MSL: A case for the defence

He has always preached attacking football, wanting his players to express themselves and try to entertain the fans.

But, after a series of defensive lapses, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad has admitted it's time to pay more attention to his defence if they are to meet their target of a top-three finish in this year's Malaysian Super League (MSL).

While the champions have thrilled fans with their high-tempo play and adventurous football, they have also frustrated with their propensity to concede sloppy goals (see sidebar).

The latest incidents occurred on Saturday, when Kelantan fought back to post a 2-1 win at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Instead of moving up the standings and battling for top spot, the defeat saw the LionsXII fall into the bottom half of the MSL table.

Speaking to The New Paper on the sidelines of the team's training session on Monday at Jalan Besar, Fandi said: "We have to respond and rectify our problems in defence. We need to tighten up.

"It's not that our defenders are not good, or that they are complacent.

"It's a matter of concentration and communication, and we will work on these during training to make sure everyone understands his duties."


As always, there will be an intimidating atmosphere in Kuching on Saturday, but Fandi, 51, challenged his young team to make up for the defeat with a win and a clean sheet when they take on Sarawak.

At the six-game mark last season, the LionsXII had four victories and three clean sheets, compared to two wins and just one shut-out so far term.

The former Singapore star striker added: "I believe there are clean sheets in this team, and we need to beat Sarawak to replace the points lost against Kelantan.

"It will be a test of maturity and I want the players to show me what they are made of.

"The average age of my backline is less than 23 and they are not the finished article, yet.

"But I want them to take responsibility, play smart, be more vocal, and grow to become leaders on the pitch."

While Fandi agreed that his defence had to do a lot better, he reiterated his desire for the LionsXII attack to be more clinical.

He said: "It's common sense. When we dominate the game and don't score, the opponents gain confidence.

"We become too anxious to score, leave gaps behind and sometimes the opponents take their one chance and punish us, and people will say our defence is weak.

"In the first place, we should have killed the game off by finishing the chances we created. So it's not fair to just single out the defence.

"We must all work as a unit in defence and attack to collect as many wins as possible from now on."

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