Garena Young Lions vs Albirex Niigata (S): Can the apprentices prevail against the masters?

Jalan Besar Stadium | Sat 20 Feb | 7.30pm

Billed as:

GYL Form

  • GYL 1-0 Balestier (S.League)
  • GYL 2-6 Warriors FC (Friendly)
  • Hougang United 4-2 GYL (Friendly)
  • Albirex Niigata (S) 1-0 GYL (Friendly)
  • GYL 8-1 Geylang Int’l Prime League (Friendly)

Albirex Form

  • Albirex 3-2 DPMM (S.League/Community Shield)
  • Albirex 0-0 DPMM (S.League)
  • Albirex 2-1 DPMM (S.League)
  • DPMM 1-0 Albirex (S.League)
  • Albirex 0-1 DPMM (S.League)
  • DPMM 2-1 Albirex (SG Cup)         

Patrick Hesse’s introduction to the S.League as Young Lions’ coach.

The lowdown:

The Garena Young Lions were tipped to be the whipping boys of the S.League this season, but shocked everyone in their first game at Jalan Besar Stadium last Sunday when they defeated Balestier Khalsa 1-0. The former, whose starting XI comprised an average age of just 21 years, started the game with a verve and confidence belying their underdog status.

Their fluid passing approach was a refreshing contrast to Balestier’s long-ball tactics and they took a deserved lead in the 23rd minute through Fareez Farhan. Although the boys faced an onslaught from Balestier’s forwards in the second half, tenacious defending and some luck allowed them to weather the storm and take home the three points. 

Come Saturday, Frenchman Patrick Hesse will be at the helm, taking over the reins of the team from Richard Tardy who returns to his role as National Youth Teams Head Coach. Judging by Hesse’s first few training sessions, the Young Lions will stick with the possession-based, short-passing approach that brought them success in their season opener.

READ ALSO: Weakened Young Lions show they're no whipping boys

Facing Albirex Niigata is a different proposition to Balestier, though. They clinched the Singapore Cup and the League Cup last season and finished third in the league.

Although they lost last season’s player of the year Fumiya Kogure to Hougang United, they still showed enough quality to put last season’s S.League champions Brunei DPMM to the sword, winning 3-2 in the curtain raiser to add the Community Shield to their impressive cup double from 2015.  

The White Swans are well known for their attractive playing philosophy that the Young Lions are attempting to master from scratch, so Saturday’s contest between master and apprentice ought to be an encounter that is easy on the eyes.

Albirex will be looking for maximum points to maintain their two-point advantage over title rivals Tampines Rovers, while the Young Lions will be pleased if they can improve on the 1-0 pre-season defeat to Albirex and come away from this game with a point.

The Young Lions' plucky display last time out gives them hope here. Credit: Young Lions

Team News

Last 5 meetings

  • Albirex Niigata FC 1-0 Young Lions (Pre-season Friendly, Jan '16)
  • Albirex Niigata FC 0-1 Young Lions (S.League, Nov '15)
  • Albirex Niigata FC 1-0 Young Lions (S.League, Aug '15)
  • Albirex Niigata FC 2-0 Young Lions (S.League, Apr '15)
  • Albirex Niigata FC 4-2 Young Lions (S.League, June '14)

Garena Young Lions’ star striker Khairul Amri and former national under-18 midfielder Joshua Pereira are still carrying injuries and will not feature against Albirex on Saturday. Amirul Adli and Adam Swandi, who are expected to be key players for the Young Lions this season, are likely to miss their second game in a row due to National Service commitments.

The White Swans are also short on numbers. Wing-backs Kento Fujihara and Mikiya Yamada, who grabbed a goal each in the win over Brunei DPMM, also picked up knocks in the high-scoring curtain raiser match and will join Tatsuro Inui, Shuto Inaba and Tomoki Menda on the treatment table.

Tadaaki Yazawa and Rui Kumada are their likely defensive replacements.

Key Battle: Firdaus Kasman vs Kento Nagasaki 

The battle of the captains could prove pivotal to the tie. If Firdaus Kasman can nullify vital link-man Kento Nagasaki, the Young Lions have a chance of starving Albirex strikers Atsushi Kawata and Kazuki Mine of service.

Facts and Figures

  • New Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse held assistant coaching positions with the national teams of Mali and Tunisia before coming to Singapore.
  • The Young Lions have only beaten Albirex twice in 19 meetings, drawing 6 games and losing 11.

FourFourTwo prediction

Albirex to win 2-1. Experience will win the day for the White Swans but it may not be the rout some expect.

Main photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo