MSL Talking Points – Champions elected and the rise of a 19-year-old

The Malaysia Super League (MSL) returned after a month-long mid-season break and defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) increased their lead while Sarawak, Perak and Felda United’s fortunes are improving. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Syahmi Safari stole the show in Selayang.

WHAT TITLE RACE?

The Southern Tigers had a slow start to their 2017 campaign, falling as low as eighth in the standings in the early stages of the season, but it is turning out to be a walk in the park and it could be their easiest MSL title yet.

JDT increased their lead at the top to nine points following a 2-0 win over Penang on Saturday – their ninth win in the last 10 league rounds.

JDT are once again sweeping all before them

Nearest challengers Pahang and Kedah, both of whom took turns to lead the MSL in the early stages of the season are struggling to match the consistency Felda United had when the Fighters gave JDT a run for their money until the final weeks of the season.

Pahang were stunned 2-1 by a rejuvenated Felda as Elephants coach Dollah Salleh cried foul play while Kedah succumbed to a shock 3-2 home defeat to Perak.

At the rate things are going, JDT could be crowned champions before the league takes a month-long break starting August 9 for the SEA Games and Malaysia’s Asian Cup qualifier against Hong Kong.

THE REAL KELANTAN AND SARAWAK

The Crocs defeated Kelantan 2-0 in Kota Bahru. A surprise? Well not really.

Sarawak may have been struggling with relegation before the mid-season break but it was largely due to their attack not turning up.

Sarawak are showing their true worth

The East Malaysians had the best defence in the bottom half, something that gave coach David Usop a lot of belief that he could turn things around.

The addition of Singapore international Sahil Suhaimi and Montenegrin playmaker Milos Raickovic in June appears to be changing their fortunes up front.

The win put Sarawak in ninth and two points above the drop zone. A couple more of wins and they would be battling for a top-half position.

Kelantan, meanwhile, may be feeling the effects of Mohamed Ghaddar’s departure to JDT in May. It was the Lebanese’s 18 league goals – just over two thirds of Kelantan total goals – that carried the Red Warriors in the first half of the season.

If his compatriot Abou Bakr does not get anywhere close, Kelantan could be in trouble.

FELDA’S RISE OVERSHADOWED

The Fighters are coming good under B. Satiananthan, who took charge from Azmi Mohamed in February. Felda have won their past three matches.

Having finally been able to tweak the squad in the transfer window, their attack line is no longer a problem as new forwards Ifedayo Olusegun and Thiago Fernandes both found the back of the net against Pahang.

Felda's win was marred by allegations

Yet the win was marred by allegations from Dollah Salleh and a spitting incident involving Liberian Zah Rahan Krangar and Pahang winger Nurridzuan Abu Hassan.

Dollah Salleh went on a tirade against referee Zamzaidi Katimin and claimed the officiating was “destroying Malaysian football”.

He even claimed his team was being victimised in some matches.