Ever since Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) emerged as a club status in 2013, the Malaysia Cup is the only domestic trophy that has eluded the record-breaking team that has taken Malaysian football by storm - winning three consecutive Super League titles as well triumphs in the FA Cup and AFC Cup.
Whether by design or not, somehow or rather JDT always seem to falter in the oldest cup competition in Malaysia football history. A competition that was last won by the previous incarnation of Johor won in 1991, there seems to be a renewed desire to lift the coveted trophy this season.
Lack of a place to the continental AFC Cup competition has always been cited as the reason why JDT have put more focus into the Super League as well as the FA Cup. But for the first time in three years, JDT are not involved in the latter stages of the AFC Cup and thus a comparatively more relaxed schedule is allowing them to take the Malaysia Cup more seriously this season.
Compared to the second-string sides that JDT paraded in the competition last year, yesterday's selection against Sarawak in the opening match of the group stage in this year's competition - showed that the Southern Tigers are serious about ending their barren run in the competition.
Ulisses Morais did ring in some change from the side that managed a 2-0 win over Penang in last Saturday's league match. Amirulhadi Zainal, Fazly Mazlan, Aidil Zafuan and Mohammed Ghaddar were moved to the bench with Afiq Fazail, Azrif Nasrulhaq, Fadhli Shas and Hazwan Bakri named in the starting XI.
Yet the core of Izham Tarmizi, Marcos Antonio, S. Kunanlan, Safiq Rahim, Natxo Insa, Gonzalo Cabrera and Gabriel Guerra were selected and it is an indication as to the ambition of the team towards the competition. With the matches coming thick and fast, a few of these seven players could be afforded some time on the pitch as Morais' squad rotation game comes into play.
A mixture of the squad without differentiating a first XI from a second XI seemed to be the best option forward for Morais. A ploy that would even give game time to the lesser used players like Nazmi Faiz and Azamuddin Akil to play themselves into some kind of form and contention.
With 10 matches to on the horizon packed into 35 days from today, Morais is not only adopting the right tactics for this one match against Sarawak but also for the Super League that forms half of the scheduled matches during this period.
Three years since JDT went close to lifting one of the oldest cup competition in Asia, succumbing to a Dickson Nwakaeme inspired Pahang in the 2014 final, the Southern Tigers looks set to assume the favourites tag to lift the trophy in 2017.