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Week 8 Rumours

With only three weeks left in the regular season, every matchup is a key matchup. Four different teams have sat in pole position during the course of the season, and we look to another week that can end with a new team at the top of the table. Let’s see how things are shaping up for Matchweek 8: 

Hejaz FC vs. Samarra FC (8:45PM on Field 4)

Hejaz FC
We’ll be straight up – the outlook on Hejaz changes with every passing week. These guys lose a bunch of games, and then win a bunch of games. Their roster is essentially a merry-go-round of guys coming in and out of the side. It’s all over the map. However, despite the highs, the lows and everything in between, a win this week against Samarra would put them in the final playoff spot with two weeks to go. Funny how things work, eh? Los Blancos looked like the furthest thing from competitive in the first few weeks, but with some unlucky breaks, they suddenly find themselves as an above-average side right when the playoff race is getting tight. This week, Hejaz received word that yet another two players, Tayseer Bharucha and Syed G Hussain, are out of the league due to injury. In their place come defensive stalwart Maaz Mohiuddin and the REAL Zain Malik (sorry Gigi, he's been a heartthrob for way longer than your beau has). Here’s a crazy stat though – of Hejaz’s original seven draft picks, five (!!!) have withdraw because of long-term injuries. The replacements have reshaped the side, but concerns regarding developing enough chemistry to close out an intense last few weeks of the season remain apparent. Adding Maaz and Zain into the mix this week is definitely a welcome set of fresh legs, but here’s to hoping they assimilate quick before it’s too late. After a cagey one-nil loss to Andalusia last week, the Hejazis set their sights on a matchup with the team currently in the final playoff spot – Samarra. Getcha popcorn ready, this one is gonna be a battle to say the least.

Samarra FC
Samarra had a taste of the top after a phenomenal run of form, winning four straight matches. However, they suffered a relatively one-sided defeat at the hands of Jerusalem that put them in a freefall into fourth, with Hejaz lurking on the outside in fifth. Samarra's offense was stifled last week with most of Hejaz management in the audience scouting their next opponent. One of the Redblacks standout performers from last season, Furhan Azmat, had some choice words for a former teammate entering this week.  WPG's Finest said of Numair Bari, "Guy shows up wearing gloves in an indoor dome and thinks he's the next Khizer Shahzad. Get the [heck] out of here. The worst. He needs to find himself and stop trying to be something he's not - wouldn't be surprised to see him show up with pink shorts next time out." While it's evident that Azmat's comments were of a joshing nature, he does bring attention to an important observation.  These guys put it all out there with their appreciation for accessorizing on the pitch. Gloves in indoor domes, tight beard lineups, pink shorts, hairbands…you’d think these guys were attending Milan Fashion Week with their sartorial choices. However, they look destined for their third consecutive trip to the playoffs and will need a victory on Sunday against Hejaz in a big six-pointer. The battle will be tougher than usual, as NB2 (a moniker Numair frequently refers to himself as) is traveling to Egypt with his wife. Let’s hope the youngsters in the side pick up the slack without their veteran leader and keep the strong results coming.

Sham FC vs. Jerusalem FC (8:45PM on Field 3)

Sham FC
Sham faced Anatolia last week and got off to a roaring start. With two goals in the first five minutes by sharpshooter Adeel Ansari, things looked amazing for the Orangemen, who need as many wins as possible to sneak into the playoffs. However, they could not stop the famed one-two punch of Anatolia and lost the match 3-2, and Sham officially found themselves out of the playoffs. However, that does not mean that these men will look to roll over and die in their remaining three games. It helps picking up a strong defender from last year, Hassan Syed formerly of Andalusia, officially joins the team as a replacement player for Athar Siddiqui. Syed was unable to join the league from the outset due to a hairline fracture suffered while traveling, but after a few sub cameos (including one where he suited up for Jerusalem and Samarra in back-to-back games, both wins), he’s ready to become an everyday player to close out the season. Speaking to Hassan, he mentioned that he’s excited to be in this situation, as it’s reminiscent of his time with Andalusia last year. He went on to say “Next three matchups: Jerusalem, Hejaz, Samarra – loving it! I’ve had practice being in the spoiler role before with Andalusia last year. Sure it ain’t playoffs, but it’s fun!” Hassan’s positive outlook and competitiveness should invigorate the rest of the Sham squad to close out the season on a high note. His official debut comes this Sunday against Jerusalem – let’s see if he comes through on his promise to spoil the fun.

