2018-19 Team Previews

The 2018-19 season is a week away. With exhibition games this week, we will get a chance to see the new teams for the first time. In anticipation, our writers put together give us a preview of each team as we head towards the season. 

Anatolia FC

Team breakdown 
GM: Zain Khilji
Top 3 picks: Junaid Akram, Humeid Khan, Abdullah Akhtar
Predicted Starting VI: U. Sheikh; H. Ayubi, A. Akhtar; Z. Khilji, H. Khan; J. Akram
Former Champions: Humeid Khan (2016), Hussam Ayubi (2018)
X-Factor: Umair Sheikh
The Canaries enter into the season with a brand new identity.  GM Zain Khilji remains as the only GM that has withstood the test of time, as every other team has officially employed a different GM since the league's inaugural season.  However, a big part of the Turks identity is not suiting up this year, with Nehad Shihab being unavailable to join this season.  As such, Khilji had to approach his draft with a different mentality and a huge gap to fill.  We'd say he did a very good job in doing so, nabbing elite forward Junaid Akram and Humeid Khan with his first two picks in the draft.  Both players score when they want, but both also had their seasons cut short last year due to injury.  We are hoping they are 100% heading into the season, as their talent and presence on the pitch demonstrates everything you'd want in a front line.  With Khilji operating as a number ten, opponents will have to pick their poison when facing the Anatolian three-speared attack.  Khilji went on to draft rookie Abdullah Akhtar with his third pick; Akhtar brings athleticism to the side, and though his GM has been mum about where he envisions him lining up on the pitch, we expect Abdullah to be a complete defender with the strength and speed to match up with anyone.  Joining Abdullah in defence will be none other than Hussam Ayubi.  Ayubi was instrumental to the championship winning Samarra side last year, playing as a sweeper for the attack-focused side and shutting down opposing offences with his positioning.  Further, Hussam isn't afraid to put the gloves on when his team is in need of a backup shot stopper, which is no doubt a great safety net for any side to have.  Speaking of net, Umair Sheikh is expected to suit up in goal for the yellow submarine this year.  After a one year hiatus from the position, he looks to be the shot stopping extraordinaire we routinely saw him take the role of only a few years back.  Khilji also brought back two familiar faces in Hasan Afzal and Salman Ahmad.  Both players have been trusted by their GM in the past to play big roles for the side, and we expect their chemistry on the pitch to lead to definitive success.  Anatolia boasts two newcomers this year in Shahbaz Tayyab and Sohaib Siddiqui.  Khilji looks for both guys to play the role of a "Swiss army knife" for the side, putting them in different positions throughout practices and exhibition matches to get a feel of how to best position them for success.  With the talent Khilji possesses throughout the side, he can afford to tinker with his side bit by bit in the opening week or two to develop his recipe for success.  As always, Anatolia will be one of the top offensive teams in the League; but achieving some semblance of balance so Umair Sheikh isn't in front of a firing squad will be necessary in order for these men to make it to the Promised Land.
Andalusia FC
Team breakdown 
GM: Omar Sheikh
Top 3 picks: Shaheen Limbada, Atif Mian, Owais Ansari
Predicted Starting VI: Z. Merchant; O. Ansari, S. Limbada; A. Mian, H. Chaudhary; O. Sheikh
Former Champions: Omar Sheikh (2017), Shaheen Limbada (2017), Atif Mian (2017), Zahid Merchant (2017), Hashim Ghazi (2015, 2016, 2017)
X-Factor: Owais Ansari
Rookie GM Omar Sheikh takes the reins of the Blues this year, a team that he joined during the tail end of last season.  Sheikh, memorably, was part of a Jerusalem side that finally got over the hump in their third finals matchup against Hejaz FC, picking up regular season MVP, playoff MVP and a championship in arguably one of the most impressive individual seasons we've seen.  His approach to the draft was simple – grab as many members of that championship side as he could.  Well, he did just that – he drafted every available member of that 2016-2017 JFC side to build the core of his side.  Sheikh is a prolific goal scorer with an impeccable work rate, and he knew he needed a solid foundation in the middle of the pitch to allow him to press up front without compromising the team's shape.  He did just that in picking up superstars Shaheen Limbada and Atif Mian with his first two picks to act as a double pivot and can fill in anywhere on the pitch.  The three boast familiarity with one another, and appear to be the bedrock of the side.  It will also be great to see former Jerusalem GM Zahid Merchant between the sticks again, after having to take a year off to nurse an injury.  Ziggy hopes to pick up where he left off, and silently played a role as an effective coach for the Samarra FC side that won it all last year.  Hassan Chaudhary has played with this collection of ex-JFC players in the past, and has only found himself in some shade of blue since joining the League.  He brings a silky approach to the game, but may be challenged to take on the role of a defender at times in an effort to play it out from the back.  Owais Ansari will play his part in being a defender that will use his size, speed and energy to disrupt defenders and join the attack when called upon.  Ansari is one of four "rookies" making their debuts on Andalusia this year.  Rayhan Malik joins the side as a box-to-box midfielder who isn't afraid to do the little things that do not show up on the stat sheet; Salman Siddiqui hopes to use his British charm and feel of the game to make his imprint in his maiden season; and, Raza Zahur brings a lot of energy and pace up front to perfectly fit into how the team employs their striker tactically.  Lastly, Omar Sheikh brought in human victory cigar Hashim Ghazi into the side for a purpose we have yet to really understand – regardless, he had to put in time somewhere, and Sheikh did him a solid by letting him be a part of the Spaniards.  Andalusia possesses an identity we have seen win a championship in the past, but it will be crucial for this group to play as a unit on both sides of the pitch if they wish to achieve similar success.
