for Korea Republic to his name.
Having bemoaned his side's defensive fallacies last year, coach Lee Lim-saeng has moved to address that by bringing in ex-LIONSXII centre-back Sevki Sha'ban, Singapore international Ismail Yunos and veteran utilityman Noh Rahman.
Further up the field, former Gombak duo Hafiz Rahim and Mustaqim Manzur will offer their South Korean coach options in the wide areas, while the return of Juma'at Jantan after a season with LIONSXII will be a huge boost given his work ethic and reliable defending.
Given their status as one of the league's traditional powerhouses, the Protectors will be desperate to improve on last season's fifth-place finish, although the significant changes to their playing stocks mean it will take a while for them to gel as a unit.
Performance in 2012: Fifth
Key players: Lee Kwan-woo, Juma'at Jantan, Jordan Webb
What they said: "With higher [levels of] fitness and discipline, the 2013 team is ready to play attractive and quality football that will entertain our fans. Football is always a team game [and] for me it is important for everyone to work well with each other to achieve the same objective" - Home coach Lee Lim-saeng
FOX Sports prediction: Fifth
A much-changed Hougang side will take the field this season after a major revamp in the off-season saw a change in coaching staff and the departure of most of their foreign contingent with defensive stalwart Stanislav Vidakovic, midfielder Ante Barac and the mercurial Jordan Webb all leaving.
With former Manchester United Soccer Schools chief Alex Weaver now in charge, the Cheetahs have impressed in pre-season with snappy passing-based football orchestrated by new signing Tom Beattie, while Liam Shotton, brother of Stoke City midfielder Ryan, has added significant firepower up front.
Another man to watch this season is 21-year-old Jerome Baker who moves to the Hougang Stadium after spending a season at German side Energie Cottbus. The Canadian's pace and flair have caught the eyes of fans in pre-season, and he is touted to replace Webb as their new speed demon down the flank.
In defence, Jeremy Chiang has been recruited from Home to shore up the backline and Shahir Hamzah has made a return to his boyhood club after an injury-hit year with LIONSXII. If the two manage to step up and fill the void left by Vidakovic, Hougang have a good chance of finishing in the top half of the league for the first time in their history.
Performance in 2012: 8th
Key players: Tom Beattie, Mamadou Diallo, Syaqir Sulaiman
What they said: "I always believed Hougang have the personnel and it's all about hard work. We haven't set any targets for this season with regards to a specific position. We just want to train better and play better with each passing day. If we do that, then who knows what we can achieve?" - Hougang coach Alex Weaver
FOX Sports prediction: 6th
The Stags were once again the dominant force in the league last as they recovered from early-season losses to Albirex and Warriors to finish the season as champions.
They have a new coach in Nenad Bacina for 2013 but the Croat's four years of experience in charge of fellow S.League sides Hougang and Woodlands Wellington should ensure a smooth introduction at the helm.
Although he was set to retire at the end of last year, veteran striker Aleksandar Duric has stayed on in a part-time capacity, having also taken up coaching duties, and the Stags have signed a marquee player in Martin Wagner, a classy Argentinean midfielder capable of pulling the strings from midfield.
They have also done the best business in the off-season with suitable additions in every department - ex-LIONSXII stars Shahdan Sulaiman, Khairul Amri and Shaiful Esah have joined the club, as well as former Albirex centre-back Kunihiro Yamashita who will pose a real threat in opposition penalty areas.
But what should get the pulses racing is that fact that Sead Hadzibulic, signed only halfway through last season, looks raring to go in his first full campaign in the S.League. The towering striker is reminiscent of Duric in his prime - something that should give opposition defences plenty of cause for concern.
However, Bacina knows that the Clementi Stadium outfit need to do more than secure domestic success givent hat a poor showing in the AFC Cup was supposedly responsible for ex-coach Steven Tan's departure.
As such, they will definitely give due attention to the RHB Singapore Cup and the League Cup, while also aiming to get past the group stage of the AFC Cup.
Performance in 2012: Champions
Key players: Sead Hadzibulic, Khairul Amri, Martin Wagner
What they said: "We don't have to lie - the target is always the same for a club like Tampines. We'll be playing in four competitions this year - three domestic and one continental - and we're looking to go far in all of them." - Tampines coach Nenad Bacina
FOX Sports prediction: Champions
Tanjong Pagar United
The Jaguars have failed to establish a solid foothold in the S.League since their return in 2011, finishing second from bottom that year as well as in the 2012 season.
