It has been an intriguing S.League season so far, full of thrills, spills and lots of surprises in the first out of three rounds of competition. Nouveau riche Tampines Rovers did not have it all their way while strugglers Hougang United have sprung to number two.
After Round One, we have compiled for you a list of the best performers so far, and interestingly, none of the local players featured here were selected in the last national team call-up.
Goalkeeper – Khairulhin Khalid (Hougang United)
National goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud had to wait until April to record his first clean sheet for Tampines and then got injured. Khairulhin Khalid, on the other hand, has been quietly consistent, racking up four clean sheets in eight games. His achievments have been all the more impressive because he is playing behind a supposedly inferior “non-international” defence cobbled together pre-season and the 24-year-old has had to face more shots from supposedly stronger opposition.
Right back – Faritz Hameed (Geylang International)
He has played as a full back and as a winger and has excelled in both positions. Defensively, Faritz Hameed’s speed, energy and work rate mean he can cope with most wingers at the S.League level. In attack, the 26-year-old has also improved on his output to conjure one goal and one assist.
Centre back – Madhu Mohana (Warriors FC)
Okay, so the 25-year-old has one red card and the same number of clean sheets to his name. But that’s ignoring the fact he has played in only five games. Madhu Mohana has been strong, vocal and quite easily the best local defender so far this season. Truth be told, the Warriors could well have conceded more and be in a more precarious position if not for their centre back.
Centre back – Atsushi Shirota (Albirex Niigata)
The best S.League defence from last season has carried from from where they left off, and perhaps got even stronger with the addition of Atsushi Shirota. The 24-year-old shades his partner Kento Fujihara with his pace and reading of the game to prevent many opposition attacks before they even trouble his goalkeeper. He has even managed to score an important opener in the 2-0 win over Hougang United to propel his side to top spot.
Left back – Sirina Camara (Home United)
It is no trade secret that full backs these days need to have iron lungs for overlapping purposes and Sirina Camara has just that. The 25-year-old Frenchman still needs to brush up on his delivery, but based on sheer pace, stamina and industry, he is peerless on his day.
Right winger – Atsushi Kawata (Albirex Niigata)
He has scored in just two games, but is the leading S.League topscorer with seven goals. But Atsushi Kawata has been a role model due to his willingness to excel in every role he has been deployed in, as a forward, right winger or right wing back. The 23-year-old can score with either foot or his head and gives his best defensively as well. He will most probably not win the Golden Boot, but he will win over many fans with his versatility.
Defensive midfielder – Raihan Rahman (Hougang United)
This could be a controversial choice seeing that there are many big names and worthy competitors for the place in the engine room. But Raihan Rahman has been a rock for the Cheetahs, playing the roles of hatchet man and destroyer to perfection alongside M Anumanthan despite carrying a foot injury. The 25-year-old is more adventurous and attacking-minded, and scored a delightful thumper in the 3-1 win over Geylang International.
Attacking midfielder – Jermaine Pennant (Tampines Rovers)
Okay, we admit it. We are including the former Arsenal and Liverpool man because he is THE marquee player this season and people do come and watch the former EPL star. Some of his link-up play has been top class, but we do expect more than just two goals and two assists from the 33-year-old Englishman in a less-than-convincing Tampines team.
Left winger – Fareez Farhan (Garena Young Lions)
He is the top local scorer, he has scored all of this team’s five goals and there’s no doubt that Fareez Farhan is the best 21-year-old Singaporean footballer at the moment, seizing the opportunity of a regular run-out. The exciting thing is, despite playing for the bottom club and often on the flanks, he can still score more with better composure so there’s still loads of room for improvement.
Striker – Jonathan Behe (Warriors FC)
After scoring in six straight matches, Jonathan Behe’s run finally came to an end in the 1-0 defeat by Hougang United. Significantly, it showed that when the 27-year-old Frenchman stops scoring, so does his team. Like Fareez, there is a feeling that Behe can put away more of the chances he has been creating with his electrifying pace and power, and if the Warriors are to win a record 10th S.League title, they need Behe to be the matchwinner more frequently.
Striker – Stipe Plazibat (Hougang United)
Hougang coach K Balagumaran was looking for a foreign defender as his third import but ended up signing Stipe Plazibat instead, and what a masterstroke that has been.
While his captain Jozef Kaplan has yet to open his Hougang account, the 26-year-old Croatian has led the way by scoring six of his team’s eight goals, and is a big threat from open play and direct or indirect set-pieces too.
Coach – K Balagumaran (Hougang United)
Surely an early contender for Coach of the Year, the 51-year-old is the S.League’s Claudio Ranieri. Balagumaran is not afraid to experiment with yoga or tactics, and his achievements could be more impressive than Leicester City’s Italian because he had to go out to sign his own players and get them to gel faster than the other S.League teams, which he has accomplished with Hougang United the highest-ranked local team after Round One.
Goalkeeper – Yosuke Nozawa (Albirex Niigata)
Right back – Nazrul Nazari (Hougang United)
Centre back – Kento Fujihara (Albirex Niigata)
Right winger – Stanely Ng (Geylang International)
Central midfielder – Carlos Delgado (Geylang International)
Left winger – Azwan Ali (Brunei DPMM FC)
Forward – Ken Ilso (Home United)