Hejaz FC
Team breakdown 
GM: Taqi Ahmed
Top 3 picks: Nasir Rehman, Syed Murtaza, Ali Wadee
Predicted Starting VI: N. Jabbar; S. Kazmi, A. Wadee; N. Rehman, T. Ahmed; S. Murtaza
Former Champions: Zeem Khan (2015, 2018), Ali Wadee (2018), Syed Murtaza (2018) 
X-Factor: Syed Kazmi 
After 4 years of presenting his own revolutionary tactics to his GMs, only to see them scratched, Taqi Ahmed is crowned the new GM of Hejaz. He did not take anytime in recruiting his “Malton boys” who continue to grow in number with every passing season. He was able to scoop up 2 Malton superstars in Nasir Rehman and Syed Murtaza with his first 2 picks and from there on, Hejaz looked like it was in good hands. Having picked 2 guys who came up with 16 points and a golden boot for their teams, Taqi turned to a defensive leader in Ali Wadee who was instrumental in securing the championship for his team last year. Although it is unclear who Ali will pair up with, we predict rookie Syed Kazmi will step up to fill the role with his anything-for-the-team attitude. Zeem Khan will be the secondary offensive option along with Asif Ali who is known to bolster a thunderous left boot. Hamza Waheed gives them versatility with his ability to slot in given the strategy which will prove to be a benefit in the long-run. Our rumour reports suggest, Taqi was able to meet with Nabeel Jabbar in the transfer window and convinced him to sign as a goalkeeper to seal his master plan to win the league. Riaz Murad rounds off the squad as the back-up keeper and underestimated striker. With the talents of Nasir and Taqi in the squad, the club has many styles of play that they can adopt, but we are sure Taqi will choose the most unorthodox method to approach their season. Can he prove his former GMs wrong?
Jerusalem FC
Team breakdown 
GM: Saqib Dadabhoy
Top 3 picks: Ali Raza, Azan Ali, Ismail Akhter 
Predicted Starting VI: I. Sardar; S. Dadabhoy, A. Chawdhry; A. Raza, A. Ali, I. Akhtar 
Former Champions: Ibrahim Sardar (2015,2016), Saqib Dadabhoy (2017), Syed Murtaza (2018) 
X-Factor: Ismail Akhter 
GM Saqib Dadabhoy had a terrific season as both a player and manager last year and Jerusalem fans continue to chant his melodies from the 2016 championship run. Although it seems he’s changed his durable style and strategy this year, the club and fans trust his instincts to bring back the glory days. Saqib this season starts off without a braintrust of his own. Most teams went after former players to surround themselves with but JFC made a bold move by going straight after new talent. With his first 2 picks, Saqib selected brothers Ali Raza and Azan Ali who have played alongside each other since they went pro. Rumours suggest that Saqib employed scouts to monitor the development of the brothers since he was named Jerusalem’s next GM. Ismail Akhter was brought in next to play deeper and support the brother’s in scoring.  As the only defender GM, there was less pressure on Saqib to draft a go to Center-back as he opted for the speedy and experienced Arshad Choudhry.  To top it off, Ibrahim Sardar was taken from Hejaz after a 4-year spell to renew his magic in between the pipes for the blues. Ibrahim will be part of the new Jerusalem braintrust. Ibrahim for the longest time had been Jerusalem's worst enemy, eliminating JFC in the finals two years in a row while GM of Hejaz. It will be unusual seeing him don the baby blue this season. The reliable Kamil Lotia will slot into the midfield as the creative playmaker while the young Harris Shahzad will use his speed on the flanks to get through on goal as second offensive options. Adeel Dosani and Adnan Habib round off the squad to take on more defensive roles to add stability to their season. There are a few question marks surrounding the team, but if all the pieces stick together, the blues look pretty balanced. Transitioning between the thirds will be the key to their success and that success will only be attainable if Ali and Azan are able to perform here at BISL.      
Samarra FC
Team breakdown 
GM: Danish Khan
Top 3 picks: Omar El-Askalany, Jibran Sakrani, Shaharyar Khan 
Predicted Starting VI: H. Syed; S. Khan, S. Choudhry; O. El-Askalany, J. Sakrani, D. Khan 
Former Champions: Sheraz Choudhry (2016), Danish Khan (2018), Hassan Syed (2018), Umair Ashraf (2018), Umer Jabbar (2018)
X-Factor: Jibran Sakrani 
The defending champions made no mistake with Danish Khan and have now signed the former MVP to a long-term contract and the rights to GM Samarra FC. There was no man better for the job to carry the legacy of the club forward without compromising their championship talent and what the organization stands for. Danish’s first move was to bring in the pacey striker Omer El-Askalany (Egypt) who will complement the style of play Samarra wants to preserve. His next 3 picks secured good friends Jibran Sakrani and Salman Ahmed, and relative Shaharyar Khan to create a stable compound in the team chemistry. Jibran is relatively unknown to the league but may prove to be the gem uncovered by their new GM. Shaharyar is a very well-know figure in the league and can now break loose from the struggles of his previous club and lead alongside Danish. His versatility will, we predict, man the defensives for the club in partnership with Sheraz Choudhary who is also a recognized entity in the league. To round the edges of the uncertainty a new manger brings, Danish resigned his championship defense unit in goalkeeper Hassan Syed and defenders Umair Ashraf and Umer Jabbar. Junaid Mirza will deem the back-goalie and striker reinforcement for the club. It seems Danish has acquired only known commodities with matching chemistry properties although some are not traceable to BISL which could be their cutting edge. With Danish in the heart of the midfield, transition play will be a strength given their dependable striking and defensive units. However, we are still blurred on what Jibran and Salman will bring offensively and whether it will be enough to fill the void of last season’s Khizer Shahzad.

