Geylang International vs Albirex Niigata (S): Can either side maintain their unbeaten streak?

S.League | Bedok Stadium | Thurs 10 Mar | 7.30pm 

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An early season top-of-the-table clash

The lowdown

Who would have thought that the first table-topping clash in the 2016 campaign would be between Geylang International and Albirex Niigata (S)?

Much of the pre-season focus has been on Tampines Rovers and Home United. Yet it is the Eagles and White Swans who have soared to the top of the table, after four and three games respectively.

Granted, it is still early in the season. But Albirex are starting to prove their doubters wrong with some exciting performances – they defeated defending champions Brunei DPMM 3-2 and Garena Young Lions 5-0, before a 1-1 draw against Balestier Khalsa.

Geylang Intl form

  • Geylang Intl 0-0 Balestier Khalsa (S.League)
  • Garena Young Lions 0-2 Geylang Intl (S.League)
  • Geylang Intl 1-1 Brunei DPMM (S.League)
  • Tampines Rovers 3-3 Geylang Intl (S.League)
  • Geylang 8-0 Singapore Cricket Club (Friendly)

Past Five Meetings

  • 26/10/2015 Albirex Niigata (S) 2-0 Geylang International
  • 02/08/2015 Geylang International 0-2 Albirex Niigata (S)
  • 05/07/2015 Geylang International 0-3 Albirex Niigata (S)
  • 08/04/2015 Albirex Niigata (S) 1-0 Geylang International
  • 28/08/2014 Geylang International 3-4 Albirex Niigata (S)

This is the perfect response the Japanese outfit needed, having lost several key players from the Cup-double winning squad last year.

In addition, they seem to have addressed their main issue from 2015 – putting the ball in the back of the net. With nine goals scored in just three games, they are the league’s current top-scoring team – one more than Tampines and their self-coined ‘JJB’ (Jermaine, Jordan and Billy).

For Geylang, they have navigated several tough fixtures to start the season by emerging undefeated – drawing with Tampines, DPMM and Balestier and strolling to a win against the Young Lions.

After leaking in four goals in their first two games, they have also tightened up at the back.

Marshalled by the evergreen Daniel Bennett and defensive partner Yuki Ichikawa, the team has kept cleansheets in its last two games.

The Eagles have had no problems dominating games and creating chances either, but it is upfront where they have to learn to be clinical.

Six goals from four games might not seem so bad, but had they taken their chances against the Young Lions and Balestier especially, they would be looking at a better goal difference and two more points.

Team News

Both sides have a clean bill of health for this contest with the exception of Shahfiq Ghani, who continues to recuperate from a long-term knee injury.

For the hosts, it will be interesting to see what sort of combination coach Hasrin Jailaini throws up this time around. Blessed with a plethora of options, he has played Faritz Hameed, a right-back by trade, as a right winger for the last couple of games, while slotting Stanely Ng in midfield.

Amy Recha, who sat out the game against Balestier, will be clamouring for a return to the starting 11 as well.

The visitors aren’t expected to make much, if any, changes to their line-up.

Key Battle: Isa Halim vs Masaya Jitozono

In a tight contest like this, there will be no doubt the game will be won in midfield, making this match-up a crucial one.

A key reason behind Albirex’s strong start to the season is largely down to Masaya Jitozono. The 27-year-old playmaker has stepped into the void left by Fumiya Kogure seamlessly. In just three games, Jitozono has had four assists and one goal from the penalty spot – showcasing his passing ability, vision and prowess at set-pieces.

Isa Halim has been an enforcer in the middle of the park.

Geylang captain Isa Halim will be given the unenviable task of stopping the Japanese midfielder and deny him from dictating play from the engine room. Not one to shy away from challenges, Isa has been in decent form so far this year, protecting his back-four superbly.

Whether Geylang can come away from the game with a result will depend on how successful Isa is in stopping Jitozono.

The Coaches

Geylang coach Hasrin Jailani is fast becoming the S.League’s own tinker man, although that is largely down to the Eagles having a squad stacked with quality.

In a bid to keep his players happy, he has so far spread the playing time around – even the solid Bennett and the nippy Sahil Suhaimi haven’t been spared.

It remains to be seen what sort of formation and line-up the coach throws up against Albirex, although one thing is for sure – the Eagles will still look to attack with speed, given the disposal of attacking talents Hasrin has.

On the other hand, Albirex’s Naoki Naruo is enjoying his second stint in the S.League so far.

The White Swans are reaping the rewards following his decision to play a more expansive game in attack, rather than just rely on dominating possession like his predecessors, although some elements of it still remain.

Facts and Figures

Albirex Niigata (S) form

  • Balestier Khalsa 1-1 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League)
  • Garena Young Lions 0-5 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League)
  • Albirex Niigata (S) 3-2 Brunei DPMM (S.League)
  • Albirex Niigata (S) 2-1 Ceres FC (Friendly)
  • Tampines Rovers 1-1 Albirex Niigata (S) (Friendly)

  • This is the first time Geylang have started the season with four unbeaten games since 2001.
  • Geylang have not suffered a defeat in nine straight league matches, dating back to last October.
  • Albirex have won the last five matches between these teams
  • The last time Geylang defeated Albirex in a league match was almost five years ago, a 1-0 victory in June 2011.
  • Of their eight defeats in the 2015 campaign, only two came in away games for Albirex Niigata (S).

FourFourTwo prediction

Geylang International 1-1 Albirex Niigata (S). Geylang have proved to be no pushovers this season and while Albirex are firing on all cylinders, they will find a tight Eagles defence hard to break down.

Photos: S.League