It is the final weekend of the 2021 Singapore Premier League season and it is all going down to the wire for who will become this years champions. Who will play hero and who will play villain, in a weekend where every goal counts.
For those of us with no allegiances to the top two clubs, this weekend will be an exciting affair for the observer, but one which will no doubt be full of nerves and anticipation for those who are fans of Lion City Sailors or Albirex Niigata (S)
Both teams are on equal points, equal amount of wins, draws, losses and with an equal amount of games being played, the only difference is that Lion City Sailors have the advantage with the number of goals scored, however a emphatic and high scoring win by Albirex could change that.
Throughout the season, these two clubs have almost been equal in every regard, so it is only fitting that the ultimate victor be decided this Sunday.
It's a topic of conversation which has come a few times over recent weeks and months about where Singaporean football fans allegiances should lie. Whilst yes, technically Albirex are a foreign team in the league, they have been part of football in Singapore since 2004 and have gone on to win 4 SPL titles, 4 Singapore Cup's, 4 League Cups and 3 Singapore Community Shields. At first they were a side which consisted primarily of Japanese players, but the White Swans have begun to develop a community presence in Jurong East and brought in young Singaporean talents to the first team. They also undoubtedly produce some wonderful attacking football and with a plethora of skilled players in the team, it's hard not to enjoy Albirex playing. But much can be said similarly for Lion City Sailors, who are becoming an exciting and entertaining side to watch in the SPL, particularly with the investment into their academy, big name foreign signings, attacking play, youth prospects and construction of new facilities and training grounds following their privatisation in 2020.
Without a shadow of doubt, this weekend will be sure to provide all the flair, the drama, the fight and passion as this season draws to a close.
Head to head this season
Lion City Sailors 2-2 Albirex Niigata - 7th April 2021
Albirex Niigata 1-1 Lion City Sailors - 23rd July 2021
Lion City Sailors 1-1 Albirex Niigata - 17th September 2021
Albirex Niigata (S)
Review of their season
With each passing year Albirex continue to grow and dominate the Singapore Premier League. Despite competition from Bruneian side DPMM and the defunct Warriors FC, Albirex have come into their own and become an attacking force to be reckoned with. Kiyoshiro Tsuboi was unstoppable at the start of the season and led the league at one point in terms of goals scored, however an injury kept him out for numerous games and since his return he has not quite hit the form he had prior. That being said, he still has 11 goals in 12 appearances. However, whilst he has been out, Taniguchi has become the focal point of the team, scoring 10 goals in 18 appearances.
The White Swans have only lost one game all season, which was a 2-1 home defeat to Tanjong Pagar. Similarly to their rivals LCS, they have drawn 6 games this season, with 3 of those being to Lion City Sailors. It has been a great season for Albirex by their standards, but ultimately LCS has matched them every step of the way. Whilst undoubtedly having the best defence in the league with only conceding 15 goals in 20 games, Albirex has not been as clinical in front of goal as the Sailors and that is something which they will need to look to improve next season. Especially with Tsuboi and Taniguchi looking likely to return back to their parent clubs.
Who they play
This Sunday Albirex play the very team which give them their only loss of the season. Pagar come into this fixture having won 2-1 last weekend over Young Lions, where Reo Nishiguchi and Luiz Junior got themselves on the scoresheet. The following two lead the way for Tanjong in terms of team goals, with Junior netting 11 in 18 and Nishiguchi getting 10 in 18. They will be the players that Albirex need to keep an eye on and not provide them any opportunities to counter or break through the backline with a through pass or ball over the top. Pagar do have an issue with their defence conceding unecessary fouls and obtaining yellow cards, with the likes of Blake Ruiccuito committing 42 fouls this season, whilst Rusyaidi Salime has 8 yellow cards to his name. The most in the league.
Player(s) to watch
Ryoya Taniguchi (Loan), Kiyoshiro Tsuboi (Loan), Kuraba Kondo, Ryosuke Nagasawa
Lion City Sailors
Review of their season
Despite losing their manager Aurelio Vidmar at the start of their 2021 campaign, South Korean manager Kim Do-hoon came into the side and immediately sought to continue the work Vidmar had started, albeit incorporating a few tactical changes and football philosophy. The Sailors have played some lovely attacking football, dominating teams in terms of possession, punishing them with deadly link up play on the wings and dangerous balls into the box. They have a number of players who provide an attacking threat, with goals shared out evenly amongst the forwards and wingers. They have been thoroughly entertaining to watch and with a plethora of foreign and Singaporean talent, they are a side which already look to set to become a top team each season since their reform. LCS secured a 2022 AFC Champions League spot in the the Group Stages this season, after mathematically securing it regardless of whether they finish first or second in the league. This is because Albirex is not being able to participate in the competition due to being a satiellte club and 'foreign' team. Winning the league would top off a fantastic year for the Sailors and mark the start of something special.
Simarly to Niigata, the Sailors have only lost one game all season, which was 3-1 home defeat to Hougang United. They have drawn 6 games this season, with 3 of those being to Albirex Niigata. LCS have dominated the league in terms of attacking opportunities, shots on goal, goal scored and just attractive football. In 20 games, the Sailors have scored a whopping 55 goals, with the likes of Stipe Plazibat getting 13, Gabriel Quak with 11 and Diego Lopes with 5. The have been matched by Albirex at every turn and ultimately if they want to gain the advantage over their rivals and have bragging rights, then they must simply win the games against them. And this one has never been more important.
Who they play
In their final game of the season, Lion City Sailors take on Balestier Khalsa at home on Sunday. Despite Balestier not having the best of seasons and going through an incredible rough patch midseason which saw them winless in 10+ games. However, when these two sides last met it was Khalsa who put a spanner in LCS's ambitions to take the title, as they held the Sailors to a 1-1 draw. Croatian forward Sime Zuzul has been the main man for Balestier despite the clubs poor season. He currently sits as the leagues second top goal scorer, with 15 goals in 20 appearances. The aforementioned Zuzul scored what was the winner in a entertaining 3-2 win over Tanjong Pagar last weekend and may well look to cause a storm for the sailors. If LCS can keep him at bay, they will certainly be able to punish a Khalsa defence which has looked very fragile and lacklustre at times this season. But Balestier are very much capable of performing an upset.
Player(s) to watch
Stipe Plazibat, Jorge Fellipe, Gabriel Quak, Faris Ramli,
Final weekend fixtures
Where to watch
If you're interested in watching any of this weekend Singapore Premier League games, you can do so with relative ease. All games will be available to watch live and for free on the Singapore Premier League YouTube channel, on the Singapore Premier League Facebook page, 1playsports YouTube channel, 1playsports Facebook page and on ElevenSports.