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Matchweek 1 Rumours

[written by: Hashim Ghazi]
 
The winter coats are out.  The days are getting shorter.  And the first set of snowflakes have made their way onto our streets.  All this can only mean one thing – it is time for BISL Season Six to get started.  The League kicks off this weekend and features a number of intriguing story lines heading into the season.  Usually, in these rumours we break down the match-ups taking place on Sunday evening.  But with such movement in the draft, we figured it would be better to give a primer on each side to get a sense of what they are bringing to the table, and will revert back to our old-school rumour write-ups for week two. 
Before we get into the team previews, there is one transaction of note: 
  • Ali Chaudhry has withdraw from Hejaz FC and will be replaced by newcomer and defender Farhan Butt.  Butt will be available for Hejaz this weekend. 
Without further ado, here are your team previews.
 
HEJAZ vs JERUSALEM (8:45PM Field 4)
 
HEJAZ
Last Year Finish: 5th place in Regular Season (7 points); Did Not Make Playoffs
GM: Taqi Ahmed (2nd year as GM)
Projected Starting VI (2-2-1): U. Sheikh; H. Ayubi, F. Butt; N. Rehman, T. Ahmed; H. Ahmed
EPL Comparison: Manchester United – a team that once was the class of the League looking to develop a new identity in hopes of bringing a new era of success and silverware to the side
Strengths:
  • Defence – last year, Hejaz put a lot of their stock into having one ball playing defender coupled with a sweeper.  What resulted in a number of scorelines that features many goals against However, the side was able to right the ship as the team built its chemistry.  This year, it appears that the Lilywhites aimed to build a defence that was deep and stable with the likes of newcomer Farhan Butt, Hussam Ayubi, Umair Ashraf, Mustafa Tirmizi and Areeb Masood
  • Counter-attacking – GM Taqi Ahmed built his side for the counter, with a defence that isn’t afraid to break up play and a midfield engine in Nasir Rehman that plays box-to-box relentlessly. You can expect the Hejazis to rely on a strong counter attack to get their goals and a defence that will protect leads and make opposing teams really work to break them down.
  • Grit – looking at the roster, these guys are going to be a handful.  The team possesses a number of people who aren’t afraid to get chippy or put a real shift in.  These guys work hard and don’t need it to be pretty.  They are focused on results above everything, and will go to any length to get them.
 
JERUSALEM
Last Year Finish: 6th place in Regular Season (5 points); Did Not Make Playoffs
GM: Saqib Dadabhoy (3rd year as GM)
Projected Starting VI (1-3-1): Y. Zia; S. Dadabhoy; S. Jarad, K. Lotia, B. Basit; M. Tirmizi
EPL Comparison: Arsenal – a storied franchise coming off its worst performances in years in hopes of establishing a new identity with world-class talent up front to mask question marks in other areas
Strengths:
  • Attack – GM Saqib Dadabhoy went attack/attack with his first two picks, picking up Bassam Basit and Syed Murtaza Tirmizi to lead the line.  From there, Dadabhoy continued to pick attacker after attacker to fill out the side.  The squad no doubt has a lot of firepower but how that will balance with a lack of true defenders (Saqib and Haaris Kirmani are the only two players that identify themselves as primary defenders) comes into play will remain to be seen.
  • Size – The Sky Blues boast the tallest team in the League, with six players standing taller than 6 feet. Jerusalem can use this size to impose a presence on as a collective defensive unit and on both sides of dead balls. The team’s size does not discount the team’s pace though, as the team features quick playmakers in Kamil Lotia and the aforementioned Bassit to turn broken up plays into quick counters.
  • Tactics – Dadabhoy does not shy away from being innovative on the pitch.  Be it grinding out results with cagey affairs, or trying new things with one sweeper defender and four attackers, you never know what you’re going to get out of the new-look Jerusalem.  While post-draft analysis led to many questioning Saqib’s strategy, the guy isn’t afraid to tinker with his side in order to yield results.  We wouldn’t rule out the side just yet. 
 
SHAM vs ANDALUSIA (8:45PM Field 3)

SHAM
Last Year Finish: 2nd place in Regular Season (20 points); Lost in Finals
GM: Muhammad Shah (3rd year as GM)
Projected Starting VI (2-2-1): M. Badar; A. Ibn Rehana, H. Masood; M. Shah, A. Alvi; K. Shahzad
EPL Comparison: Manchester City – depth, superstar talent at every position, but high expectations given the team’s performances of season’s past
Strengths: 
  • Chemistry – GM Muhammad Shah brings back six guys he has played with before (Asif Ibn Rehana, Ahmad Alvi, Saif Syed, Humeid Masood and Hashim Ghazi) and the Oranje will rely on their familiarity with one another to get out the gate early en route to some victories. 
  • Khizer – with the second pick in the draft and familiar face Fawad Akram off the board to Anatolia, Shah made a no-brainer decision to welcome BISL superstar Khizer Shahzad into the Sham dynasty.  Shahzad’s attacking prowess places him as one of the most lethal players in League history, with 26 goals to his name in just 20 matches.  Adding Shahzad to a front line of Shah and Alvi will give opposing defences fits.
  • Depth – Sham had arguably the best draft of any team, picking up all-star after all-star.  After the Tangerines secured a strong core that has seven potential starters to fill five spots, he peppered in added depth and versatility with his later picks.  What results is a squad that can maintain consistency and potency for all fifty minutes of a match.
 
