Two-time defending Malaysia Super League (MSL) champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) enter the mid-season break with a two-point lead over an impressive Felda United, while title pretenders Selangor, Kelantan and Terengganu have fallen far behind.
Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT)
Expectations at start of season: Mario Gomez squad – akin to Real Madrid’s Galaticos – were expected to lead the way in Malaysian football after a leap in performance since the Argentine came on board last April.
How they performed so far: The Southern Tigers have been in blistering form so far and already look shoe-in favourites for a third MSL title in a row come the end of the season.
Mario Gomez’s men are unbeaten in the league, scored the most goals, have the best defence and enjoy a two-point lead over Felda United.
To top things off, the club won the FA Cup and qualified for the AFC Cup knockout rounds.
Argentinean pair Juan Martin Lucero and Jorge Pereyra Diaz are firing on all cylinders, accounting for 18 of the club’s 29 league goals. Meanwhile skipper Safiq Rahim and Marcos Antonio dominated the midfield and defence respectively.
Home-grown Azinee Taib has also pushed himself into the first-team, making it an all-Johorean left side with Fazly Mazlan at left-back.
Star man: Jorge Pereyra Diaz. The 25-year-old has helped the club not miss former playmaker Luciano Figueroa. Diaz has formed a great understanding with his teammates and he makes JDT tick.
Club Grading: A
Expectations at start of season: Having boosted the squad in the right departments, Felda were expected to give Selangor a run for their money to finish as bridesmaid to JDT.
How they performed so far: Irfan Bakti Abu Salim’s men are living up to their nickname, the Fighters. Having moved to their brand new Tun Abdul Razak Stadium – the country’s first football only stadium – Felda United are giving JDT a run for their money.
Led by veteran Shukor Adan on the pitch, Felda United only conceded three more and scored one less than JDT’s expensively assembled line-up.
In terms of results, JDT’s come-from-behind 2-1 win home win over Felda in March is the only thing that have set the Southern Tigers apart.
Shukor, who turns 37 in September, has been solid at the back while Zah Rahan Krangar and Lutfulla Turaev are proving to be the best engine room partnership around.
Local wingers Christie Jayaseelan and Hadin Azman are performing too but there are concerns that injuries or fatigue could derail their title ambition as the squad lacks depth.
Star man: Francis Forkey Doe. Last-minute signing to replace injured Thiago Fernandes, and is tied with Lucero for the Golden Boot award on 10 league goals.
Club Grading: A