[written by: Humeid Khan, Riaz Murad, Zain Khilji & Hashim Ghazi]
New Year, New Beginnings. Or is it? For the first time, Andalusia sit atop the standings heading into the New Year. The team's pressing approach and ability to create goals from their minimal chances has led to the Royal Blues sitting atop of the points table. However, week over week, Hejaz has looked most dominant as a collective unit and look to be the team to beat. Taqi Ahmed & Co. had a fair share of its doubters, thinking they would come back to earth after some lucky results. However, the Lilywhites have shown that they are here for the long haul and have every quality needed to win a championship. Not too far behind sit Samarra who finally got a win against one of the top four sides, and Anatolia, who, despite some impressive performances in past weeks, find themselves with only 8 points after six matches. Sham and Jerusalem sit at the bottom with their work cut out for them. With five games to go on the season, they will need to capture every point available to them, starting with a crucial matchup against one another to start 2020.
Before going into the matchups, we have a transaction to report:
GM Saqib Dadabhoy of Jerusalem is forced to withdraw as a result of a nagging knee injury that has limited his play all season. He has been replaced by BISL veteran and star Nehad Shihab, formerly of Anatolia. Saqib will remain as GM for Jerusalem and may attend matches in a managerial capacity. We wish Saqib all the best in his recovery and welcome Nehad back into the fold.
Here are this week's rumours, fresh off the press.
ANDALUSIA vs ANATOLIA (8:45PM Field 4)
Andalusia, come into the New Year sitting at the top of the table, and are determined to take a stranglehold of their perch this week and moving forward. GM Omar Sheikh has been quite busy in the first half of the season moving his lineups around to ensure maximum productivity from his squad of talented players. With Saad K surprising the entire league and leading his team in points, look for Omar to rely on him more to make plays against the Turks' defense. Striker Salman Siddiqui is determined to add to his tally of goals going into the final stretch of the season. He was seen practicing his gameface during the week. With Asif Ali and the other Omar, Omar El-Askalany, always being a threat, and with a backline of Owais Ansari and Ali Wadee, the Spaniards are determined to keep hold of that top spot and avoid the mistakes made in the first half of the season. For Anatolia, the keyword is "Resilience". With the barrage of injuries this team has faced during the season, only true grit and determination from GM Zain Khilji's squad has kept them in a playoff spot. Being extremely short-handed in their last game, they were still beaten by a single goal. This team has and can take a beating but keeps on getting up to fight a good fight. Zain had instructed his team to rest up over the holidays as he expects a hard push for the playoff run for his team. Fawad Akram and Shaheen Limbada have led the team in point production during throughout the team injury spell and should get plenty of supporting firepower coming back from the holidays. The Canaries would love to avenge their Week 3 defeat to Andalusia with a solid outing here in MW7. This could be a potential playoff matchup preview if the standings remain the same going forward, so Anatolia really needs to plan for this game in an effort to scheme for if they see the Blues again come the postsseason. But, they need to also watch their rearview mirror to ensure they don't fall out of the final playoff spot. Their Resilience will really be tested from here on out.
SHAM vs JERUSALEM (8:45PM Field 3)
As the calendar flips to a new year, it remains to be seen whether these two bottom dwellers are the same team that closed 2019. Sham comes into this matchup with a league-worst Goal Difference. They are struggling to score goals and worse, they are struggling to stop the opponents from scoring them, which has been Sham's bread and butter the last two years. After a dispiriting 5-0 loss against Andalusia in matchweek 6, the team looked broken. They could not defend, score or do much of anything that game. However, the break could not have come at a better time for the Oranje. They needed this time off as a retrospective and iron out the laundry list of issues. Despite that, they are only four points out of a playoff spot. They aren't out of the hunt just yet, but the door is closing on them fast. The thing to watch out for this week would be the offense. Even in their only win of the season, the offense seemed rushed and out of control. Will that change after the break? Let's wait and see. Jerusalem sit at the bottom of the table with three points as a result of Board decision awarding them full points in their last match. Will the addition of Nehad Shihab re-energize this once-proud franchise for a last push for the postseason? Despite their struggles, they are also just five points out of a postseason spot. A win against Sham will flip their positions on the table and start the new year with some positive momentum. The men in sky blue definitely showed glimpses in their matches but the problem is they are always just glimpses. They have the star power in Murtaza Tirmizi and Bassam Basit to score in bunches but the defense is giving away more than they can keep up with. The thing to watch out for this week is whether or not Nehad can energize this team's defense, giving the offense a chance to get them the 3 points. Both teams are fighting to keep their season alive; the question: is who will survive?
HEJAZ vs SAMARRA (9:45PM Field 3)
Samarra FC ended the season on a positive note having finally won a game after three consecutive draws and some may not realize that they are still undefeated this season. They sit in third place despite avoiding collecting points from each fixture this season and are only a game’s length away from joining the top with a gap of just 3 points. Absences have hurt their chances thus far, but rookie starlet Aadhil Mohamed has led the team in scoring to ensure they don’t finish a game empty-handed. GM Junaid Akram has taken a step out of the lights as a scorer with a more defensive and linking style of play to contribute four assists so far. That is great to see from any GM and it has paid dividends to their success this season. Team morale is high, and the offense looks very dangerous when Jibran Sakrani is available for selection. They will certainly test Hejaz and their resilient defense in a game that we expect to be tight encounter. Hejaz, despite sitting in second due to the Board decision from their last matchup, remain the team to beat this season and still may receive more votes to emerge with all 3 points from the match with their impressive organization and ability to take their chances in front of goal. With Nasir Rehman in the heart of the midfield, it's difficult for opponents to keep possession in the Hejaz half to forego a risk of a Hejazi counter - something they’ve used to their strengths. Defenders Farhan Butt and Hussam Ayubi have developed a fierce partnership in front of goalkeeper Umair Shiekh, and many forwards across the league have scars to show for it. They compliment each other very well and aren’t afraid to dig deep for those 50/50 balls. We are exciting to see how deep Nasir will be deployed as the heart that makes the team beat against a formidable offensive side in Samrra. On offense, Nasir, GM Taqi Ahmed and Hannan Ahmed can create scoring chances at will given their fluidity as an attacking unit up front. This match will be one to watch and one that will leave a mark in the standings for playoffs.