JDT and Selangor to kick-off the 2016 MSL campaign

Two-time defending champions Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) and reigning Malaysia Cup winners Selangor will lock horns in both the 2016 Malaysia Super League (MSL) opener and the season finale.

Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) on Friday released the 2016 fixtures, with kick-off times and match days undergoing changes compared to previous seasons.

The excitement starts on the very first day, with the Southern Tigers commencing their bid for a hat-trick of titles against Selangor in the curtain raiser at the Larkin Stadium on February 13. The match also serves as the Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup, which is equivalent to the Charity Shield.

The season-opener also pits Brazilian hotshot Paulo Rangel against his former paymasters Selangor, who he unceremoniously parted ways with at the end of the 2014 season to link up with Terengganu.

He then signed a two-year contract with JDT last month, his fourth MSL club.

Selangor, who have boosted their Malaysia Cup-winning squad with players such as Hafiz Kamal, Razman Roslan, R. Gopinathan and Patrick Wleh, then entertain JDT in the season finale at the Shah Alam Stadium on October 22.

Selangor’s new coach Zainal Abidin Hassan has a tough start to the season with three road trips – JDT, Perak and his former team Pahang – before his first home game against Sarawak on March 1. Pahang have a relatively easy start, facing the winners of the playoff between ATM and T-Team on January 30 before visiting newly-promoted Penang three days later.

Malaysia Premier League (MPL) winners Kedah, and runners-up in the second tier competition Penang, both have tough encounters on the opening day as they travel to Felda United and Terengganu respectively.

Will JDT keep collecting silverware in 2016?

Terengganu were handed an early opportunity to bury the ghosts of their 5-0 away thrashing by Kedah in the Malaysia Cup group stage last year as they visit the Darul Aman Stadium in Alor Setar on February 16.

Kedah, meanwhile, have a crack at avenging their 2-0 Malaysia Cup final defeat when they visit Selangor on April 5, the same day security personnel are expected to be on high alert as JDT host Perak. The two clubs have attracted negative coverage due to off field violence among the fans.

For the first time since 2010 it will be an all-Malaysian competition, following the decision to end Singapore's LionsXII club's five-year stint in Malaysian football.

Matchday 11, which now serves as the final qualification for the Malaysia Cup, sees interesting fixtures such as Selangor vs Kelantan, Sarawak vs Perak (another potentially heated clash) and JDT vs Pahang on May 15.

MSL matches will now start at 9pm, 15 minutes later than before, but Sarawak’s matches remain at 8.15pm due to their geographical location. Sarawak are the only East Malaysian side in the MSL.

While MSL matches are still predominantly on Saturday and Tuesday nights, the first half of the season also has matches scheduled on Friday, Sunday and Monday. The PDRM vs Kelantan tie is the only Friday game in the second half of the season and there are no Sunday or Monday games scheduled.

The season takes a significant 51-day break between Matchday 13 and 14 to make way for the FA Cup final, Ramadhan month and the international calendar.

This year's Malaysia Cup begins on July 12. The Malaysia Cup was previously held after the MSL and MPL concluded and qualification was based on the final standings.

Main Photo: Asiana.my