MSL 2019 Preview: #1-#3 - The Title Challengers

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Johor Southern Tigers
There can only be one champion and JDT will be the one that everyone is gunning for with two teams who played the last match of 2018 being closest.

The new Malaysian Super League (MSL) season is upon us and for the preview this year, Goal will be breaking it up to four parts Title Challengers, Mid Table Security, Staying Up and Relegation BattlersAnd here's the first one, those who will compete for the 2019 crown and a place in the 2020 AFC Champions League group stage.

Johor Darul Ta'zim

Predicted finish in 2019: 1st
2018 season: 1st in MSL

Head coach: Luciano Figueroa

Notable transfers in: Diogo Luis Santo, Aaron Niguez, Mauricio dos Santos, Akhyar Rashid, Syazwan Andik

Notable transfers out: Safiq Rahim, Junior Eldstal, Fernando Marquez, Fernando Elizari, Marcos Antonio

Johor Darul Ta'zim

The reigning champions have bought well in this transfer window and having kept the bulk of their squad, JDT are undoubtedly the odds-on favourites to go on and lift their sixth successive MSL title. Perhaps for the first time since their rebranding, the transfers completed by JDT this window looks more calculated and planned. 

Diogo Luis Santo, Aaron Niguez, Mauricio dos Santos, Akhyar Rashid and Syazwan Andik have all been signed to either bring the star quality to the starting line-up or improve the options from the bench. Hariss Harun remains the vital cog in the centre of midfield and Ignacio 'Natxo' Insa could look to fire again after a mediocre 2018 season.

Hariss Harun, Johor Darul Ta'zim

One big question will be how much will their first foray into the AFC Champions League group stage take it's toll on the players and whether there will be some form of rotation done by Figueroa before and after those long trips away, that could impact their league performances.

That said, JDT do have the best squad in the country and even when the second eleven is selected, it is a better eleven than most teams. Won by a massive 23 points last year but given their commitments elsewhere, are unlikely to repeat the feat. Expect a smaller margin but hard to see past another JDT triumph.

Perak

Predicted finish in 2019: 2nd
2018 season: 2nd

Head coach: Mehmet Durakovic

Notable transfers in: Zachary Anderson, J. Parthiban, Shahrel Fikri

Notable transfers out: Nazrin Nawi, Jad Noureddine, Hafiz Kamal

Shahrul Saad, Malaysia, Adisak Kraisorn, <a class=Thailand, AFF Championship, 01122018" perform:prop="uuid:1bun4aj3slrfs15hi98h3tu9a9;width:1200;height:800" src="https://images.performgroup.com/di/library/GOAL/e/60/shahrul-saad-malaysia-adisak-kraisorn-thailand-aff-championship-01122018_19p96wy904stm1a7dgqvzrvmq2.jpg?t=1921068967" width="100%

The 2018 Malaysia Cup champions finished second to JDT last season in the league but it would not be an exaggeration to say that it wasn't that much of a contest down to the wire. But Perak were better and more consistent than 10 others teams in the division, and thus deserved to be where they were.

Heading into the new season, it was a vital for Perak to hold onto Durakovic who was courted by Selangor. Had he left for The Red Giants, a high number of important Perak players would have followed suit. But the Australian decided to stay with The Bos Gaurus and it allowed the management to pad the team up instead of a major rebuilding job.

Brendan Gan, Perak, Malaysia Cup

Shahrul Saad was an imposing presence during the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup and with Anderson alongside him, Perak have arguably the strongest duo to combat aerial balls. A full year of fitness to Brendan Gan will give him the extra confidence to reach his level best and form a solid partnership with Leandro dos Santos in the middle.

There will be no breaking in or settling down period, as one of the most settled squad in the league, Perak must perform right from the start. Durakovic is not expected to lead Perak to glory but success can also be measured by massively reducing the points gap to JDT.

Terengganu FC

Predicted finish in 2019: 3rd
2018 season: 5th

Head coach: Irfan Bakti

Notable transfers in: Syamim Yahya, Khairu Azrin, Sanjaar Shaakhmedov

Notable transfers out: J. Parthiban, Faiz Nasir, Fitri Omar

Tchetche Kipre, Terengganu FC

It was a wonderful first season back in the top flight for TFC last season as they finished in the top half of the table. Irfan did a tremendous job with the team and could rely on the work-rate of Lee Tuck and the predatory instincts of Tchetche Kipre to lead the team.

Both players are still with the team and this time, Irfan has even added the creative guile of Uzbekistan player Shaakhmedov. If they can dovetail and gel quickly, with Thierry Chanta Bin protecting the defence at the base of midfield, very few teams have a more stronger backbone to their team.

Syamim Yahya (left) vies with Johor Darul Ta'zim's Fazley Mazlan for the ball 2016

Yet the loss of the nippy duo of Parthiban and Nasir cannot be underestimated. New signing Syamim can certainly play in those wider positions but after two seasons of playing centrally, it will be interesting to see if Irfan opts to use the former national team player out wide or in the centre.

Just like Perak, TFC may not be able to overtake JDT but it does look like they can improve on their fifth place finish from last season. Home form will be vital for Irfan as they must make full use of the cauldron that is Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium to push them as high up the table as possible.

 

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