Kitchee beat title holders Lee Man 4-1 in the Sapling Cup. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)
With the latest back-to-back wins against Pegasus, Kitchee have catapulted themselves back to the runners-up position in the league, just three points behind leaders R&F. The Bluewaves have so far struggled to establish themselves at the top of the table, despite remaining as the only team that is still unbeaten in the current season. However, some costly draws against supposedly weaker teams have hampered the title prospects somewhat. Nonetheless, head coach Blaz Sliskovic has been unimpressed by his critics and kept following his playing philosophy, making only minor changes during the winter transfer window. Eventually it seems his consistency paid off.
Another reason for Kitchee’s current comeback seems to be striker Wellingsson de Souza. The Brazilian, who should be eligible to apply for a HKSAR passport in the coming summer, has scored in all of his last four games. In the latest 3-0 victory over Pegasus, Souza contributed a double, opening the scoresheet after just four minutes.
For Pegasus, on the other side, things look rather bleak. The team has only salvaged a single win this season and is only two points away from relegation. Mahama Awal just returned to the squad after leaving the same team at the end of last season, but it is yet to see if he can make a difference in what are surely going to be tough months ahead.
The other Premier League clubs will complete the tenth round on the coming weekend, before entering a well-deserved break over Chinese New Year. The encounters are generally all reverse fixtures of the previous round, giving some teams the opportunity to take revenge for previous losses or double down on their comfortable wins.
Pegasus were not able to stop Kitchee in their latest 0-3 loss in the HKPL. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)
R&F vs RANGERS, Premier League, Yanzigang Stadium, Jan 18, 2:30 pm
R&F will host Rangers on Saturday afternoon in Guangzhou, in what should be a rather one-sided affair. The latest encounter between the two teams ended in a 1-7 away win for R&F, and if anything, the Guangzhou squad has only become stronger since then. They recently signed playmaker Lam Ka-wai from title rivals Eastern, who could play a crucial role in adding more creativity in the midfield. Lam is also another addition of Kitchee’s 2016 champions squad, as he will meet his former teammates Matt Lam, Lo Kwan-yee, and Andreas Lam Zhi-gin in Guangzhou. With another win, R&F would extend their lead over Kitchee to six points, albeit having played one game more already. For Rangers, things are looking less promising, and if they lose to R&F once again, they might soon find themselves at the bottom of the league. In fact, the team has only scored a single goal in their last three matches and would urgently need some more striking power up front.
TAI PO vs SOUTHERN, Premier League, Tai Po Sports Ground, Jan 18, 2:30 pm
Tai Po and Southern have met each other so often over recent weeks that it has become fairly difficult to keep a “district derby” excitement alive. Even though the Aberdeeners came out victorious in both matches, the games have been surprisingly close affairs. The man to watch will be Southern striker Travis Major, who scored all goals in these encounters, including the decisive one in their 1-0 Sapling Cup win last weekend. Meanwhile, Tai Po will soon find themselves under even greater pressure, as the fixtures from both domestic and continental tournaments are starting to pile up in March and April. The squad depth remains relatively shallow, especially after the departure of Sandro. Tai Po have also just confirmed their new coaching staff. Davor Berber will be the new head coach to lead the Greens into the coming Asian Champions League qualifier match against Malaysian side Kedah on February 21. Additionally, they have signed another goalkeeper, as Felix Luk has picked up an injury. 35-year-old Zeljko Kuzmic has previously played in Mongolia and should be familiar to East Asian football. If Tai Po beats Kedah in the away game, they would advance to the ACL play-off, where they would face Seoul FC away on January 28. Hence, the likelihood of remaining in the AFC Cup in 2020 is definitely much higher.
Southern's Travis Major scored the decisivie goal in the 1-0 Sapling Cup win over Tai Po. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)
EASTERN vs LEE MAN, Premier League, Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground, Jan 18, 5:30 pm
In what is undoubtedly the match of the weekend, Eastern and Lee Man will face each other for another showdown on Saturday evening in Tseung Kwan O. The Blues have bolstered their squad over recent weeks and seem more than motivated to not give up on the championship just yet. However, to achieve this they more or less have to beat Lee Man, who are currently third in the table and considered to be the one of the strongest title contenders this season. Even though the Bees have just succumbed to a 1-4 loss in the Sapling Cup against Kitchee, clearly the priorities are with the league, and coach Chan Hiu-ming did not bother to make any crucial changes over the winter, knowing that he has a well-gelled squad at his disposal that will soon compete for the first silverware in the Senior Shield final in February – in another match against Eastern. So this weekend may give a better idea which of the teams has currently the upper hand.
HAPPY VALLEY vs YUEN LONG, Premier League, Hammer Hill Road Sports Ground, Jan 19, 2:30 pm
Last but not least, Happy Valley and Yuen Long meet for another relegation six-pointer. The last one ended in a disappointing 0-0 draw, that failed to benefit either of the sides. Yuen Long are currently still chasing their first win, and three points could even bring them all the way up from tenth to seventh, while passing on the red lantern to either Rangers or Happy Valley. The Greens, however, seem to be aware of their deficiencies and just signed another foreign aid. 27-year-old Serbian Marko Rajkovic is a forward who recently played in the First League of North Macedonia.
HONG KONG NEWS