MSL2018 midterm report card: Johor Darul Ta'zim and PKNS FC


Team: Johor Darul Ta'zim 
Current position: 1st
Grade: A

From the 10 matches played, JDT are once again riding high at the top of the table, five points ahead of nearest rival, Perak. Eight wins, one draw and one defeat puts them on 25 points and they are on course to retain the title they have held tightly for four seasons now.

Yet, given the strange manner the season has unfolded for JDT, it would seem that they have faced many problems this season but it's not something that is reflective when it comes to the league competition. Troubles with Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Luciano Figueroa, AFC Champions League qualifier, FA Cup and AFC Cup for one reasons or another - they have proven that they are still the team to beat in the domestic league.

Their only defeat in the league has come on the road, to Kuala Lumpur in their first away trip of the season. Since then, they have gone one to secure three wins and one draw on the road. Couple that with their magnificent home record, it is easy to see why JDT are where they are now.

Safawi Rasid, Johor Darul Ta'zim

Among those who have had a brilliant first half of the season, none shone brighter than forward Safawi Rasid. The 21-year-old has thus far scored three goals in the league and nine goals in all competitions. There's a sense of maturity to his game this season and is making those long range piledrivers one of his specialties. 

This season thus far has also seen a change of guard in central midfield for JDT with the influential Safiq Rahim no longer considered a firm starter in every game for the club. Nazmi Faiz has been given a chance instead and the notion is, Raul Longhi is inclined to give the latter more opportunities.

On match day 10, JDT paraded their new signings Harry Novillo and Jorge Santos Silva in the 2-2 draw against Selangor. If the first indications are anything to go by, the Southern Tigers have made the right choices in signing those two players and now looks a firm favourite to land the title and that elusive spot in the AFC Champions League next season.

Team: PKNS FC
Current position: 4th
Grade: A

Started the season by overhauling the playing squad as well as the coaching staff. In came revered K. Rajagopal as the head coach as well as a host of big name players and the Red Ants are more than pulling their weight in the Super League this season.

Currently fourth in the table, they are on 17 points, eight behind leaders JDT. Which means they are at this point in time, doing better than traditional bigger teams like Selangor, Terengganu and Kedah - all of whom are below them in the standings.

As teams look to change their imports in this mid-season transfer window, there won't be any activity from PKNS as Rajagopal has proved his eye for talent with all five of his import signings. Zac Anderson has the leadership at the back but still need to prove his fitness on a consistent basis. The duo of Jonathan Acosta and Romel Morales are a formidable pairing in the centre of midfield.

Mahali Jasuli, PKNS FC

Rafael Ramazotti lacks pace but provides a whole lot more for PKNS in terms of his aerial ability and also his strength in holding up the ball, becoming the focal point of his team's attack. Singapore's Faris Ramli is also nailing down a first team spot with his industrious display in wide positions. 

On the local front, the emergence of Rodney Akwensivie in the defence has also shown Rajagopal's faith in younger untested players. But the one that deserved the most plaudits will have to be the resurgence of Mahali Jasuli. The loanee from JDT has refound his game in midfield for PKNS which has also earned him a recall back to the national team.

Despite their position in the league, the Red Ants won't be expected to challenge for the title but will prove to be a formidable customer for any team as the rest of the season unfolds. A top half finish will go a long way to vindicate the decision to overhaul the team for the 2018 season.