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Malaysia Premier League, 2018: Fighters, Panthers, Crocs and Cops the teams to beat?

The 2018 Malaysia Premier League (MPL) season looms as an exciting affair, with a number of teams investing in high-profile players in their quest to finish in the top two and earn promotion to the top-flight.

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Felda United, Penang, Sarawak and PDRM are seen as the early favourites, but a number of other teams are planning to upset the form book.

FourFourTwo takes a look at the teams and their targets for the upcoming season, which starts this Thursday, with UiTM hosting the Panthers.

FELDA UNITED

Felda United were demoted to the MPL despite finishing third in last year’s Malaysia Super League (MSL) following their failure to meet the club licensing requirement over audited financial reports.

Undeterred, coach B. Sathianathan expects his team to produce MSL-level football as he believes it has what it takes to win the MPL.

"Felda United were demoted based on technicalities and not on poor results,” said Sathianathan, the 2017 MSL Coach of the Year.

With several big names in their line-up, Felda are expected to finish top two in the MPL and make a swift return to the MSL in 2019.

B. Sathianathan

Veteran Shukor Adan and midfielder Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor are among the top local players retained from last season.

Brazilian Thiago Fernandes will lead their attack. The striker, who netted a commendable 18 goals despite being a mid-season signing in 2017, is expected to make a lasting impression in the MPL.

Brazilian defender Thiago Junio, forward Gilberto Fortunato and midfielder Ian Ramsay of the Philippines make-up Felda’s new foreign signings.

MISC-MIFA

MISC-MIFA hope to fix their tainted image following a match-fixing scandal in 2017 that affected their performance in the MPL.

Forward S. Harivarman and goalkeeper Khairul Izzuwan Shaari were subsequently detained over allegations of fixing matches, while several players were dropped for unknown reasons during last season’s mid-season transfer window.

MIFA only avoided relegation in 2017 on goal difference but are now targeting a top-five finish.

MIFA endured a difficult 2017 on and off the pitch

With a budget of RM6 million, MISC-MIFA can afford to aim high under coach K. Devan, who assisted the team in a consultancy role last season.

The club has retained forward Kpah Sherman of Liberia, with South Korea’s Bae Beom-geun, Brazil’s Elizon Araujo de Mela Bautista and French striker L'Imam Seydi their other foreign signings.

SARAWAK

Sarawak have beefed up their squad with several notable signings as they return to the MPL after four seasons in the MSL.

They were relegated after finishing 11th just above Penang in last season’s top-tier competition.

Former Kedah assistant coach Ian Andrew Gillan will manage Sarawak and, as expected, he aims to guide the team back to the MSL.

Gonzales (right) is among the newcomers

He has signed nine new players, with former internationals Sabre Mat Abu and Bobby Gonzales, plus naturalised player Shazalee Ramlee, among the top local signings.

Croatian Mateo Roskam and Montenegro’s Milos Raickovic are the foreign signings retained from 2017, while former South Korean international Kim Chi-gon and Serbian Nebojsa Marinkovic have joined the fray.

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