Albirex Niigata (S) vs. Tampines Rovers: Can White Swans stop Stags from extending unbeaten run?
Seven games in, they have stayed on course and topped the S.League table, looking like a real threat to the Wasps and the Stags’ title chances.
Albirex Niigata (S) form
- Home United 0-3 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League)
- Albirex Niigata (S) 2-0 Hougang United (S.League)
- Warriors FC 2-0 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League)
- Geylang International 0-0 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League)
- Balestier Khalsa 1-1 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League)
- Ceres la Salle 2-1 Tampines Rovers (AFC Cup)
- Garena Young Lions 1-2 Tampines Rovers (S.League)
- Brunei DPMM 1-2 Tampines Rovers (S.League)
- Tampines Rovers 1 – 1 Ceres (AFC Cup)
- Selangor 0 – 1 Tampines Rovers (AFC Cup)
That individual performance from one of their key players should be a big boost to them as they go up against their title rivals Tampines, with a three-point gap at stake for the winners.
Tampines will come into this match after a 2-1 defeat in the AFC Cup against Ceres la Salle. With one eye on this match, V. Sundramoorthy rested Jermaine Pennant, Billy Mehmet, Shahdan Sulaiman and Jordan Webb, which could possibly explain why they lost in Bacolod City.
The Stags will need to be more clinical in front of goal as Albirex currently possess the best defence. They have conceded the lowest amounts of goals with five.
This does not bode well for Tampines, as they have only won their past three league games by a single-goal margin and things will need to click for them come Saturday.
Mehmet, who came on to score the lone goal against Ceres, and the other three might make the difference at the Jurong West Stadium with their rested legs but they will first need to get accustomed to the brand new pitch that Albirex possess.
Tampines are the second team after Hougang to play in the new artificial field.
In that game when Hougang were defeated, the Cheetahs coach Balagumaran complained that there was too much rubber in the pitch and that the ball bounced and spun a lot.
Apart from Izwan Mahbud who is out due to a muscle injury, everyone is fit for selection with Pennant, Mehmet, Webb and Shahdan poised to start after being rested.
As for the Japanese side, Coach Naoki Naruo should have a full side to choose from.
Key Battle: Atsushi Kawata vs. Afiq Yunos
With seven goals to his name, it is hard to leave out the current league top-scorer Kawata.
However, prior to the hat-trick, the Japanese did not score in four games and his last four goals had come in a match against Garena Young Lions.
Although not the tallest of forwards, Kawata proved his aerial prowess with three headed goals after his coach Naoki Naruo switched him to wing-back rather than as a striker.
Meanwhile Afiq will also return to the line-up after being rested as the AFC Cup registered Kwon Jun started on Tuesday.
The centre-back will have to be wary of Kawata’s aerial presence as well as his nimble foot works and off-the-ball movement.
Past five meetings
- Tampines Rovers 1-1 Albirex Niigata (S) (Friendly ‘16)
- Albirex Niigata (S) 0-1 Tampines Rovers (S) (S.League ’15)
- Tampines Rovers 0-0 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League ’15)
- Albirex Niigata (S) 0-1 Tampines Rovers (S.League ’15)
- Tampines Rovers 0-0 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League ’14)`
When your team desperately needs a goal, the most ridiculous thing you could do is to play your striker in an unnatural position.
However, Naoki Naruo switched his striker Kawata to a wing-back position last week and by the end of 90 minutes, Kawata had a hat-trick to his name.
Deemed audacious initially, the tactical move worked brilliantly because Kawata had more space to play off the ball and head the crosses home.
Coach Naruo is certainly back in the S.League to prove a point after spending some six years coaching in Japan and his tactical astuteness helps his cause.
At the other dugout, stands another man who is known for being tactically sound.
Sundram, more often than not, sets his team to stifle the opponent’s playing style. In this case, he will look to stop Albirex from playing their possession football.
At the same time, the 50-year-old will be hoping that his forwards bring along their shooting boots after missing some incredible chances over the past few weeks, particularly last week against Balestier Khalsa when Fazrul Nawaz and Jordan Webb could have had a hat-trick on their own, in what turned out to be only a 1-0 win.
Facts and Figures:
- Albirex have score the most goals (14) and least goals conceded (five) this season so far.
- After six games, Tampines are the only side unbeaten in the league.
- Tampines have a seven-game unbeaten run against Albirex, from November 2013.
- Kawata is leading the top scorers chart with seven goals
- Tampines have won their past three games by a single-goal margin.
This should end 2-2. If the respective teams’ attackers click into gear, this game has the makings of a goal galore.