Geylang International started their season on a high, with a late Yuki Ichikawa goal clinching a crucial victory against defending champions Albirex Niigata. A huge morale booster for the Eagles, who bagged a rare victory against a team that went undefeated and dropped just six points in the 2018 campaign. However, they have struggled since, no surprise given the difficulty of their next two games. Geylang were edged out 1-0 in the Eastern Derby by table toppers Tampines Rovers and also saw second-placed Brunei DPMM dispatch them 3-0. As such, they will surely view this fixture against Balestier Khalsa as a chance to get their season back on track.
Balestier also began their season convincingly, bagging a 4-1 win against Young Lions, with new signing Sime Zuzul netting a brace. However, he has struggled since, failing to find the net in a narrow 1-0 loss to Hougang United, and not appearing against Home United. Coach Khidir Khamis will hope his star striker can find his feet against a towering Geylang defence, marshalled by the unflappable Yuki.
Yuki Ichikawa still key for The Eagles
Into his sixth season for Geylang, Yuki Ichikawa remains the same rock of a defender as he was six years ago. Revered by Geylang fans, he is a brick wall in defence, and offers both a calming presence and vast experience to a young Geylang side. His aerial prowess also means that he frequently chips in with goals at the other end, as seen by his late winner in the opening fixture against Albirex.
Yuki’s experience will be key in guiding Geylang’s younger defenders, with the youthful talents of Darren Teh and Shahrin Saberin starting alongside Yuki in defence this season. He has a commanding presence and his ability to arrange his defensive line and guide those around him will be useful for Geylang, as they try to repel Balestier’s attacking threat.
Shahrin and Darren will do well to learn as much as they can from Yuki, and together, they can work in tandem to silence Zuzul. At the other end, the trickery of Christopher Van Huizen and Amy Recha will be key for Geylang, who have found the net just once this season. Van Huizen’s delivery from set pieces have always been pinpoint, and with the towering Yuki constantly lurking in the box, Balestier will have to defend carefully against the aerial threat posed by Geylang
Zuzul needs to find his form
After scoring two, and nearly bagging a hat trick against Young Lions, big things were expected of Sime Zuzul. However, he has been silenced since, firing blanks against Hougang and missing the game against Home United. Against Young Lions, he displayed both composure and clinical finishing ability, and he will need to rediscover his scoring touch if he is to fire The Tigers to victory here.
Supported by the capable talents of Huzaifah Aziz and Hazzuwan Halim, Zuzul can expect to find himself in good goalscoring positions, and then it is simply a matter of converting the chances that his teammates will create for him. The goals will come, but if Zuzul is to end his scoring drought, he will have to take his chances much more convincingly than he has done recently.
At the back, Balestier have added well, with the smart signing of Ilyas Lee from Hougang. Ilyas adds a touch of class at the back, and he is a capable defender who is also comfortable on the ball. Reliable and often at the right place at the right time, his signing has proved to be crucial for Balestier, who have conceded just twice this season.
Raihan Rahman has also returned from last year’s season-ending injury, and his energy and drive in midfield will be key in Balestier winning the battle in the centre of the park. If they can retain the ball in midfield, and provide the service to those up front, The Tigers should be able to find a way past Yuki and the Geylang defence, although they will have to be wary of the aerial threat The Eagles pose going forward.