This could be the weekend that decides it all. Samarra and Sham battle for top spot this week while Andalusia has a chance to eliminate Hejaz from playoff contention. Anatolia can punch their ticket to the playoff with a win and Hejaz tie or loss. In the event that Hejaz and Jerusalem are eliminated this Sunday, we will begin the playoffs next week while Hejaz and Jerusalem will play for 5th place. If both teams are not eliminated, the schedule will continue as posted.
Samarra FC vs. Sham FC (8:45PM - Field 3)
You could not ask for a better ending to the season. #1 vs #2 with the top of the table up for grabs (and, according to the standings, an easier path to the finals). Samarra and Sham have flip-flopped between 1 and 2 all season, and the matchup is front and centre this week to decide who is all but certain to head into the playoffs as the #1 seed.
The first matchup between these two showed a tight battle, but if you ask viewers of the match, they would say that Sham never really looked like they going to get any other result but a win. The defense of Sham did what they do, and remain the only team to keep Samarra scoreless this season. Sham can expect to maintain an identical tactical plan against the redblacks this week, and look to reclaim top spot in doing so. However, we cannot be so sure that a single goal will be enough this time around, as keeping the Samarrans off the scoresheet once is a feat, two is nigh impossible. Look for Sham to come out the gate and push for an early goal from the initial whistle to keep their opponents at bay with their lethal counter attack lurking.
The 1-0 loss to Sham is the only blemish on Samarra's record this season. The reigning champs have looked every bit capable of a repeat, but need a full three points to keep Sham at out of reach of first place. The most impressive thing about Samarra is how many ways they can beat you. We have seen them attack without regard for human life in high scoring games, but saw a very defensive-minded side line up against Andalusia a few weeks ago. The team's ability to compactly defend as a unit makes them very difficult to break, and the understanding amongst the entire squad of how to control a game remains second to none. The depth and quality of Samarra is second-to-none, and when they are all locked in on getting three points by any means necessary, they are a tough out. However, though Samarra have a lot to commend themselves for this year, the one thing they have yet to do is beat Sham. The most frustrating thing is that you cannot really ask for more from your team than giving up a single goal, but that won't be enough. The Redblacks will have to seize control of the match early, breaking up Sham's intricate play and capitalizing on the few mistakes Sham are to make in the game.
This match can go one of two ways: either it mimics the first matchup between the two and it is a tactical masterclass, or both sides just look to attack attack attack and see which team has more firepower to outlast the other. Regardless, it stands to be a match of utmost significance not only to the standings, but to the egos of both teams.
Anatolia FC vs. Jerusalem FC (8:45PM - Field 4)
The season is coming to an end as Anatolia’s playoff spot is under siege from opponents outside the borders of the playoffs. Jerusalem is hanging on to threads for the possibility to make it to the other side but playing Anatolia may help them push for a final claim to the second season. However, if they lose, they will have to retreat and try again next season. The club has only won 1 game this season, perhaps due to the uncertainty in the squad, but this weekend, they need all players available if they want to be relevant at season close. Last week Ali Raza did not dress for the side and lost a very meaningful game against the also-searching Hejaz without a fight. The good news was that Harris Shahzad found the back of the net last week which may add to the team’s confidence to score; something they have struggled with all season. GM Saqib Dadabhoy has manned the pipes after his return and we are confident he will take the goalkeeping responsibility to the death of the season. This move will free up Ismail Akhter who can really make an impact in the midfield for the blues. The pressure will be on the Ali brothers to snatch up a win to keep the hopes of a second season alive.
In their previous meeting, Anatolia defeated Jerusalem by a near margin of 3-2. Although margins will not matter, Jerusalem may feel they have a claim for all three points this time around. Anatolia is recovering from a hefty defeat at Sham and will come back stronger and more determined to tighten their grip on their playoff spot. The Anatolian forwards will always be dangerous but it’s the defense and transition play in the midfield they lack and need to improve. Umair Sheikh has been a glow-in-the-dark lemur making several save of the season plays. If only we had them on tape. Organization is key for the team and although their attacks are always threatening, they are very vulnerable on the counter and need time to retain their shape. We expect Anatolia to stick with their attacking formations leaving Jerusalem to test how well they can cope with them and respond.
Andalusia FC vs. Hejaz FC (9:45PM - Field 3)
Andalusia FC play out the rest of the season essentially locked into third place after their disappointing 1-0 loss to Samarra last week. With a victory or even a point, they would have a shot at the top of the table but Anda continue to lose their form when they need it most. After four consecutive victories, they once again fell to Samarra. In two matches, they have been outclassed 4-0 by the redblacks. This Sunday they face Hejaz who are fighting for their playoff lives. The last time these two teams met, Andalusia scraped out a 3-2 victory after dominating most of the match. Andalusia are finally turning up a full roster but they lacked the finishing touch last week. The oldest side in the league are complaining about the lack of consistency in the schedule that have resulted in long gaps between games. Good news for them that we are playing all the way through now with no breaks.
Hejaz come into the final regular season week with a shot at reaching the playoffs but they will need some help from Jerusalem to knock off Anatolia. Hejaz has been on a recent skid and needed some help. The squad is expect to welcome back Riaz Murad from Umrah. They team sent him to the holy lands to ask for help and he definitely delivered. They were fortunate to be the beneficiaries of Sham trying to upgrade their roster with a replacement player last Sunday. Taqi quickly scooped up Mohammed Syed (relative of Muhammad Shah) when he was put on waivers. It cost Hejaz Zeem Khan but it was a gamble they were willing to take. M Syed proved his worth last game with a pair of goals and some fancy footwork. Hejaz got an easy victory last Sunday against Jerusalem but will face a tougher test this week against Andalusia. Los Blancos will need to be more composed and control possession if they want a similar result.
This may be the last weekend of the regular season, and it happens to feature a battle for the top and a six pointer. What more could you ask for? It all kicks off at quarter to nine on Sunday.