S.League Mid-Season Report Card: Everyone plays catch-up to Albirex
Riding on a hype not seen in ages thanks to the arrival of Jermaine Pennant in pre-season, this year’s S.League got underway to much fanfare.
Half the campaign has since gone by and some teams have shown their mettle, while others have stumbled and lost their way.
With league action taking a break for the Singapore Cup first, and then international week, it is time for a breather – and for FourFourTwo to dish out report cards on all nine clubs.
Having analysed all the teams prior to the start of the season, we grade them here from A to D to see who has been good, and who needs to buck up.
Albirex Niigata (S)
Expectations at start of season: They were tipped to finish fifth, having lost a number of key players – particularly Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure – who figured prominently in winning both domestic cups last season.
While the Japanese side are no strangers to bringing in fresh young faces every season, they usually take some time to adapt. A new head coach in the form of Naoki Naruo also meant Albirex were a bit of an unknown quantity.
How they have performed so far: What can we say? The White Swans have absolutely blown everyone else out of the water and are soaring nicely at the top of the table. They have already scored more goals than the whole of last season, which has helped them to nine wins from 12 games to put them seven points clear.
A stellar defence has helped too – eight clean sheets is impressive, as is being the only team not to concede a first-half goal.
A unique 3-4-2-1 system has allowed them to perform to maximum efficiency and they are on course for their first league crown if this continues.
Star man: Atsushi Kawata. The versatile forward has scored ten goals and is an unerring finisher, while he is a deceptively good header of the ball for someone who is of average height.
The 23-year-old can also spot a pass and has been one of the revelations of the season.
Club Grade: A+