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MSL 2020 season preview: Pahang’s hopes rest on a few

After a strong couple of seasons, 2020 could be the year Pahang take a step or two backwards after big departures in the team.

With the new 2020 Malaysia Super League on the horizon,  Goal  will be bringing to you the complete guide to all 12 teams in the competition. Going through the changes in the respective squads to see where they could finish come the end of the season. Next on the list is Pahang and to say it has been a difficult off season for them would be a massive understatement.

How they fared in 2019

Pahang finished second in the Super League last seaosn, 10 points behind champions Johor Darul Ta’zim and five points better off than Selangor who were in third. A more than decent season for The Elephants who had Dollah Salleh in charge of the team for the third consecutive season.

For half of the season, they kept pace with JDT but that did not last in the second half of the season. Dollah’s reliance on the core 12-15 players backfired on him when injuries and suspension in the latter half of the season douse the fire of the title challenge.

Ze Eduardo was a disappointment and his place was soon taken up by former Kelantan player Lazarus Kaimbi who also struggled to fit in, at least during the league campaign. Dickson Nwakaeme returned to much fanfare but the fact the centre back Herold Goulon was their league’s top scorer showed the struggles they had up front last season.

What’s new in the squad

Talismanic captain Matthew Davies has moved on to join JDT, leaving a big hole not only in their defence but also in attack where his link up play with Mohamadou Sumareh is a key feature in the way Pahang approach any match. Also out of the team is midfielder Safuwan Baharudin who also leave behind a good working partnership alongside Nor Azam Azih.

Pahang also received two loan players from JDT in the shape of S. Kumaahran and Fazly Mazlan. The former will be looking to kickstart his career again after spending a season in the Premier League while the latter’s fall from the top has been remarkable. It’ll be very interesting to see how the once highly-touted Fazly fares. 

While Pahang have kept Goulon on and still have the services of Muslim Ahmad, Lebanese centre back Khalil Khamis has been brought it. He won the AFC Cup last year with Ahed which shows the quality that the 25-year-old has in his locker.

Who are the key players

Nor Azam is an incredible talent and still only 25 years of age, his influence is seen not only with Pahang with also with the Malaysia national team, neither could live without him operating in midfield. Not the biggest of players in size but an absolute technician on the ball, has the ability to control matches, it will be worthwhile to see if he can take another step up in 2020.

In the absence of star names in the team especially in attack, the retention of Nwakaeme has been become crucial. On the wrong side of 30 but his game has never been about speed but rather his football intelligence. Expect the big Nigerian to still be a big influence in Dollah’s attack.

Where will they finish in 2020

If Pahang fans are habouring hopes on their team finishing in a similar position, they will have to adjust their expectations. The departures and the lack of investment in the squad will hurt them when it comes to the league position. Pahang have very little chance of challeging for the title.

Yet they still look too strong to be faced with any relegation possibilities. A season of mid-table mediocrity awaits them and we expect them still to finish 5th in the Super League in 2020 but are an injury or two to one of their key players away from dropping even further down the table.

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