Home United vs Warriors FC: Will they cope with increased expectation?

S.League | Bishan Stadium | Sun 14 Feb | 7.30pm

Billed As

An early battle between two contenders for the 2016 S.League crown.

The Lowdown

Expectations and anticipation will come to the fore when the season finally kicks-off for two teams that many expect a lot from this season.

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Home United and Warriors FC have emerged as early favourites along with Tampines Rovers after astute recruitments over the off-season.

The Malaysia Super League’s loss has been the teams’ gain with some of the LionsXII’s more notable players such as Madhu Mohana (Warriors FC), Zulfahmi Arifin and Faris Ramli (both Home United) being snapped up by these clubs.

All in all, it was a disappointing season for both clubs last season in the S.League, with the Warriors edging Home United to a fifth-place finish, with just a point separating them.

Since then, both outfits have strengthened considerably. Warriors, who conceded the most goals last season in the league, have focused mainly on recruiting in defence, roping in the likes of Madhu, Hafiz Osman, Shaiful Esah, Ismail Yunos, Zulfadli Zainal and Japanese centre-back Kento Fukuda to shore up the backline.

In goal, veteran custodian Yazid Yasin has been snapped up as well to add even more experience to the side.

Home United have mostly gone for youth but the signings of Faris and Zulfahmi has meant whispers of a serious title challenge have grown over the weeks around Bishan Stadium, a setting the Protectors will once again grace after being based in Yishun last year.

With the limelight firmly fixed on the Stags, this match is a perfect platform for either club to come out of the shadows and make an early statement. 

DON'T MISS: Home United's comprehensive S.League preview

Team News

With the exception of full-backs Sufianto Salleh and Ang Zhiwei, Home United come into their season opener with a clean bill of health.

Hyrulnizam Juma’at will be in goal for the Protectors while it is widely expected that coach Philippe Aw will go with a back three, as he regularly did last season. If that is the case, then expect Juma’at Jantan, R. Aaravin and Abdil Qaiyyim to line-up in front of the former Singapore international.

Ahead of that trio, Zulfahmi Arifin, Azhar Sairudin and Aqhari Abdullah should start in the engine room with former LionsXII favourite Faris and Frenchman Sirina Camara providing the width.

Up front is where Home United appear most dangerous and it is anyone’s guess as to which of Irfan Fandi, Khairul Nizam and Amboise Begue will get to partner Danish delight Ken Ilso as they attempt to gun down the Warriors.

For the visitors, Yazid will be in goal with Kento, Shaiful, Madhu and Zulfadli making up an extremely sturdy back four.

Fazli Jaffar and Hafiz Nor will provide plenty of pace and trickery out wide while Poh Yi Feng, Hafiz Rahim and Nikola Rak keep things ticking in midfield.

Up front, Frenchman Jonathan Behe will aim to wreak havoc and net in his first S.League appearance.

Ken Ilso is sure to prove a headache for opposition defences

READ ALSO: Warriors FC's S.League preview

Key Battle: Ken Ilso vs Madhu Mohana

A brick wall at the heart of the Singapore defence, Madhu enjoyed a stellar 2015 for both club and country. Over the years in the MSL, Madhu has often risen to the occasion when pitted against the big, burly foreign forwards.

Prominent MSL hitmen like Paulo Rangel, Austin Amutu, Gilmar, and Matias Conti can all attest to having been shut down by Madhu previously. But perhaps none of those aforementioned attackers can claim to have a CV like the one Ilso possess.

The former Bundesliga striker managed to plunder 11 goals in the league last season despite an injury ravaged campaign and the lanky Danish forward needs just a sniff of the goal to make the Warriors pay.

Madhu will need to be at his best if he is to ensure the Warriors are to come out on top, while the aerial battles between the pair will be critical.

The Coaches: Men looking to prove themselves

After a disappointing campaign with the Eagles last season, coach Jorg Steinebrunner will be looking to ensure that he can ride high with the Warriors.

Steinebrunner brings plenty of experience, having had various gigs in the Middle East and Indonesia.

The Warriors are also his fourth club in Singapore after Geylang, Sengkang Punggol (now known as Hougang Untied) and Woodlands Wellington.

On the opposite bench, Aw will be starting only his second season in the league with his first club. Both men like their teams to play an attractive brand of football, but Steinebrunner arguably has an advantage in the tactical game owing to his experience.

But this season both coaches will want to do well to restore some respect from all fronts. Steinebrunner will want to prove himself after two overall disappointing campaigns with the Eagles, while Aw will no longer be afforded as much patience as he was in his rookie season.

The pressure will be on Steinebrunner to deliver with his new club

Facts and Figures

  • Warriors goalkeeper Yazid Yasin has won every single title available in the domestic league since its inauguration in 1996
  • Warriors conceded the most goals in the league last season – a total of 51 goals
  • Home United’s last major title came in the Singapore Cup in 2013 before Warriors reigned supreme in the league the following year.
  • When both sides met for the first time last season, the Protectors were on the wrong end of a 4-1 thumping.
  • Home United are unbeaten in their last four encounters with the Warriors in the League and the Singapore Cup, winning thrice and drawing once.

FourFourTwo Prediction

Warriors 1-0. With both sides looking to impress on their first outing of the season, the team that can keep a clean sheet wins. With Madhu and Kento at the helm, I expect the Warriors to grind out a victory. 

Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo