JDT vs Kedah: Malaysia’s two best teams battle it out for this year's final piece of silverware
The 2017 season finale.
Both teams have been throwing barbs at each other in some interesting banter leading up to the final and the action on the pitch, judging from past games, is likely to live up to expectations.
Kedah are the defending champions and 2017 FA Cup winners, while four-time consecutive Malaysia Super League (MSL) winners Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) are looking to add the only piece of silverware missing from their bulging trophy cabinet.
The Southern Tigers have repeatedly stressed the Malaysia Cup was not an important trophy for them, putting priority on the MSL and AFC Cup, but make no mistakes about their intention of wanting to win the Cup this year.
Kedah also defeated JDT in the Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup season curtain-raiser back in January and the Malaysian giants will not want to end the season with another defeat to the Red Eagles.
Kedah have been JDT’s closest challengers on the pitch despite coming fourth in the 2017 MSL season. They were challenging for the title before Tan Cheng Hoe left to become Malaysia assistant coach for the second time in his career.
Neither teams have any new injury concerns. JDT are still without Marcos Antonio due to a long-term knee injury and Junior Eldstal is likely to play alongside Fadhli Shas in the heart of defence.
Skipper Khairul Helmi Johari and Kosovan playmaker Liridon Krasniqi are back in the Kedah squad after missing the semi-final second leg against Felda United due to suspension.
Both teams rested a number of first-teamers when they played out a 0-0 draw in the MSL's final day on October 28, a sign that neither were going to take any risks as they hope to end the season with the Malaysia Cup.
Natxo Insa vs Liridon Krasniqi
Krasniqi has been among the best midfielders in the MSL in recent years and caught the attention of many, with his showboating in the middle with his quick feet and passes to get out of dangerous situations or tear open opponents.
Insa, meanwhile, has become among the best players in the MSL since he arrived in the 2017 mid-season. The former Levante midfielder has added a different dimension to JDT’s midfield and, like Krasniqi, is an influential figure in the team.
Ken Ilso vs Fadhli Shas
This is where Kedah may have an edge over JDT. The presence of import centre-backs have often been crucial for Malaysian teams and JDT will field an all-local defensive line-up due to Marcos' absence.
Ilso has been in good form in 2017 with 15 goals in the MSL and five in the Malaysia Cup. Fortunately for JDT, Fadhli has been in the form of his life since a dismal 2016. Whether that will be enough to keep Ilso from scoring remains to be seen.
Gonzalo Cabrera vs Rizal Ghazali
Cabrera took some time to settle when he arrived at the start of the season, but eventually found his groove and has been among JDT’s most creative players, contributing to over 20 goals – including assists.
Cabrera will look to cause trouble down Kedah’s right side, but full-back Rizal Ghazali will provide a tough challenge. Rizal is athletic and among the fittest local players in the MSL.
THE COACHES: ULISSES MORAIS VS NIDZAM ADZHA YUSOFF
Morais replaced Benjamin Mora during the mid-season break and seems to have added a more patient approach to JDT’s play.
The Portuguese can often be seen in the dugout telling his players to slow things down and move the ball around to break down opponents. It has allowed JDT more ball possession and an extra edge in the final third of matches.
Nidzam, meanwhile, had a tough start as Kedah coach as he needed to steady the ship following Tan’s departure. He managed to get things in order quick enough to win the FA Cup in May but consistency has been a problem in the MSL
Another Cup win will go a long way in convincing the management to extend his stay.
FACT & FIGURES
- Saturday's clash will be the tenth meeting between the teams since 2013, but their first in the Malaysia Cup.
- Kedah, who have won the Cup five times, are playing in their third consecutive final. They lost to Selangor in 2015 before turning things around against the same opponents last year.
- Having won four MSL titles, one FA Cup and one AFC Cup in the last five years, JDT are looking to win their first Malaysia Cup trophy.
- Kedah have only recorded one win from open play against JDT since 2013, but they have emerged successful in two penalty shootouts.
- Kedah's Sandro da Silva Mendonca leads the Malaysia Cup goal scoring charts with nine goals. JDT's Ghaddar has six goals.
It’s too close to call considering the strength of both teams. Kedah’s attack can trouble JDT’s back four, but the Southern Tigers have a deeper bench to call upon. JDT will look more likely champions should the score stay level for long periods and possibly into extra time.