Happy New Year! 2018 ended with Sham and Samarra separating themselves from the rest of the League, while Anatolia remain the only side yet to pick up a single point thus far. However, there is a lot of matches to play, and things are far from set in stone. Let's see how the matchups are looking for the first BISL matches of 2019. But first...
Ibrahim Sardar of Jerusalem FC has withdrawn from the League due to an injury, and Jerusalem FC have elected to pick up rookie Nabil Muntazar as his replacement. We wish Ibrahim a speedy recovery insha'Allah and welcome Nabil to the League.
Now, onto the matchups.
Hejaz FC vs. Jerusalem FC (8:45PM - Field 3)
Hejaz FC are coming off a massive victory to put them back in the standings after losing the opening two in which they conceded 14 goals. It seems the lilywhites have finally settled on defense and can finally focus more resources on offense. There is still an uphill battle to recover from a hefty goal differential as many times, playoff standings are determined from this stat. Nabeel Jabbar had a notable performance as he made his debut as a defender and Riaz Murad had a solid game between the pipes. The after match analysis indicated positive changes to their style of play which included higher possession rates and improved build up. GM Taqi Ahmed has tweaked his game to limit his responsibilities to transitional play and it seems to have triggered these improvements. Syed Ahsan Kazmi, unsure of what role he would play in the side, brought much needed depth to the squad and will presumably be a first choice defender for Taqi and Los Blancos in 2019.
Jerusalem FC have held as steady as they can as the club went through some rough patches, including the withdrawal of star goalkeeper Ibrahim Sardar. Since then, GM Saqib Dadabhoy and Ismail Akhtar have given it a go between the sticks and have a good record to show for it (1.00 GAA). Quite the contrary to usual troubles, the blues have been very solid at the back but are failing to create and convert chances on offense. The Ali brothers seem to find each other with ease but lack the cutting edge in front of goal. The addition of Nabil Muntazar has helped ease the pressure to bring the ball up, especially when Saqib plays in goal, but as a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, will need to recondition his mentality and ambition. A win this weekend will help them onto a playoff spot as we expect much more rhythm from the offense after the break.
Anatolia FC vs. Sham FC (8:45PM - Field 4)
With the worst ever start to their campaign, Anatolia is now in fear of losing 4 in a row. The club will prepare a season saving performance and we expect to see a match full of parity. Anatolia have still been competitive till now having lost 2 of their 3 matches by 1 goal but heavily rely on their GM for output. Zain Khilji has been directly involved in 5 of the team's 6 goals and they look real sluggish without him on the pitch. Abdullah Akhtar is still looking for the 1st point of his BISL career having hit the post on multiple occasions but it's only a matter of time before he starts converting. The underlying issue remains with their play off the ball while regaining and retaining possession. The defense will play a huge part of any success they are to achieve and the task at hand could be their toughest yet.
Sham come into this match up in full confidence having taken all possible points from their opening 3 matches, while Anatolia have managed none. Nevertheless, GM Muhammad Shah will urge Sham to not take the Anatolians lightly knowing the talents they possess. Having missed the previous match, Shah will look to restore balance in the squad and help fill the void he left in the midfield. Fawad Akram has led the attack with 7 goals thus far and will continue to be given the green light with Shah back and a very reinforcing backline in Asif Ibn Rehana and Saifuddin Syed. We noticed that Sham's greatest strength is the quality of their play in their opponent's third which makes it difficult for teams to keep control of the game as they are forced to defend more systematically. Anatolia may fall victim to this phenomenon as their backline hasn't always been parallel to the attack from their opposition.
Andalusia FC vs. Samarra FC (9:45PM - Field 3)
Three matches in, and the Spaniards are yet to possess an identity. With a handful of rookies and so many players in new positions, it has led to the side putting a lot of work into understanding of rotations, developing chemistry and functioning as a team as opposed to a bunch of individuals. The growing pains have resulted in a trio of performances that are nowhere close to what they are truly capable of as a unit. In a high-profile matchup against Sham to close out 2018, the team just could not muster up chances in any capacity, with only four shots during the whole match. Not having GM Omar Sheikh and Shaheen Limbada in the side surely contributed to the tepid display, but nonetheless, the royal blues need to be more aggressive in attack and create more chances if they have any shot of making noise in the playoffs. A bright spot for the side has been Hassan Chaudhary in defense. Chaudhary, an attacking midfielder or support striker in previous seasons, has been asked to play a new role this season and has delivered impressively, breaking up play at the back and joining the attack when called upon. Also, Owais Ansari continues to grow in presence in the side, and he has done everything except score a goal so far this season – and we can't see Papi being kept off the scoresheet for long with the bevy of tools he possesses in his arsenal. With their two leaders back this week, we expect the side to come out ready for the challenge and focused on starting off 2019 with an upset against the champions-elect.
Samarra have picked up right where they left off from last year, and have the look of a true threat to win the League again. While some of the personnel has changed, the team remains the most complete side every Sunday with a potent offense, an effective defense and a strong keeper. GM Danish Khan appears to be in even better form than his MVP campaign last year, and it appears that his knee problems that plagued him last year are completely in his rear view mirror. The redblacks struck gold again in drafting a rookie striker, as Jibran Sakrani has provided a direct approach to goal that has left defenses in disarray with his movement in front of goal. Add in engine and goal-scoring threat Omar El-Askalany and it will be hard to find a more effective front three in the League's history. With all the focus on the goal scoring quality of the side, there has been little talk of Hassan Syed's performance in goal. Hassan, a defender by trade, put the gloves on for the champions in the final few games of the season and made a lasting impression. He has grown into a commanding presence in the box, and his passing ability and understanding of the game has allowed the Samarrans to employ him as a sweeper when they push up to keep possession, as well as an initiator of quick counter attacks with his passes and throws from the box.
The first matchweek of the new year always poses some surprises as teams try to get back into the swing of the season - let's see how the results play out.