Sham FC

Team breakdown 
GM: Muhammad Shah
Top 3 picks: Fawad Akram, Asif Ibn Rehana, Ahmad Alvi
Predicted Starting VI: B. Jeelany; A. Ibn Rehana, S. Syed; M. Shah, F. Akram; A. Alvi
Former Champions: Muhammad Shah (2015, 2016), Saifuddin Syed (2016), Imad Siraj (2015)
X-Factor: Saifuddin Syed
All Shah does is win – he has led, either as an AGM or a GM, each one of his teams to the finals, having won two.  The more surprisingly part is that he's lost the last two – something he no doubt keeps front and centre heading into this season.  Muhammad Shah is everything you want in a footballer – he's got skill, strength, size, speed and style.  Every season you can count on him scoring a wondrous goal for his Orangemen.  When granted the first pick this year, he went with familiarity, as expected, drafting Fawad Akram to be the midfield maestro to play 1-2s with throughout the year.  Familiarity was a theme for Shah throughout the draft, as he picked up five guys he has played with in some capacity over the last four years.  That includes defensive juggernaut Asif Ibn Rehana and dribbling extraordinaire Ahmad Alvi, both members of the Orange side that lost to Samarra in the finals last year.  The son of Rehana will be expected to be the leader of the defence this season, a role he has not shied away from in the past, while Alvi will make up the third prong in an already deadly Sham front-3.  Shah welcomed back Saifuddin Syed to his side, a man who was instrumental to Hejaz's undefeated campaign in 2016.  Syed is a midfielder by trade, but sacrificed his role in the side a few years back to be an effective defender that always made the right decision and was not afraid to join the attack.  He perfectly complements Ibn Rehana's style of play, and should make for the best defensive pairing in the League this season.  Shah was also able to bring back Imad Siraj, who had his most prolific campaign in his first season in the League as a member of Hejaz.  Imad is exactly what you would want in a poacher, and joins a team with a bevy of playmakers to put him in positions to succeed.  In goal, Sham bring in reigning GK of the Year Basil Jeelany, who made his mark as a commanding presence in net last year, and looks to build upon his reputation as one of the best keepers in the League.  Sham has three rookies on the roster this year, in Atif Khan, Ibrahim Khan and Mustafa Tirmizi.  Atif Khan is new to the league and will bring grit and determination to the orangemen.  If Mustafa Tirmizi can have a debut season even half as good as his brother's last year, Sham have a steal on their hands.  Ibrahim Khan rounds out the side as a defender who will tower over most of his opponents with his height, and will be crucial in winning aerial duels to stifle opposing scorers.  On paper, the tangerines look like absolute heavyweights, and may boast the most complete starting six in the League – however, games aren't won on paper, and having this side show up week in and week out with the mindset of champions will determine whether they'll be lifting the trophy at year's end.