Fans' hopes of a marked improvement in fortunes this seaosn will have been boosted by the signings of Morocco international Monsef Zerka, French goalkeeper Aurelien Herisson and experienced playmaker Ahmad Latiff who played a key role in Tampines' last two title triumphs.
However, the biggest change for the Queenstown club has come in the dressing room. The appointment of French coach Patrick Vallee, who led Etoile to the league and League Cup double back in 2010, looks like a masterstroke given his experience and penchant for attacking football.
The Jaguars now have one of the shrewdest tacticians leading them from the dugout; fans can also expect the 50-year-old to implement a short-passing style focused on retaining possession, which will not only be pleasing to the eye but also effective at breaking down defences.
Tanjong Pagar could well be the surprise outfit of 2013, even if it will be a while before they start challenging for top honours.
They will however have to do without newly-appointed captain Hafiz Osman, who is set to miss the earlier stages of the season after recent surgery.
Performance in 2012: 12th
Key players: Monsef Zerka, Ahmad Latiff, Hafiz Osman
What they said: "My ambition for Tanjong Pagar is to improve the club football and reach [a] better standing in the table [with the aim of] mid-table." - Tanjong Pagar coach Patrick Vallee
FOX Sports prediction: 9th
The Choa Chu Kang Stadium outfit made waves early on with the announcement of their marquee signing Kazuyuki Toda. The ex-Japan international, fondly remembered for his crunching tackles and blazing red Mohawk, is undoubtedly the biggest name who will feature in the S.League this season and V. Selvaraj will count on him to protect the oft-porous Warriors defence.
Though Selvaraj's presence in the dugout will not be unfamiliar to the Warriors, the former Singapore international's appointment signals a changing of the guard at the club after he replaced the legendary Richard Bok, who he assisted in 2012.
Selvaraj has opted to retain Shimpei Sakurada and Tatsuro Inui, with hopes of the Japanese duo forming an inspiring midfield alliance with compatriot Toda, while frontman Mislav Karoglan will continue to poach the goals for the Warriors. The Bosnian will have no shortage of striker partners with Erwan Gunawan and ex-LIONSXII man offering solid options to their coach in attack, while the signing of Shi Jiayi from Home should ensure a steady supply into the final third.
Fans of the RHB Singapore Cup winners might be slightly disappointed at the lack of defensive strengthening, as the club have kept faith with captain Daniel Bennett and Marin Vidosevic in the heart of defence, but the arrival of Hyrulnizam Juma'at from LIONSXII should provide goalkeeper Hassan Sunny with some competition.
Their domestic cup win last season earned the Warriors a berth in this year's AFC Cup and the club management have already boldly declared their target of doing the double this year.
Performance in 2012: 7th
Key players: Shimpei Sakurada, Tatsuro Inui, Mislav Karoglan
What they said: "It is a fact that we have not lived up to expectations in the past three years. It is the club's objective for this season to be a strong title contender. We are looking forward to an exciting new season and we are aiming to do the double." - Warriors general manager Chong Wei Chiang
Fox Sports Prediction: 6th
Having finished bottom of the S.League for the past three seasons, not even the most hopeful of fans will be expecting the Rams to be challenging for the title anytime soon.
Instead, it seems more likely that Salim Moin's men will spend the upcoming season trying to battle their way to finishing above the dreaded bottom two spots which will incur a hefty fine under the league's new rules this season.
Thankfully, Woodlands have done themselves a world of good by making several astute signings during the off-season. The acquisition for former Dutch international Khalid Hamdaoui in particular catches the eye. A versatile midfielder who came through the famed Ajax academy, the 31-year-old possesses an impressive passing range to complement his excellent vision and has the ability to dictate the tempo of the game from the middle of the park.
One of the principal problems Woodlands faced last year was their inability to find the back of the net on a regular basis, although they appear to have found the solution to that with the signings of South Korean striker Chang Jo-yoon and ex-LIONSXII winger Taufiq Rahmat, two players who will add zip and speed to an attack already boasting the impressive Moon Soon-ho.
With inspiration captain Armanizam Dolah pulling the strings behind them, the Rams should be able to better last season's miserable tally of 19 goals this time round.
Performance in 2012: 13th
Key players: Moon Soon-ho, Armanizam Dolah, Khalid Hamdaoui
What they said: "I am very pleased to say that this year will be a better year for Woodlands. I think the players I have selected this time will finish much better than last year - maybe somewhere in the top three." - Woodlands coach Salim Moin
FOX Sports prediction: 10th