PJ City FC became the third team to suffer a defeat at the hands of Kedah this season no thanks to strikes from Syahrul Azwari and Fernando Rodriguez. One of four teams tied with seven points after four rounds of matches played, Kedah's win on Friday night heaps the pressure on Johor Darul Ta'zim, Pahang and Melaka United.
All four teams are the only ones in the division with a zero in the loss column with Kedah also leading the pack in terms of goals scored and goal conceded. After a pre-season of relative turmoil which saw a bulk of the first team players like Syazwan Zainon, Akram Mahinan, Halim Shaari, Akhyar Rashid and Liridon Krasniqi all departing the team, a major rebuilding job was required.
The arrival of former Home United head coach Aidil Sharin represented the start of the change as the Kedah iteration that started with Tan Cheng Hoe leading them back to the Super League from the Premier League comes to their natural end, and a new beginning starts.
The evolution doesn't only come in terms of the personnel with the likes of Jonathan Baumann, Fernando Rodriguez, Shakir Hamzah and Renan Alves all coming into the Kedah fold; but the playing style has also evolved to more than the traditional tiki-taka version that Cheng Hoe initiated, not least because the fulcrum of that in Krasniqi is no longer with the team.
Yet amongst all that coat of paint, one layer has remained intact, albeit in an altered mode. Kedah's last game in the 2018 season saw them taking on Kelantan in the last group stage match of the Malaysia Cup on 16 September and of the 11 players that started the match that day, only one started in the win over PJ City.
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Baddrol Bakhtiar is reinventing himself as the new Akram, the new Amirul Hisyam as he commands the core of any team - the midfield. Having been deployed on the right or left of midfield or even in the centre, Kedah has always seen Baddrol as an attacking player but Aidil seems to be taking a leaf out of Malaysia Under-23 book.
"Coach Aidil has seen me play in that position under coach Ong (Kim Swee) so he tried me there and I'm just using the chance to repay his faith in me. He's a coach that I see is very humble and the players all play for him. He motivates the team well and things are really positive in the team, so maybe that's why we are doing well at the start."
"The experience factor really comes into play in this position. Reading of the game and the opponent, using all the information pre-match by looking at the videos and of course it helps also that the defence has been really good, which helps me in adapting to the position.
"I'm not against the notion that this could do with my age. The style that coach Aidil is an attacking one and this position perhaps fit me more with my current condition. Having played there before, I just want to prove that I can do the job well for him there as well," Baddrol told Goal.
Of course the defensive midfielder position or playing in a role a the base of the midfield was a ploy Ong Kim Swee used during the 2018 Asian Games when Baddrol was part of the squad as one of the over-age players. He definitely shone in that role during the tournament in Indonesia marked not least by a quite magnificent win over South Korea.
There Baddrol brought the calm and exuded the authority that came with his standing in the team compared to the relative juniors. Something similar is being mirrored in Kedah where Baddrol's influence and leadership has been a mainstay in the team for a long time.
The Kedah fans who have over the years seen Baddrol popping up in the attacking third of the pitch to score with an accurate shot that combined power with accuracy, they will now have to adapt their eyes to seeing one of their own protecting the defence and using his array of passing range from a much deeper position on the pitch.
The 31-year-old was at pains to explain the new-found "family spirit" in the camp that perhaps had gone a little off with the departure of Cheng Hoe. In finding the team spirit again, the team is definitely already showing that they are ahead of the curve in their supposed period of transition.
While the teams that they have won against thus far are not considered the stronger teams it the league, they have no doubt beat was in front of them. The 1-1 draw achieved against last season's runners-up in Perak on enemy turf was perhaps was indicative of the strength of this new Kedah side.
Optimism is high in the camp and sitting pretty at the top of the table, Kedah are putting their best foot forward in a new season, a new team and a new Baddrol.
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