Will football teams be in shape by September?

A “MAGNIFICENT seven” shootout to capture the Super League crown. That’s the showdown in September awaiting the 12 teams in the top-tier of Malaysian football if the interrupted season is allowed to resume by the government.

The shortened Super League script will see every team’s 22-match season reduced to only 11 matches. They will play each other only once instead of twice.

Four matches were played before the season was suspended due to Covid-19.

Last week, the Malaysian Football League (MFL) proposed to restart the season with the FA Cup cancelled and the Malaysia Cup turned into a knockout competition with the group matches scrapped.

As a result, this could see a more interesting title race than in previous years where there is no prize for guessing the winner.

Johor Darul Ta’zim duly walked away with the Super League title in the last six years.

JDT may look irrepressible all this while but their opponents will hope that the much-changed league will throw out a surprise.

The Southern Tigers, so used to winning in a full season, are now on unfamiliar ground. And teams have fewer than 30 days to complete the season. Consistency may not be the all-important factor anymore.

JDT are only two points ahead of Perak in the table after four matches before the league was suspended on March 16.

With only 21 points up for grabs in the seven matches, the Southern Tigers’ rivals will be emboldened to make a concerted effort for the league crown.

Former Malaysian international Stanley Bernard, who is now a TV football pundit, believes that the shorter schedule will see JDT being put to a stiff test.

But in the same breath, he also stressed that it depends on whether the other teams can seize the opportunity.

“It’s really crucial how the clubs can keep the players fit and motivated during this (MCO) period,” Stanley told Timesport.

“That will lead to how they will react in those seven games. I think there are two ways to look at it.

“Firstly, one slip-up by any of the big clubs and there won’t be time to recover, so there’s opportunity.

“But on the other hand, if the other teams slip up, it will be to JDT’s advantage.

“I think the first game will be really crucial and after three matches, there will be an indication of who the challengers are.

“You will be able to see which clubs have been able to keep themselves well in these unprecedented times,”

It has been more than a month since the players trained together, and it will be another three months before they could train as a team again.

This is even longer than the regular off-season where players, at the most, are given only a five to six weeks break.

In view of the lengthy disruption, Stanley is not expecting much from the players in terms of performance even with the one-month for training in August.

“I believe that seven games is a whole league on its own where every team will be having their ‘first game’ of the season even though it’s actually their fifth game.

“Imagine if friendly matches are not allowed during ‘pre-season’ and which in my book is the most important build-up to any season.

“Then it would be very hard to see any team hit their peak,” he explained.

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