Albirex Niigata FC (S) are looking to sew up the Singapore Premier League (SPL) in record time and will aim for a win over Young Lions at Jurong East Stadium on Wednesday.
Mathematically speaking, Albirex can still be caught in the title race. But it would take a brave man to bet on it, especially after they just beat closest rivals Tampines Rovers 2-1 last week.
Depending on results elsewhere, Albirex could win the title by earning maximum points from their next two games.
This should give them the motivation they need against Young Lions to maintain their astonishing run of form. The White Swans are yet to drop a single point in the 2018 campaign, despite it being nearly three-quarters through.
The Young Lions are under no illusion of the task they face, although Young Lions Head Coach Fandi Ahmad claimed he would like to postpone Albirex’s title celebrations as much as possible.
“We will do our best and we will be present. We will be very positive about the game and we will be competitive as well,” said Fandi.
“But you know them, Albirex are very good. We want to try and delay their championship confirmation and we will give it our best. If we have our full team, we could fight but we don’t have our best players at the moment so we can only hope.”
Young Lions will be boosted by their 3-0 win over Hougang United, which ended a nine-game winless streak.
They executed their game plan to perfection in that game, packing their half in numbers and hitting the Cheetahs on the counter. This should give them some confidence that they can do the same against Albirex.
Albirex’s captain Wataru Murofushi picked up a booking in the game against Tampines and will be suspended for this game.
Kaishu Yamazaki is out for the rest of the season and this might see Albirex deploy Daiki Asaoka at the back again.
The Young Lions just cannot seem to catch a break injury-wise. Ikhsan Fandi made his return from injury via the bench and scored against Hougang but in the same match Ifwat Ismail picked up a knocking.
Defender Irfan Fandi is still away on trial, leaving the Young Lions looking relatively thin in squad depth.
Albirex Niigata FC (S): WWWWW
Young Lions: LDLLW
16/05/18: Young Lions 1-3 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
08/09/17: Young Lions 0-1 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
26/05/17: Albirex 8-0 Young Lions – Singapore Premier League
04/03/17: Young Lions 0-5 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
11/08/16: Albirex 4-0 Young Lions – Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Ryujiro Yamanaka (Albirex Niigata FC (S))
The winger has not been among the goals of late but he is still a constant threat down the left flank.
Whoever Young Lions deploy at right back will have a huge task on his hands to lock down the skillful Japanese.
Hami Syahin (Young Lions)
Hami was at his very best last week, as he scored the opener for the Young Lions against Hougang.
He and Joshua Pereira have been complementing each other pretty well in the middle of the park and he will look to dictate play for his side once again.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Albirex Niigata FC (S) Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “I have not thought of anything yet (for the team’s reward if they win the title). I will think about winning the title. Thereafter, I just will prepare to win the next game.
“I think we have to give credit to the wonderful club management, the players ‘efforts and the supporters’ warm support.
“It is a wonderful experience for us to be able to compete with nice coaching staff representing the country, talented players. We are not elite or different from them. We will continue to make humble improvements and do our best.”
Young Lions Forward Haiqal Pashia: “It feels good to score. It gives me confidence to play well for the next game and it was important for us to get the win in order to get the momentum going, especially since we are going up against Albirex in the next game.
“It’s going to be tough but our team is doing well and for me personally, for us to improve, we need to play against teams like Albirex. Clearly they are way on top than the other teams but we are going to go there and fight and battle.
“We need to stay together as a team in order to do well there. It’s hard, they are really a solid team from attack to defense. If we really want to do well against them, we need to stay focused and give our 100 per cent all the way till the final whistle.”