[written by: Humeid Khan, Riaz Murad & Hashim Ghazi]
We have an eventful trio of games this week with tons of storylines. Hejaz vs Sham sees the Orangemen needing to pull off the ultimate upset to have any chance of playing meaningful footy in the coming weeks, while Jerusalem look to continue their ascension up the table with a must-win game against Anatolia. The night caps off with the League's best offense pitted against the League's best goalkeeper of Andalusia in a table-topping matchup. With only three more matches to play, this weekend could lead to the playoffs all but being locked in, with only seeding to play for in MW10 and MW11. Let's see what's happening in the rumours this week.
HEJAZ vs SHAM (8:45PM Field 4)
Hejaz face the withering Sham this week and last time these two teams matched up, Hejaz went away with full points while Sham felt like they deserved more. Sham put up a great fight last week which really makes us wonder where they would be if they played like this from the start. The only thing we know for sure is they wouldn’t be at the bottom. There is no chatter of giving up in the dressing room right now; the team is playing for pride at this point with the playoff chances looking bleak. The resounding sentiment seems to be to play this season out and see where they stand at the end of it. After the break, Khizer Shahzad appears reinvigorated and has been playing at a much higher level; if GM Muhammad Shah can sustain his level of high play and the defense plays like they did it against a high powered offense like Anatolia, they might just be able to get the 3 points they’ve been longing for since MW3. The gameplan this week for Sham should be to score first and open that defense up a little bit. Hejaz are just too good when they play with a lead. If Sham can weather the Lilywhites' counter attacks and poke in a goal or two it would certainly help them pull off the upset. Hejaz come off last week with a huge win against Andalusia, sealing their path to the playoffs and putting them tied for points for top spot. They will now be jockeying with Samarra and Andalusia for seeding and it will be interesting to see how they finish the season. After their hot start, they have done just enough to get the points needed but have lost their hold at the top of the table. They can get it back with a statement win Sunday. The game plan for Hejaz this week will be to live off the counter. The pace and power of Nasir Rehman, Hussam Ayubi and Farhan Butt mixed with the finesse of Taqi Ahmed and Hannan Ahmed will be on full display against a defense that doesn’t set up too well to prevent counterattacking team. Will Sham be able to steal points off the Hejazis or will it be business as usual for the boys in white?
ANATOLIA vs JERUSALEM (8:45PM Field 3)
Anatolia come into Matchweek 9 dearly holding on to the last playoff spot after their second draw in a row, thanks to the heroics of GM Zain Khilji leading from the front. The Canaries again were slowing coming out of the gate but quickly regrouped to control possession as they had the previous week. They were rewarded with a goal from Khilji that went through the defenders legs and then past the goalie who had little chance. Sham did press and equalize in the dying seconds of the half and kept the pressure on. The Yellow shirts started to look a little tired in the second half and were punished with a goal from Sham. Anatolia was unable to convert several open chances, partially because of the defense in front of them but also because guys were holding the ball too much and not being ruthless in front of net. However, they were able to equalize on a beautiful Khilji header that literally moved the goal! Anatolia did get a lot more chances after that but couldn't convert. The score could have easily been very lopsided in their favour had those gone in. With the likes of Komayl Jawadi and Shahar Yar holding the fort on defense with the ability to push up, and Fawad Akram in the middle making plays, Zain has the squad to make that final push. They have to come out of the gate hard and solidify their playoff position. It won't be easy since this week, as the surging Jerusalem team are on their toes for fourth spot thanks to a new found energy primarily brought by BISL veteran Nehad Shihab, who contributed last week with two goals last week to collect a draw against the heavily favoured Samarra. At the beginning of the season, we compared GM Saqib Dadaboy's side to Arsenal, and we cannot help but notice the parralels. Out goes Dadabhoy and in comes a younger, more handsome and fresh face to lead the side to refound glory. Sometimes, even we surprise ourselves with how easily these things write themselves. Nabeel Jabbar kept them in the game with 13 saves against a belligerent attack from the hands of Andalusia. It looks like Jerusalem is the one team that has benefited the most from the break as they've played exceptionally well and like the teams of its storied past. Like their opponents in MW9, the Sky Blues need a win to keep them in the playoff hunt. Only a win would help them have a chance at a playoff spot. A draw or a loss will virtually end it for them here with nothing to play for in the final matches of the season. They don't want to end this season the same way it ended for them the previous year, on sidelines versus the postseason. With their newly discovered swagger, and a renewed confidence, Jerusalem is looking to give Anatolia a run for the money and put some fire under them. This will be the one match this week everyone is going to be looking forward to.
SAMARRA vs ANDALUSIA (9:45PM Field 3)
The premium match of the night is a battle for top spot (something we feel like we've been saying every week with the moment amongst the top four). Both teams are a ruing the opportunity to claim sole possession of the top of the table. A draw in this match and win by Hejaz will drop them both off the top, with a potential first round playoff face off against each other. Samarra played fairly well against their opponents in Matchweek 8, remaining unbeaten, but came out with a draw against a team fighting for its playoff life. With so many chances, Samarra only were successful in converting three. That's pretty low for a high scoring team that prides itself on creating chances and converting those chances into goals. GM Junaid Akram was kept off the score sheet but Aadhil Mohamed hasn't missed a beat, adding another goal to his stellar rookie campaign. Goalie Basil Jeelany made some crucial saves down the stretch to keep the game tied. He'll be called upon again this week to hold the fort against an attack-happy Andalusia. The Redblacks need to control possession and come back on defense quickly to negate a counter attack by the Spaniards. Speaking of which, the Andalusians were visibly upset at the result of their last match against Hejaz. GM Omar Sheikh was hoping for a better result from his squad that was missing striker Salman Siddiqui who was out with a nagging injury. It was essentially a maintenance day for him. We hope to see him return this week. That finishing ability was clearly missing as the Blues only managed to get a single goal against the stingiest defense in the league. Ali Wadee was able to pot his first of the season from a nice pass from rookie Saad K. For a team that prides on counter-attacks, it was frustrating for them to not be able to get their bread and butter going. They'll probably stick to their game plan that has worked for them all year, and press their opponents to the limits in hopes of costly turnover that convert to numbers on the board. The Royals have been short nearly every game this year, and face another potentially short squad this week for Sunday with some players nursing injuries and still away on travel. This one will be an eventful affair, as Andalusia hopes to bring the Samarrans back to life and end their dreams of a perfect season.