They will be without a trio of players who were crucial in their march to the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title last season when they kick off their 2014 campaign tomorrow. They will play in one of the most intimidating atmospheres in the competition, and face a side who won the Malaysia Cup last year.
But MSL champions LionsXII are not going to sit back when they take on Pahang at the Stadium Darul Makmur in Kuantan tomorrow. The Singapore side will likely employ a 4-3-3 line-up, with two wide men supporting a target man in the middle.
It's the same formation coach Fandi Ahmad employed during his term with Johor Darul Ta'zim. "It's a flexible formation, especially when a team play with a target man," explained Fandi, after the LionsXII's training session at the Geylang field yesterday.
"It encourages the left and right 'strikers' to cut in and get into scoring positions. When we play at home, the 4-3-3 works best for us, because we are a team with a lot of speed. "Against Pahang, we need to see how they line up first, but I like the 4-3-3 considering the players we have."
The new approach adopted by Fandi is different from last season's formation employed by former coach V Sundramoorthy, who preferred a 4-1-4-1 line-up.
Judging from training sessions over the week, Khairul Amri and Gabriel Quak will provide the width on the left and right flank, respectively, while hard-running striker Sufian Anuar will operate as the target man for the Pahang clash, which is also earmarked as the Charity Shield opener.
Fandi's three-man midfield will see captain Isa Halim protect the back four, with Hafiz Abu Sujad and Zulfahmi Arifin playing in front of him. The duo will help out in attack and also put in defensive shifts.
VERSATILE Said Fandi: "We have two strong midfielders in Hafiz (Abu Sujad) and Zulfahmi (Arifin) who can attack and defend. "In attack, we can rotate Gabriel and Amri. Both can play on the left and right. "But the formation itself does not matter so much. How we move is important. We need to attack and defend as a team."
Quak is relishing the more attacking approach. "I like it because it gives me more opportunities to drift into the middle," said the 23-year-old. "In this formation, the three forwards and two midfielders are always rotating."
Much will depend on the industry of Hafiz Abu Sujad, who was often used as a left back or defensive midfielder last season. "Fandi wants us to attack even during away matches; to take more risks and try and score," Hafiz said.
"Zulfahmi and I are comfortable in our roles because we love to attack. But, of course, we can't leave Isa alone. We will help him out in defence, as well. "The freedom to attack is slightly new to me, but I'm definitely looking forward to it."
l Probable LionsXII starting line-up:Izwan Mahbud, Faritz Hameed, Safuwan Baharudin, Afiq Yunos, Shakir Hamzah, Isa Halim, Zulfahmi Arifin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Gabriel Quak, Sufian Anuar, Khairul Amri.
THREE-PRONGED ATTACK Fandi Ahmad will be fielding wingers Khairul Amri (left) and Gabriel Quak (right) to support LionsXII front man Sufian Anuar. 8 The number of goals the LionsXII scored away from home in the MSL last season.
Their 11-game tally is the joint-second lowest in the league. The formation itself does not matter so much. How we move is important. We need to attack and defend as a team. - LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad
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