Kelantan the team to beat in Malaysia

Kelantan the team to beat in Malaysia

By Keeshaanan Sundaresan - AFF Malaysian correspondent

The situation is just as it was predicted prior to the season. With over half a season already played in the Malaysian Super League, Kelantan are looking odds on for yet another title triumph. And if there is one reason behind their dominant season so far, it has to be that element of consistency.

Bojan Hodak

Even in Europe, consistency plays an essential role in a team’s success. There is no doubt that Real Madrid managed to pip Barcelona to the La Liga title this year with that extra edge in terms of consistency favouring Jose Mourinho’s men. So far, that seems to be the case with Kelantan.

From the first 16 games in the Malaysian Super League, Kelantan have notched up 11 wins, losing only once against Selangor. Better still, they have conceded only 11 goals which is undisputedly the best defensive record in the league thus far. These stats indeed reaffirm the superiority that the East Coast side holds within the Malaysian Super League currently.

Having lifted the Malaysian Super League title under the tutelage of Dato’ M. Karathu last year, the Red Warriors were understandably touted as favourites for this campaign.

Predictably, they did kick off the 2012 season impressively, notching up four wins in their first five fixtures. Despite that, they were not spared controversy as the crisis between Coach Peter Butler and Kelantan FA President Tan Sri Annuar Musa resulted in the former being sacked despite being in the midst of the season.

But while many expected that to be a turning point in Kelantan’s impressive start to the season, they were all proven wrong yet again. Former UPB My-Team coach Bojan Hodak was drafted to continue the legacy and the Croatian has impressed immensely with his astute tactics and flair.

The Red Warriors initially struggled to find the chemistry with their foreign signings, as Mohammed Ghaddar and Denny Antwi failed to showcase their capabilities under Peter Butler. But the arrival of Bojan Hodak triggered a revival in fortunes and we have all seen the deadly form of Ghaddar since then.

But besides consistency, what has been the unique aspect of Kelantan’s performance so far this season?

Fluid tactics and free-flowing football

How do we define Kelantan’s football and how to they implement their brand of football into tactics involving different players? In previous seasons, a tactic that we have rarely see employed in Malaysian football is the ability to maintain possession in the opponent’s half, including Kelantan. They rarely packed the box when the ball is out wide at the conclusion of an attacking move in contrast to the brand of football elsewhere in Asia.

But the whole dimension seems to be different for Kelantan now. They are patient in holding onto the ball and they are more composed in building up attacks as well. Nurul Azwan Roya and Badri Radzi look absolutely dominant in midfield and both players are capable to building up from the back. The Red Warriors are equally composed upfront, where Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Mohammed Ghaddar have been pulling the strings outstandingly.

Success begins at the back

Mahmoud Ghadar

Success means winning things, which is the obvious solution to create the desire to win more games. But an important element of success is defensive stability. This is something that has been visible with the Red Warriors. They have the confidence at the back, and the likes of Subramaniam and Obinna Nwaneri have proved to be a great combination in shutting down the opposition. This requires defensive experience and having good leaders who understand the importance of defending smartly.

The Subra-Obinna partnership seems to be doing the trick for Kelantan, with opposition teams finding it hard to penetrate them. It totally translates into their statistics where they have only conceded 11 goals in the Malaysian Super League so far.

Determination and Grit

In order to successfully dominate a particular match, pressuring the opponent and attempting to regain possession is absolutely essential. That element of ‘closing down’ is vital and Kelantan have been portraying that immensely. Very few squads have that ability in the Malaysian Super League and Kelantan are definitely one of them.

The Red Warriors have always been solid as a squad, but the arrival of Bojan has seen them improve individually as well. Key players like Badri and Indra Putra are more than capable of replicating roles in midfield, while Subramaniam is equally versatile in any defensive position. That flexibility throughout the field has been a significant aspect of Kelantan success so far this season.

 

The barriers to success are complex, but Kelantan have proved that they are more than capable of matching up to any challenge. Most importantly, the Red Warriors are oozing with confidence on the back of their impressive run this season.

The campaign isn’t quite coming to an end yet, but if Bojan Hodak’s men can maintain their terrific tempo, I see no reason why they will not retain their Malaysian Super League title.




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