We head into the final week before the holiday break with some big points up for grabs.
BREAKING NEWS: The Milton Turf Centre is ready and we are moving back to our home field this Sunday. The address is: 1145 Bronte St S in Milton.
Here are matchups for this Sunday:
Anatolia FC vs. Hejaz FC (8:45PM - Field 3)
An early season six-pointer kicks off Matchweek 3 as Anatolia and Hejaz face off in a battle of the pointless teams. Following exuberant exhibition match debuts, both sides looked poised to turn the league upside in unpredictable fashion. However, the season itself has left little to write home about for both the Canaries and the Lilywhites.
In Anatolia's case, playing on a smaller field has really limited the attacking presence of GM Zain Khilji. Khilji, a silky-smooth playmaker needs space to work with, and sees openings many other players wouldn’t when playing in the final third. A more compact pitch leads to a more compact game, and as a result, Zain has been a bit handicapped in being able to put his mark on the match. While the front three, when available, boast attacking for days and they employ one of the premier shot stoppers in the League, the Turks once again have question marks on defense. Abdullah Akhtar was drafted to provide a physical and athletic presence at the back, but he has been deployed in a forward position during most of the season. Akhtar has been working hard up front and has been a great addition to the League, with opposing defenders resorting to pulling at his shirt (and allegedly at his shorts too) to prevent him from getting too much space. If there is anything to be excited about, it's that Junaid Akram appears to be 100% fit. After an incredible debut season where he scored 13 goals (and seven assists) in six games, Akram was forced to withdraw after just one match last season due to a nagging injury. The talisman form looks as bright as the colour of his jersey now, as he has scored three goals thus far and is hungry for more.
On the other side, GM Taqi Ahmed had the League wide-eyed after a commanding performance during their exhibition match, where his Hejaz side absolutely dominated last year's table-topping Sham. However, this team has been anything but dominant this year, giving up 14 goals in a pair of outings. Taqi, a noted tactician, has not seemed to strike the right balance in his side. Poacher Murtaza Tirmizi has looked isolated up front, and there is only so much midfielder Nasir Rehman can do in midfield. Taqi himself has been playing more of a defensive midfield role for Los Blancos, and perhaps moving him into a more attacking role he's typically taken up for teams in the past may be the key to unlock his side's potential. Hejaz goalkeeper and League rookie Nabeel Jabbar has been subject to a firing range this year; though his goals against is a number no goalie would be happy to report on, he has played very well in net and has done all he can to stop the bleeding. It's on his defence to close down opposing forwards faster and not rely on him as the last line of defence so frequently. Lastly, we can't talk about Hejaz without bringing up the left boot of Asif Ali. Preseason chatter surrounded the potential of his younger brothers leading the line for Jerusalem, and older brother Asif slipped under the radar. He has taken a total of four shots this season, all with his left foot. Three of them have hit the back of the net. The forward is reminding the League that an older brother, no matter how you slice it, will always have something to say when the attention is turned to younger siblings.
The good news for both of these sides is someone has to collect points on the night – the bad news is that one may end up heading into the December break with zero points to show for a bleak start to the season. Let's see who comes out on top.
Jerusalem FC vs. Samarra FC (8:45PM - Field 4)
Samarra come into week 3, leading the league in goals and individual points. The trio of Danish, Jibran and Omar has been deadly so far. Their defence has held teams in check with goalkeeper Hassan Syed barking out instructions from the back. The Redblacks have been stellar on the smaller field but now we transition to the bigger field and management believes their game will translate nicely onto the new pitch. With another W, they will be the clear favourites after the first quarter of the season. Last week Umair Ashaf made his presence felt with a goal and an assist. After being picked up late in the draft, he is showing he is a top tier defender in the L.
They will face off against a Jerusalem side desperate for points this week. Sitting on one point, they need points to distance themselves from the relegation line. They will be in tough this week against Samarra but a short spurt of Ali, Azaan and Ismail showed they have some skill upfront. GM Saqib will be hoping those three mesh with more space to work with to breakdown defenders. They will have to do that with a new keeper though as former GM Ibrahim Sardar is withdrawing from the league due to a reinjured shoulder. Jerusalem is still negotiating a contract with a replacement player to have him in the squad for Sunday. Expect a big game from rookie Ali Raza who has impressed so far but hasn't found the back of the net yet The additional space should help him get more shots on net and open his scoring tally.
Andalusia FC vs. Sham FC (9:45PM - Field 3)
Andalusia comes off a powerful performance from last week shutting down the Anatolians to 1 goal and scoring 4 of their own. “Somehow”, they remind us of the 2017 Jerusalem champions and the way they played last week suggests they can go for it all. Sham FC on the other hand has been as dominant as expected from draft day. With the blockbuster acquisition of Fawad Akram, GM Muhammad Shah can take some (a lot) weight off his back and focus on the little things that will win him his 3rd championship. In terms of what we have seen so far, the 2 squads look like 2 of the top 3 and as such, this match up will be crucial to where they stand at the end of the season. News breaking out of both camps is Andalusia will be without Omar Sheikh while Sham will be without their Captain as well Muhammad Shah. The absence of both team leaders takes some of the luster away from the matchup but nonetheless these are very important points for both teams.
We are already rating Andalusia as the best defensive team in the league with top performances from Hassan Chaudhary and Rayhan Malik who help their star players focus their efforts in attack. When you add Hashim Ghazi to that mix, you have the key to success. Ghazi has never missed a finals in is career. Sham’s defense has not been as busy as their Spanish opponents but are better built to support their offense which gives Sham more chances to create goals. Andalusia will have to limit Fawad’s involvement in the match to jump Sham in the standings but it will be more difficult to do than their past opponents with the transition back to the John Vanier. WIth Omar out, Atif Mian will be expected to carry the offence upfront with him speed and big boot. The result will setup some serious implications in the standings and the way these teams will play going forward. Can Sham breach the air tight Andalusian defense?