The first month of the 2017 Super League campaign, January was a peculiar period to pick the best performers. First of all, only two rounds were scheduled, and secondly, the match between Kelantan and newly-promoted Melaka United FC had to be postponed.
The pick for goalkeeper was down to two of the best-performing teams in the Super League defensively, Pahang and Perak. Pahang's Wan Azraie Wan Teh and Perak's Hafizul Hakim both played both January league games for their clubs and conceded only one goal, and coincidentally both sides played each other in their league campaign opener, which ended in a 1-1 draw. However Pahang faced slightly tougher opponents in T-Team FC in matchday two, and pummelled them 5-0, while Perak took on strugglers Pulau Pinang. For this reason Azraie was picked over the backup Malaysia custodian.
We also decided to go for a three-defender team this month, and they are from teams that conceded only one goal in their first two matches (excluding Kelantan and Melaka whose first match was postponed). Centrebacks Ugochokwo Ukah (Selangor) and Thiago Junior Aquino (Perak) played almost similar roles for their teams in January, commanding the defence line well, while joining in attack during set pieces, to devastating effects. Thiago also bagged a goal, as did Korean centreback Jae-Won Heo who plays for Pahang.
Pahang players celebrate Jae-Won Heo's goal against T-Team. Photo by Khairul Hairuddin/CSN
In the midfield department, it is dominated by one of the best teams of the month, Kedah. Their midfielders Liridon Krasniqi, Akram Mahinan and Malaysia international Baddrol Bakhtiar bossed the middle of the park against both JDT and Sarawak, resulting a respectable draw and a come-from-behind win respectively, and in Baddrol's case, he even scored one goal in each match. However the remaining spot in the midfield goes to a newcomer to senior football and the Super League. Selangor youngster Syahmi Safari went from strength to strength in the Red Giants' two first league matches, and the then 18-year old winger, who played every minute of both games, must surely be on the radar of several clubs already.
Three forwards have been picked for January's MSL Team of the Month, with two of them having bagged two goals in the two matches. Malaysia forward Norshahrul Idlan Talaha scored once each against PKNS FC and JDT, while Lebanese striker Mohammad Ghaddar, back for his third stint with Kelantan, impressed many by scoring that many in the only match played by the Red Warriors in January; their 3-1 win over PKNS. The remaining spot goes to another Selangor youngster; Adam Nor Azlin. Although the Malaysia U22 forward scored only one goal in January, he impressed with his role as playmaker and has repaid the trust shown in him by head coach Maniam Pachaiappan.