Jerusalem FC
See what having a full squad does? Jerusalem had all ten players suit up for their matchup with top-of-the-table Samarra last week, and the fresh legs allowed the team to roll to a convincing 4-0. It’s interesting that JFC’s best performances came from the one time they had their shortest bench and the other when they had their deepest. A positive sign is that these guys bounce back after defeats. Both of those big performances came after disheartening losses, and against teams that led the league at the time. The big story was moving Saqib Dadabhoy into an attacking mid role and pushing Atif Mian back into defence. We will be the first to tell you that Mian wasn’t thrilled about the move, but he definitely did not take it as a demotion and was awarded Man of the Match for his performance (with GM Zahid Merchant all up in the post-match video like he’s Puffy Combs). Merchant made the change simply because it just allows both players to play to their strengths. Mian is composed on the ball and is key to JFC’s buildup while not being afraid to mix it up when an opponent has the ball. On the other hand, Saqib enjoys playing more aggressive – or, as one teammate put it, ‘gets too emotional at the back’ – which may be risky when he’s the last line of defence, but is a major asset when pressing up front. The Sky Blues were humming in possession and felt great after last week's fixture, but a matchup with Sham waits. Sham put together an impressive defensive display against them the last time out and saw out a 1-1 draw, but JFC will be looking to collect all three points to all but confirm their spot in the playoffs.

Andalusia FC vs. Anatolia FC (9:45PM on Field 4)

Andalusia FC
Top spot was collected by Andalusia once again this week – a position they’ve found themselves in for four of seven weeks thus far this season. Honestly, I love the way these guys play. Gritty, aggressive, cagey – they’re at their best when the ref ‘let’s them play.’ And boy did the ref let them play this week. The Blues matchup with Andalusia was a battle, with both sides showing no fear of mixing it up and using their bodies to their advantage. However, this side isn’t just all grit – they have some smooth playmakers in Shaharyar Khan and Hassan Chaudhary that put their teammates in positions to score. Despite the silky runs of offense peppered throughout their performances, the team is all about their defense. Zain Khan and Hassan Chaudhry make up a formidable pairing, with Khan controlling the tempo and building up play from the back and Chaudhry acting as a sweeper as the last man back and breaking up the opponent’s counterattacks. The duo coupled with goalkeeper and GM Junaid Mirza make up the best starting defensive unit in the league with only nine goals against. They kept another clean sheet against the up-and-coming Hejaz, with Ali Chaudhry scoring the lone goal for his side in yet another impressive box-to-box performance. Team doctors are still evaluating Zain after he hurt ankle in the final few minutes of their match last week. Andalusia faces a short-handed Anatolia side this week, and with another win, they’ll be one step closer to locking up the team’s first playoff spot in their young history.

Anatolia FC 
The Yellow Submarine got off to a shaky start last week against the Orangemen, but as per usual put their trust in the dynamic duo of Nehad Shihab and Zain Khilji to score three unanswered to seal the win. Anatolia finds themselves in third spot, level on points with Samarra and one point off from the top spot. Anatolia’s top offense faces Andalusia’s top defense this week, but the Canaries will be at a severe disadvantage as Zain Khilji will not suit up. Khilji heads to fulfill a lifelong dream of attending the Arsenal. Despite having dreams of suiting up for the best club in London, he will have to settle for taking a spot up at the Emirates to watch Wenger and his men take on Burnley. That leaves Anatolia without the league’s MVP thus far, so how do they make up for the missing talisman? Two words: Taqi Ahmed. Taqi has taken a backseat to the heroics of Khilji all season, but now the number one overall pick has a chance to make the creative midfield position his own. Taqi will relish in all the free space he has to operate in mid, and we will finally get to see the man pulling the strings at the forefront of the Turks offense. Usually a week without Khilji would amount to a definite loss, but given Taqi’s adeptness with the ball at his feet, the Yellows seem up for the challenge. Andalusia’s defense is the class of the league, so Anatolia’s offense will have to be firing on all cylinders to get a full three points. A win would see them exact revenge on the Blues from their last matchup in week three, where Andalusia dominated the Yellows in a 2-1 victory. This game has major playoff implications on the line, and has the makings of a classic.

Will we have yet another change at the top of the table, or will Andalusia continue to stand as the team to beat heading into the second season? We’ll find out starting at 8:45PM this Sunday.