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Prematch Warmups: Hougang United vs Lion City Sailors - SG cup 2023

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

Submitted by: Anon | 24th November 2023

Awaydays logo for the travelling football fan

Continental travel has always been my way to de-stress. What better way to do it then by being on awaydays.

This year we've been blessed with the inclusion of two Singaporean teams for intercontinental competitions.

One team who has been the behemoth of Singapore football and the most feared in cup competitions enters the big Asian stage with —

the other team in Singapore football: Lion city Sailors.

Thus, it is fitting that the final group game of the Singapore cup be a meeting between Hougang and LCS. The match will showcase the two teams who have mingled with asia's top sides and will bring with them the wealth of experience that they've gained from their adventures. As it is, this match will provide plenty of tactical nuance as both teams bring the continental flavor into their repertoire.

Here are the six things we can expect from the clash of the two "oriental" teams. Hougang United vs Lion City Sailors 2023, let's go!

1. The experience of constantly playing continental competitions

"Ninety-nine percent of the innovations you see in the Premier League come from abroad" -Michael Owen

Not too long ago, there was a certain bright tactical manager in the English Premier League: Sir Alex Ferguson (SAF). In the English league, Manchester United would pommel their competition regularly. On the continental stage though, oftentimes, the knockout matches were won by the skin on his teeth or not won at all. Of his 26 seasons in charge of Man United, SAF has only won the UEFA Champions league twice.

This led SAF to say some of the most insightful things in the English football world, like: "In Europe they pass to each other in midfield, [...] They play in little triangles and keep it there, they play one-twos against you in midfield, whereas our midfielders service the wide players, the full-backs and the front men.".

True enough, English football at that time, likened their midfield area as a warzone, where the tackles flew in and the midfielders would tussle to regain possession and quickly released them to the forwards. The midfield was not a place you spent time in.

The English game was end-to-end and an open contest. In contrast, their European counterparts would calmly dictate the tempo of the game with some inter-passing in midfield and with keep-ball tactics.

Another one of his astute observations came when SAF brought and popularized the use of a false-9 in the EPL. Also a European strategy. Before that, English teams at the time believed in a two centre-forward system.

To Sir Alex Ferguson, playing in Europe meant that Man United needed to be incredibly disciplined tactically, more so than in the EPL.

And so, with every continental experience, SAF became wiser and wiser and adapted the tactics he'd learned in Europe into the domestic league. Thus, Man United's exploits in the continental competitions became key to their successes domestically.

To the sound cue of a vinyl record in reverse, we see the same insistence on old tactics once not too long ago in Singapore from the mid 2010s up til 2017s. Unsurprisingly, this was also a period where Singapore football stagnated quite rapidly. There are other contributing factors of course, for example, like our regional neighbours developing their football infrastructure and whatnot. But like it or not, Singapore football can no longer pump the balls long and hope to win matches through route-one football. Or hoping for an opponent to slip to counter attack. Or for a once-in-a-generation talent to dribble past the opponents single-handedly. Not anymore.

Thank god we have moved on from that. Singapore clubs have re-invented themselves to be more modern, nuanced tactically, albeit, at a snails' pace. While some tactics remain too cutting-edge for our league, like Firdaus Kassim's de "Zerbi-ball", most if not all of our teams have steadily incorporated modern elements into their play: from the compact tiki-taka football of Tampines, to the wingplay of Hougang.

The Lion City Sailors will bring with them the tactically-rigid flavor of the East Asian teams they faced, along with the robust and zealous playstyle of the SEA teams into this meeting with Hougang United. The latter only has experience from the SEA teams to rely on.

This sets everything up for a mouth watering clash. How will they both line up?

2. All to lose for for Hougang United

Last years' defending champions are hanging onto this competition by a thread. Whether we get through to the semi-finals will depend heavily on how Tanjong Pagar United does in their final match against Balestier. If we lose and Tanjong Pagar also lose by a bigger margin, we go through. If we win and Tanjong Pagar win by a smaller goal margin than us, we go through. If we both draw, we go through. The best scenario is if we win and Tanjong Pagar loses.

Caption: We are the current holders of the Singapore Cup, but for how long?📸 risingcheetahs_.

On the other hand, Lion City Sailors will already have one foot in the semi-finals after gaining 6 points from two games with a goal difference of 10. Let's hope they play most of their second team to gain cup experience. Trust in the young lads! especially with other crucial ACL games to be played. 🤣

Should the sailors line up with their starting XI, then it should be another 4-2-3-1 again... and Hougang will have to bring their "A" game.

3. The threat of Shawal

We had the services of one Shawal Anuar last year, and the dude was instrumental in our comeback against Albirex for both the semi-final legs(and for the whole season particularly). This year, he has traded Hougang for the triangles of the Macpherson estate: Lion City Sailors.

The man has continued in his extravagant form scoring in the last three out of four games he has played in: Singapore vs Guam over two legs and against Tanjong Pagar. Recently, he has also started against Jeonbuk at Jalan Besar and came up with two big assists for Richairo Zivkovic.

