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Prematch Warmups: Hougang United vs Albirex - SPL 24/25

Submitted by: Confaderal | 16th May 2024

A cheetah gently rides on a swan to cross a lake
A cheetah gently rides on a swan to cross a lake

Not too long ago last year our cheetahs were handed defeat after defeat at the hands of the white swans. We never won any of our matches in the 2023 season against the eventual champions Albirex. In fact, conceded 2 for our first match, then another 5 each for the next two games against them. In reply, we scored exactly zero.

What was funny was that we held our own in 2022 against Albirex (and even won).

Alas, we come into this new season in 24/25 with a renewed vigor and a thirst to hand Albirex a defeat. The wrongs of the yesteryears need to be made right this year. And with monumental changes this year, we have to admit, we are given some leeway to challenge Albirex now more than ever. Hence, this picture sums up the current feeling in the hougang camp — Albirex 'giving' us a less bumpy journey across the river against them. So thank you Albirex! 🙏

Here are 4 things we need to take note of so that we can come out on top for this encounter. Hougang United vs Albirex - SPL 24/25. Leszgo Hougang!

1. Albirex becoming a local club

Albirex announced at the end of last year that they were going to turn from a satellite team full of Japanese talents, to a squad that is fully local. With that, they've shown their intent to be a fully committed Singapore club with aspirations to enter the AFC continental competitions.

The thing is, Albirex might be overestimating themselves. Perhaps we need to talk about being in the top 2 first before harboring continental aspirations - especially since coming out with their monumental announcement to become local.

While it is sad that Hougang won't be able to beat a full japanese outfit again, this new move represents a golden opportunity to exact revenge on this Albirex team. It won't be a walk in the park definitely, but it would be an easier game to handle. Especially because the white swans have a thin squad and a new squad that needs gelling.

2. A thin and new squad

I say 'thin squad' lightly though because SPL teams are allowed to play their U-21s into the matchday squad even if they're not registered in the senior squad. But even so, they still have a group of players that were formed only recently. It could take Albirex awhile to form a core group of players with a core japanese playstyle that they're popular with: the hard running and tactically-flexible style. That was also a squad full of young players willing to transit to a couple of positions and multiple roles in different situations.

Tactician Kazuaki Yoshinaga may now no longer window shop at the vast expanse of Japanese talents from a land much bigger than Singapore. Hence, now, is a good time to battle them — In the second game of the season.

It will only get harder later on as the white swans team get more "oiled". A case in point is: the results of their recent matches in the pre-season friendly; they've lost thrice with a -9 goal difference. To be out-scored by that much must've highlight some fundamental problems in shape (even if they played their second-string goalkeepers).

Their only reprieve is the last pre-season match win against Geylang. In that game, they scraped 3 goals from their goal difference, otherwise, they'd have ended the "tournament" bottom and with -12 goal difference!

Let's take a look at their squad. New faces - local.

  • Wai Loon

  • Syed Firdaus

  • Shafiie Basheer

  • Syukri Bashir

  • Haziq Kamarudin

  • Gareth Low

  • Idraki Adnan

  • Zainol Gulam

  • Amy Recha

  • Arshad Shamim

  • Daniel Goh

  • Dylan Pereira

Meanwhile, the same faces of Albirex from 2023 are.

  • Junki Kenn Yoshimura

  • Hilman Norhisam

  • Kenji Austin

  • Hassan Sunny

  • Koki Kawachi

Judging from Albirex's other matches like the Community shield and the match against Perak FC, I have to say, the white swans have been unconvincing. Kazuaki will be thinking that there's still much to be done inside the Albirex camp.

Despite this though, we'd do well to be careful of the Albirex senior stalwarts from 2023 who will surely be tasked to lead the team: Koki Kawachi and Hassan Sunny. Control these guys and we stifle Albirex's stability.

Speaking of Seniors, the Albirex team this year also presents us with an older average age. Judging from the community shield and the match against BG tampines, it looks like the youthful hard running will not be a key feature of Albirex this season. The only "hard running" in the engine will come from Wai Loon instead of Takahagi and Otake. Against teams who move the ball fast in the midfield, Albirex's midfield have been found wanting. They are slow in closing down shots from outside the box, especially when Wai loon is stuck upfield and the Albirex backline is pinned with a few runners. It happened against Perak, and it happened against BG Tampines.

This could be something we can exploit though. Our wingers can invert for a shot on-goal on the "D" outside the penalty area. Hopefully we can do this even without Kiki.

Hougang will also lick their lips as the Albirex defensive middle of Syed Firdaus(pivot), Koki Kawachi(CB) and Stevia(CB) are still trying to finetune their communication - especially if we can get our shots outside of the box to be on-target, we can deal some serious damage!

Lastly, a special mention also needs to be said about keeping Hoshino quiet. He's been our chief tormentor last season whenever we go up against Balestier! A defender needs to be on him when he's upfield so he does not become the fulcrum of a counter attack with his hold up play.

3. The Japanese contingent

New faces - foreign.

