We step back on the pitch this Sunday after the January break with plenty up for grabs. The standings are split in half with three teams fighting for the top 3 seeds while the remaining 3 teams are all fighting to get into the final playoff spot. The trade deadline has passed and the rosters are now final. We have one transaction to announce this week.
Transaction: Hejaz replace Hamza Waheed (moved to YVR) with Usman Aslam. Hejaz had top waiver priority and received commissioner approval. Usman joins Hejaz this Sunday.
Jerusalem FC vs. Samarra FC (8:45PM - Field 3)
Last week Jerusalem earned a very valuable point against league leaders Sham in a 1-1 draw. Jerusalem sit one point out of a playoff spot and will be looking for any points this Sunday before they close off the season against Hejaz and Anatolia. The squad has finally built up some momentum after a rocky start. Azan Ali has emerged as a gamechanger with the support of older brother Ali Raza, newcoming Nabil Muntazir and Ismail Akhter. Jerusalem have built a reputation of being a middle of the pitch team that limits opponents scoring opportunities and play a low scoring game. It is unclear whether GM Saqib Dadabhoy will be back this week after a setback on his trip to Asia. With four games left, they will need to pick up some points this week before they face off against the bottom of the table in the final 2 weeks.
Samarra bounced back last Sunday with a victory after dropping two straight games. They sit one point clear in second place but within striking distance of first and now have Andalusia on their tails for second. Danish Khan had one heck of a game last week with four goals. He will need to repeat the same performance this week as they are expected to be without striker Jibran Sakrani. Omer and Danish will have to carry the offensive load for the squad in Jibran's absence. Samarra defence has been exploited the last two weeks after they went through a spell of 1 goal allowed in three games. They will need to reorganize at the back with Azan Ali lurking this week.
Both teams need points this week to keep their position in the standings. With key pieces missing, expect both squads to be more conservative to ensure they atleast take away a point.
Andalusia FC vs. Sham FC (8:45PM - Field 4)
Andalusia come up against the league best Sham having regained their form with 3 straight wins. This matchup will be crucial for both teams in helping them finding that rhythm and chemistry to apply in the playoffs. The final score will also determine if Andalusia is worthy to be put amongst the ranks of Sham and Samarra this season. With their full team back, Andalusia look more likely to score after some blunt performances earlier in the season. Shaheen Limbada continues to bring his reliability to the side contributing to all aspects of the sport and his presence is a must if the team are to play at their best. With the return of Atif Mian, Omar Sheikh can share the responsibility in the midfield and focus more on his final ball. That’s where they looked the most dangerous last week which helped release Owais Ansari. The newly found goal scorer will prove to be their secret weapon we feel. The defense however wasn’t as stable as of late with Anatolia’s 3 goals coming from dissecting balls and 6-yard goals. Zahid Merchant has stood tall all season but needs the defense to keep the ball as far away from the net as possible. Sham will surely make them pay two-fold if the generosity continues.
The early season Sham could score as they please but are going through a serious goal drought. Having scored 1 goal in each of their last 3 matches is quite astonishing. Fawad Akram is suffering a similar fate pocketing only 1 point in 3 games. Some absences may have caused a defensive shift, but even then, the defense has been absolutely stellar. Perhaps the best all-time defensive performances in a season. Sham has only conceded 5 goals in the past 6 games and no more than 1 in any game. The defensive unit deserves all the credit they can get. GM Mohammed Shah runs a tight a ship but is a captain who does a lot of the work himself. Analysts know the recipe of a championship team is to have Shah in the midfield. However, his offense has suffered with the dip in form of starlet Akram. We expect Shah to retain his formations and trust that Fawad will find a way through and we do know Fawad is capable of 3 or 4 points on any team. A drop in points this week could mean a drop in the standings; although they still hold their undefeated feat. Ahmed Alvi and Imad Siraj will be on deck looking to end the famine and pick up the traction the squad needs to finish the season on top.
This match will have all the ingredients to remember and could be looked at a match where both teams can reach a new level. Will Sham let Andalusia continue their win streak or start one of their own?
Hejaz FC vs. Anatolia FC (9:45PM - Field 3)
This matchup features two teams that have recently turned a corner at the right time in hopes of securing that vaunted fourth and final playoff spot. Two points separate the two sides, so this matchup is the definition of a “six pointer.” Will Anatolia secure a crucial three points and put Hejaz away for good, or will Hejaz secure a massive result and leapfrog the Spaniards in the standings?
Anatolia’s hot streak was halted just before the Superbowl break, but still find themselves trending upwards with a complete performance against third place Andalusia. GM Zain Khilji has finally found a formation that gets him and his four best players on the pitch at the same time, with Hussam Ayubi and Humeid Masood shoring up the backline, Junaid Akram and Khilji in the mid, and Abdullah Akhtar up front. The team relies on fluid motion to flood the offensive zone and catch defenses off-guard with interlink play. Also, the team seems to have found the ability to make the most of dead ball situations, scoring one goal on a kick-in from the sideline and another from a corner (where Zain Khilji ghosted the entire Andalusian side en route to a diving header). With all the talent this side has to offer, it is surprising that they have struggled to find their footing. However, the past is just that – the past. Look for Anatolia to continue their forward progression against Hejaz in hopes of putting them away and securing their hold on fourth place.
Hejaz, on the other hand, have showed a lot more resilience but unfortunately the results haven’t fallen their way. After tying the League-leading Sham earlier this year, they gave their all in a loss to Samarra a few weeks back. The good news is that Hejaz has gotten the two best sides out of the way and now face back-to-back matchups against the two sides they are combating with for fourth place. A win this week against Anatolia would likely propel them into the final playoff spot. Taqi Ahmed has dealt with another blow to his side after veteran Hamza Waheed was forced to withdraw because he has moved to the west coast. Taqi Ahmed, after running virtual simulations, holding tryouts, personality tests and yes, even having players wrestle a grizzly bear (allegedly), finally found his replacement in Usman Aslam, a former Brotherhood award winner and GM in the League. Aslam’s versatility to play anywhere in the pitch and his leadership attributes will no doubt be an asset to the Lilywhites. And plus he (allegedly) won a wrestling match with a grizzly bear – clearly the guy has heart and determination. Aslam comes into the mix at a time where his team needs it most, as a loss this week may be the final nail in the coffin for the Hejazis. Let’s see if his addition boosts the morale and turns the side’s improving performances into winning ones.