Having lost a number of key players, will the Cheetahs manage to improve upon last season's performances?
What happened in 2014?
Home ground: Hougang Stadium, Singapore
Nickname: The Cheetahs
Last Season: 7th place
League Cup: Semi-finalists
Singapore Cup: First Round
It was a spectacular year for the Cheetahs, although they narrowly missed out on a top-half finish. One loss in their first six games, with stunning triumphs over title contenders Albirex Niigata (Singapore) and Tampines Rovers, set the tone for the season and they were at one point just six points off the pace.
Three straight losses towards the end of the second round of fixtures meant they dropped into the lower half, but they eventually managed to finish the ‘best of the rest’ by winning their final two games of the season.
The amalgamation of two clubs (Hougang and Woodlands Wellington) marks a new era for Hougang United. There are massive changes in terms of playing personnel, with last year’s key performers Igor Cerina, Wahyudi Wahid, Fazli Jaafar and Geison Moura all released.
In total there are 12 new arrivals at the club; on the locals’ front, the new faces include Ridhuan Bahrudin, Ruzaini Zainal, Taufiq Ghani, Fareez Farhan and Muhaymin Salim, while the retained Shunsuke Nakatake is accompanied by compatriots Kunihiro Yamashita, Takahashi Manato and Renshi Yamaguchi.
Former Real Madrid youth team player Francisco Salvador Ela “Chupe” is the odd one out among the foreign legion.
The Gaffer – Salim Moin
With Amin Nasir battling illness, the experienced Salim takes over the Cheetahs hot seat this term with plenty to prove.
Having endured difficult half-seasons each with Tampines Rovers and Woodlands the last time out, his latest task to galvanise this new-look Cheetahs side will not come any easier.
Will the former Singapore international have the tactical acumen to pull this feat off?
While there are a number of locals which left this year, the Hougang HOOLs should be relieved to see the likes of Faizal Amir, Lau Meng Meng and Nurhilmi Jasni still in the famous orange strip. The trio’s experience should help guide the youngsters in this squad.
The inclusion of energetic youngsters like Fareez, Muhaymin and Manato also means the team will not lack pace in the attacking third this season.
The team looks considerably weaker this season, in particular the attacking areas. Without the likes of Fazli and Azhar Sairudin, the team looks heavily reliant on Natatake to provide the creative magic.
New signings Taufiq, Ruzaini and Matthew Abraham are more effective players than flashy ones, while it remains to be seen whether Chupe and Manato can forge a successful partnership upfront like predecessors Moura and Diego Gama.
Players To Watch
- Francisco Salvador Ela “Chupe”
The 34-year-old Equatoguinean has the unenviable task of stepping into Moura’s shoes, but at least he has been scoring goals for fun in pre-season.
Famous for his five-year-spell in the reserve teams of La Liga giants Real Madrid, his technical ability and experience should help the Cheetahs gain an edge upfront.
- Takahashi Manato
Standing at 1.66m tall, Manato is short in stature but big of heart. Previously plying his trade for J3 club Fujieda MYFC, the 24-year-old is already a fans’ favourite with his willingness to work his socks off for the team.
His electric pace will come in handy on the counter-attack.
- Fareez Farhan
While the consistent Fazli has left, Fareez is more than capable of filling his boots. The 20-year-old’s trickery and ability to cut in to take shots will help them team grab a few goals this season.
He will also have a point to prove after seeing his career stalling over the last two years.
Kenneth's 2015 S.League Prediction: 8th
A tough season lies ahead and a top-half finish looks out of the equation. I'll be happy to be proven wrong though.