  • Yojiro Takahagi

  • Shuhei Hoshino

  • Arya Igami Tarhani

  • Stevia Egbus Mikuni

  • Yohei Otake

In-line with FAS's new directive to field six foreigners in a matchday, Albirex has spared no expenses in getting their foreign contingent ready.

They've brought in Yojiro Takahagi who has played in the K-league, J-league and A-league as well as for the National Japanese team. At 37, the team will look towards him to guide them. This is their marquee signing.

Another signing with some pedigree is the 34 year old Yohei Otake who hails from J-league clubs like Cerezo Osaka and Shonan Bellmare. He's another midfielder besides Yojiro to watch out for.

Stevia and Arya both are in their 20s hailing from the japanese and spanish lower leagues respectively. Together with Shuhei Hoshino from Balestier, and 2023 alumni Koki Kawachi, all these guys form the japanese contingent for Albirex this season.

In an enticing game overseas, Arya scored the only goal in a 3-1 defeat against Perak FC. He also looked bright against Tampines. I'd suspect he'd be the spark in this Albirex team.

Sorry I digress.

These signings signify Albirex's desire to pack the midfield with quality. Otake, Arya and Takahagi will pack the midfield. Hoshino will also drop deeper (as he always does) to provide link-up or midfield stability. If we can bypass this mid-block quickly, we can easily threaten their shaky rest-defence - and the big space behind it.

4. Tactical summary

On the tactical side of things, Kazuaki Yoshinaga knows he does not have an abundance of options to shift his tactics around this time. Where his previous squads can run around and fulfil several positions and roles, this time, his squad is now on the older side and the professionals he brings in are accomplished seniors who will stick to their specific roles. They can't run so much and they'd prefer to stick to their positions when possible.

Hence, King Kazu will have to rely on his utility players like Wai Loon, Syed Firdaus and Arshad Shamim who can rotate to a couple of positions and leverage on their willingness to be runners to execute his style of play.

On the wings, RW Daniel Goh and LB Gareth Low look to be outlets during attacks bombing forward as frequently as they do. This often leaves a back three of Syed Firdaus, Koki Kawachi and Stevia. Stevia and Hassan will also look to play long passes to vary up their attack from a buildup to a route-one attack. Not sure if that's going to fool anyone though.

Arya Igami looks bright when he's on the run and will try to dribble from left to right, to try drag the opposition around while keeping an eye for a slide-rule pass to break our defence.

Ho Wai Loon looks like he's tasked with the role that previous captain Asahi Yokokawa does — to be that extra man all over the pitch. He will on occasions leapfrog Shuhei Hoshino upfront to create options for the "Albirex wall pass" they're deadly for. Or Wai Loon will do the pressing from upfront, leaving Hoshino with only the role of dropping deeper as a targetman.

Shuhei Hoshino will need to be man-marked for his impressive displays as a targetman with his linkup plays. He will look to be the fulcrum for Daniel Goh, Gareth Low or Arya Igami to spring forward from.

Koki Kawachi, Stevia and Hassan seems to always try to play out from the back to try invite the press. And like Caicedo, Otake will try to drop deeper to provide a passing option to start the buildup.

Final Words

Before I expound on what we can exploit of Albirex, I feel we will still need to put in the work to solve our perennial issues, like weakness in our set pieces and our early-season slump. If we can get the season up and running in the early stages of the season, and not be vulnerable in set pieces, we can surely fight for the title.

For some of the non-hougang readers, these ambitions might seem too lofty, but every professional club and athlete will have the same aspirations, otherwise, life would be dull. Furthermore, this aspiration should be there for us— a professional club who wants to fight to be back in intercontinental competitions. We've been at the top half of the table - and we aspire for it again.

So in summary, in this game against Albirex, we will need to exploit their shaky defensive middle, quieten down their midfielders and forwards who will look for the "wall-pass", and tighten our set piece frailties.

We fans, will always be at the stands to tell the team to not give-up. The hougang semangat will be on display. Time to get our W's back from the white swans! C'mon lads! #1H1H


Albirex(S) vs Hougang Quick Report:

- 3-4-3 formation preferred (Albirex)

- Dangermen: Shuhei Hoshino, Arya Igami, Stevia Mikuni, Daniel Goh

- Bypassing their midfield quickly could prove to be the key. We could have plenty of space to shoot from the "D" as space opens up between their marauding midfield and their cautious rest-defence.

- Kracjek is most probably ruled out through injury. Anders, Kenji and Nazrul are out through injury.

- Our defending of setpieces should be a top priority here.

- Hoshino must be closely guarded so he doesnt link up. He and Arya are their first outlets to attack.

— Tune in to the "Upcoming" section of our homepage after the matchday to see the latest scores. Or follow our 'hougang_hools' instagram page or 'Hougang United FC Supporters Club' to see snippets or updates on latest scores. All images used are stocks or from the hougang united instagram page unless otherwise stated.

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Can Hougang topple Albirex in this encounter?

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Who do you think will be important for us?

  • 0%Zaiful

  • 0%Nazrul

  • 0%Shodai

  • 0%Gabriel

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