After a four-week gap, the second leg of the Bangladesh Premier League starts today with a promise of tough battle as the participating teams have reshuffled their squads with the inclusion and exclusion of foreign and local players.
Before the start of the 10th edition of the top-tier professional league in late July, the title race was assumed to be confined to within big clubs such as Abahani, Chittagong Abahani, Sheikh Jamal DC, Saif SC and Mohammedan SC. While these clubs were still in title race at the end of the first leg on October 15, they failed to remain consistent over the 11 matches of the first leg. The team management of the participating sides went on to make changes in crucial positions, especially in the forward positions during the mid-term transfer window.
Title contenders Chittagong Abahani, holders Abahani, Saif SC and mid-table sides Mohammedan SC, Sheikh Russel and Ramatganj MFS signed up either completely new foreign players or those who have played here before. Hence the battle in the second leg is expected to be tough among the foreign players.
Chittagong Abahani, who are on top of the 12-team league with 26 points from 11 outings, signed Haiti's Lionel Saint Preux to replace Afeez Oladipo while holders Abahani, who are in second position along with Sheikh Jamal with 24 points each, roped in Nigerian Sunday Chizoba, who scored 19 goals last season to guide Abahani to their fifth title.
Saif SC confirmed Haitian Wedson Anselme apart from Charles Sheringham, son of former England forward Teddy Sherinham, and some other local footballers.
While Sheikh Jamal have pinned their hopes on the old guns, a rejuvenated Mohammedan SC, struggling Sheikh Russel, Muktijoddha Sangsad, Rahmatganj MFS and Farashganj increased in strength by signing up foreign recruits.
“The second phase is going to be tough for all teams that intend to win the title or avoid relegation,” said Chittagong Abahani coach Saif Bari Titu, whose side made a blistering start with five straight wins but later struggled to put up consistent performances.
“Now the strengths of the teams have changed a lot after the mid-term transfer window as the teams filled up their weaknesses with the inclusion of new players. So it is going to be difficult for all teams,” said Abahani captain Mamun Mia, who believes his team recovered well in the latter part of the first leg despite having a goal-scoring problem.
“The inclusion of Sunday will certainly increase the goal-scoring prowess but it all depends on how he plays on the pitch,” said the Abahani right-back.
“My observation after the first leg was that a team that wants to become champions must perform consistenly and will need a bit of luck as the second leg will be more competitive,” Sheikh Russel KC coach Shafiqul Islam Manik said. “As the top four teams will try to topple each other while the mid-table teams are also desperate to catch them, it is going to be a tough competition.”
Manik also felt that there were no outstanding performances from the foreign players in the first leg, so the clubs tried to reshuffle foreigners. The veteran coach also believes members of the national U-19 team will try to show their best in an effort to cement their places in the starting eleven of the clubs.