The FourFourTwo Preview: JDT vs Pahang
The Malaysian 'El Clasico' (by Dickson Nwakaeme).
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
JDT 2-2 Pahang* (Malaysia Cup, Nov 14)
Pahang 1-0 JDT (FA Cup, May 14)
JDT 2-2 Pahang (Super League, May 14)
JDT 1-1 Pahang (FA Cup, May 14)
Pahang 3-2 JDT (Super League, Feb 14)
After spending the entire preseason bickering with each other on the "ownership" of Gary Steven Robbat, it is great that both teams will finally let their football do the talking instead. Anyway, even without the aforementioned transfer saga getting stuck in, the season's curtain-raiser at the Larkin Stadium is bound to be a spicy affair, featuring JDT as the league champions and Pahang as the holders of the FA Cup, the Malaysia Cup and, of course, the Charity Shield, having emerged victorious against the LionsXII in this fixture a year ago. With three points up for grab as well, no one can ask for a better opening match of the season than this.
Pahang have an upper hand against the league champions, as they were unbeaten against them in all competitions last season, but things have changed since their last meeting in the 2014 Malaysia Cup final. JDT have strengthened well with the signings of Farizal Marlias, S. Kunanlan, S. Chanturu and Junior Eldstal, while the Elephants have opted to keep the same squad that served them so well last year, with former Harimau Muda starlet D. Saarvindran being the only notable addition. This clash of transfer ideologies can almost be an interesting case study on whether it is better to believe in your current players or chop and change until you find the perfect XI.
Both head coaches have underlined how important this match will be (see below), but you have a feeling that the Southern Tigers might be slightly distracted by their do-or-die AFC Champions League qualifier against Bengaluru FC in a few days' time. JDT head coach Bojan Hodak might not want to risk his players picking up injuries before that crucial tie.
Gary Steven Robbat is obviously unavailable for selection for both teams. Joking aside, Azamuddin Akil and Saiful Nizam Miswan will miss out for Pahang due to an injury and suspension respectively. On the other side, JDT should be only missing new signing S. Chanturu and full-back Daudsu Jamaluddin, who both are reportedly carrying knocks, from their squad.
Key battle: Aidil Zafuan vs R. Gopinathan
Both teams will be able to unleash their entire foreign line-ups due to FAM's new rule, but the local players are likely to make a bigger impact especially in the case of Pahang's R. Gopinathan. The left winger had a blinding season last year and proved to be a menace for JDT in their past meetings, constantly tormenting Mahali Jasuli. With that in mind, Hodak might choose to play Aidil at the right-back position ahead of the former Selangor full-back, as his versatility and experience could be the perfect foil against Gopi's explosive pace.
The head coaches
According to Harian Metro, Pahang head coach Zainal Abidin Hassan is confident his team will be able to tame the Southern Tigers due their high team spirit, while Hodak told Kosmo! that his side has a slight advantage of playing at their home stadium.
Facts and figures
- Since Hodak took over, JDT have won 16 of their last 24 official matches in all competitions. Of the eight winless matches, four were against Pahang.
- As JDT, the Johor club has never tasted a league defeat at home.
- In each of their league matches against Pahang last season, JDT conceded an injury-time goal that caused them to drop points.
- In the last four Charity Shield matches, the winners were the Malaysia Cup winners/runners-up.
A draw would not be a surprise result, as the last two meetings at the Larkin Stadium in all competitions ended all level. 2-2.