Injuries and individual form are on Fandi Ahmad's mind as he prepares for the LionsXII's blockbuster Malaysia Super League showdown with Johor Darul Ta'zim on Saturday night.
Key forward Khairul Amri is unlikely to feature after he suffered a recurrence of his groin injury in the Lions’ 2-0 win over JDT II in the first leg of the Malaysia FA Cup quarter-final on Wednesday.
It could be a toss-up between powerful striker Khairul Nizam or nippy attacker Sahil Suhaimi to take the lone striker position as Fandi reverts to 4-3-3 for this fixture.
He admits that remaining strike option Sufian Anuar has not done enough this season to force his way into the tactical plans as he plots the downfall of his former employers.
“Sufian’s form is not good this season, so he is not in my plans in attack,” he said.
“Sahil will play some part in the game, although whether he will start remains to be seen.”
Central to the tactical shift is Fandi’s desire to consolidate his midfield and provide a stable anchor where his Lions can deal the most damage to the defending league champions.
Aware that the LionsXII have not won a league game since the opening day of the season in February, he knows too well that ceding control in the middle of the park could be fatal.
“We need to dominate the midfield, because Johor have good foreigners and midfielders who can change the game,” he said.
“They have good wingers and can string through balls to create problems for us in defence, so we need to control and be more compact in the middle.”
The Singapore football legend further added that his decision was based on what he saw from the midfielders during the mid-week cup fixture.
“When we played 4-4-2, we were a bit loose on both ends; with a 4-3-3, I am more confident in us looking solid in defence and attack,” he said.
“It was only in the second half that our midfielders were closing down opponents, pushing forward in attacking and giving penetration in the final third.”
While Firdaus Kasman and Izzdin Shafiq will keep their places in the line-up, the third player to complete the midfield trio is unlikely to be Isa Halim.
The club skipper has endured a run of poor form this season before being left on the bench in the last couple of competitive fixtures.
Fandi acknowledged the wealth of experience and tenacity the 28-year-old brings to the team, but admitted fluidity in the middle of the park would play an important part in his midfield choices.
“Like Sufian, Isa is also not on form at this moment,” he said.
“He tries very hard, but we need people who can tackle and pass the ball.
“His form shows he is lacking, and with the injured players regaining fitness, it will be those who are on form that will play, not names and reputations.”