ANDALUSIA
Last Year Finish: 3rd place in Regular Season (19 points); Lost in Semi-Finals
GM: Omar Sheikh (2nd Year as GM)
Projected Starting VI (1-3-1): J. Waqar; R. Zahur; O. Ansari, O. Sheikh, A. Wadee; O. El-Askalany 
EPL Comparison: Tottenham – a team with no history of success in the League has a new face at the helm that promotes winning the ball back high up the pitch and relying on fitness and chemistry to yield results
Strengths: 
  • Work Rate – this team has a ton of engines from front to back that will give opposition a lot to handle.  With GM Omar Sheikh, first round pick Omar El-Askalany, Ali Wadee and Raza Zahur, this team features of number of guys that have lungs for days and will not tire running up and down the pitch.  Opposing teams will always be losing the fitness battle against the Royals, who will always put in the extra effort that others may not. 
  • Chemistry – Sheikh welcomes back four players from last year’s third place side in Owais Ansari, Rayhan Malik, Salman Siddiqui and the aforementioned Zahur.  Clearly, Andalusia knows the brand of football they want to play this year, and will rely on the camaraderie amongst these guys to set the tone for the rest of the side. 
  • Goals – With the Omars, you already have two of the top goal threats joining forces.  However, let’s not overlook the likes of Asif Ali and his left boot.  Asif did not shy away from peppering in shots against opposition last year and will be a vital source of goals off the bench for the side.  Also, the aforementioned Siddiqui scored five goals of his own last year for the Spaniards and will look to take his goal scoring the to the next level next year.
 
ANATOLIA vs SAMARRA (9:45PM Field 3)
 
ANATOLIA
Last Year Finish: 4th place in Regular Season (12 points); Lost in Semi-Finals
GM: Zain Khilji (6th Year as GM)
Projected Starting VI (2-2-1): Z. Merchant; A. Khan, S. Kazmi; S. Limbada, Z. Khilji; F. Akram
EPL Comparison: Liverpool – a team that has had successful campaigns thanks to tremendous offensive play finally brings in a world-class keeper, leader and defense that may finally lead them to their first trophy in League history
Strengths: 
  • Offence – yet again, the Turks possess an attack that ranks as one of the top in the League.  In #1 pick Fawad Akram and GM Zain Khilji, Anatolia possesses a one-two punch that few other teams can compete with.  The duos ability to dovetail into different positions, link up play and ability to unlock defenses with that killer move will be the lead cause for the yellow submarine’s success
  • Leadership – a question that always haunted Anatolia in the past was that the team lacked the veteran leadership needed to take a team to the next level.  That is no slight to GM Khilji as he always preps his teams to win and gets the most out of them with his displays on and off the pitch.  However, any time you can incorporate championship success and leadership by way of Shaheen Limbada and Zahid Merchant, you do it.  Ziggy and Slim have played different roles on championship sides in the past and will bring that experience (not to mention elite play at their respective positions) to the side.
  • Goalkeeping – After securing a stellar defence in drafting Altamash Khan and Limbada in the early rounds, Khilji took perennial Golden Gloves candidate Zahid Merchant as the first keeper off the draft board.  Clearly, the Turks wanted to change their identity this year as a team with as strong of a back line as a front line, and did so in securing this trio. The focus will be on Ziggy this year to use his ability to command the box and organize his side from the back to keep the side balanced and on the right side of the table all season
 
SAMARRA
Last Year Finish: 1st place in Regular Season (24 points); Champions
GM: Junaid Akram (1st Year as GM)
Projected Starting VI (2-2-1): B. Jeelany; S. Ahmad, S. Choudhry; J. Akram, A. Mian; J. Sakrani
EPL Top Six Comparator: Chelsea – a team is forced to make a change and bring in a youthful new face who lacks experience but makes up for it with a strong defence and a team full of winners
Strengths: 
  • Talent – rookie GM Junaid Akram picked a side full of star quality.  The projected starters boast a past Golden Gloves winner (Basil Jeelany) and two Defenders of the Year (Sheraz Choudhry and Atif Mian).  On top of that, with guys like Jibran SakraniSalman Ahmad, Umer Jabbar and the aforementioned Choudhry, he features a quartet that won it all with as members of the Redblacks last year.  This team has the makings of being the first ever three peat winners of BISL, and it will be on Akram to man the ship and steer them to championship glory
  • Versatility – Samarra also features a number of players that can play anywhere on the pitch.  Both Atif Mian and Sheraz Choudhry can place defence or mid, while Akram himself can choose to hold down the middle of the pitch or play up front.  When you factor in utility player Atif Khan, this side can change their tactics week after week to keep their opponents guessing and on the back foot
  • Goals Goals Goals – Nobody is denying the talent that Sakrani has up front to lead the line, but he will not be the only source of goals for the side.  Atif and Junaid have both featured as lead strikers for their sides in the past and the team possesses a three prong attack that will not shy away from peppering in shots from all angles and making their presence felt for opposing keepers