We will need to be at the most agile and fastest at the back to track his runs. Abdil seems to be the man for the job and if he pairs up with Kazuma Takayama, it could be well that we can do the two task well:

...To keep a high line but also to recover should Shawal break the lines.

4. The attacking triumvirate

Lestienne, Lopes and Zivkovic. Should these three play against Hougang, we would be in serious trouble. Born and raised in the footballing systems of Europe, these three men have proven their skills in the faster paced leagues. With the Singapore league being slower-paced, they should have no problems zipping about most Singapore teams.

We would need our two pivot midfielders and wingbacks to be dogged and fast in dealing with the threats these three men bring. Shahdan and Irwan Shah will have to step up especially with Zulfahmi transferred out to Indonesia.

Against Tanjong Pagar we saw the three men playing with almost no number 9 up until Shawal came in. Zivkovic drifted wide as an inverted winger on the left while Lestienne did the same on the right. Lopes stayed deep centrally to collect the ball and distribute it.

We saw a couple of times where Lestienne was in a goalscoring position from the right. We need to do well to prevent balls coming to these three.

5. Casualty list

The end of the second SG cup matchweek spells additional casualties to the injury list of both teams. Bailey Wright suffered a big injury for LCS while Gabriel and Kracjek are still on the injury list despite talks of one of them returning against Balestier.

While Bailey Wright just landed on the injury table, Kracjek and Gabriel have been out since a month ago. Signs point towards both of them being given the medical green light this time, but we're not holding our breath. Shahdan also won't be with the team as he recently got injured during the Singapore vs Thailand match on the 21st of November. Pair that up with the transfer of Zulfahmi to Bhayangkara and we got to admit, our midfield is looking very very thin.

What this means is that LCS will be without their foreign defenders who are not registered for Singapore, OR out injured.

What it means for us, Hougang, is the lack of firepower once again. Will this be our demise? especially since our 4-game win streak ended abruptly after the loss to PSM?

Caption: Nazrul Nazari has the most appearances for Hougang United.📸 HougangTV.

We would have to rely once again on Hazzuwan and Nazrul. While Nazrul has been super bright on the right flanks for the couple of games, he still shies away from shooting. Let's hope Nazrul can turn in another MOTM performance and get a few assists again. Hazzuwan, on the other hand was decent in the PSM match, but one wonders if he can recapture the glory of his Geylang days.

6. The morale

After the Sailors' monumental win against Jeonbuk, LCS will now be in high spirits. They've got the wind in their sails. LCS know that they can measure up with Asia's best.

Meanwhile, Hougang will be wiping the blood from their nose as they'll be eager to set things right after losing to PSM Makassar in a very lacklustre performance. Only time will tell if the players have enough mental fortitude to pinch something against the sailors after PSM has broken the peculiar 4-game winning streak for the first time this season.

"LCS know that they can measure up with Asia's best..."

The only thing though, is that LCS will have to consider if bringing out their "A" team is really worth it in a Singapore Cup fixture that they already have a foot in the semi-finals. Should they rest their team in preparation for the Bangkok trip four days later? especially knowing that they still have a good chance at progressing in the Asian Champions League(ACL) competition.

Our friends at Sailorfantalk seem to think so, citing that the best thing to happen to Hougang was probably the victory over Jeonbuk! Realistically, LCS will have to go to Bangkok in four days after the SG cup match with us. We might even see our cheetahs battle against Nathan Mao, Rusyaidi and Haiqal Pashia to avoid injuries to the 'A' team(as predicted by SFT).

If this is so, then Hougang will have a silver lining. Not because we can't hack it against their "A" team, but that we can have a slightly less dangerous LCS side to deal with. This is the match that will make or break Hougang's season...and we need to come in clutch! (Inspite of so many HGFC absentees). The ball SHOULD be in our court. Should be.

Concluding statement

This match is all-to-do for our Hougang boys. Why we deserve this is because continental competitions is our aim each year(as mentioned by ex-coach, Clement). We'll only grow stronger, differentiate ourselves tactically, mentally and increase our gameplay pace from the rest of the pack, just like what I alluded to at the start of this article.

Secondly, simply because time and again, we have (slowly) proven and improved ourselves with each continental competition that we can hold our own as a Singaporean representative since 2019.

This time around, it's much tougher as we have to cope with a very lightweight midfield. With Zulfahmi, Gabriel, Shahdan and Krajcek unavailable, the onus then falls on Ajay, Irwan Shah and Amir Zailani to orchestrate the midfield. Spraying passes forward for counter attacking transitions will be close to non-existent. So we'll have to rely on our other strength, to go wide and provide crosses in, unless Marko has another trick up his sleeves.

What better way to demonstrate our prowess than to give the Sailors a reminder that we're no pushovers. If there's any team who can cause an upset, that's us. No one (besides our fans) gave our boys a chance against Albirex in last years' SG cup — but we overcame it and became champions. No one gave us a chance against Haiphong, but we surprised them anyways, and not with a scrappy one-off counter attack.

Trust, believe, and aim for the stars. Even when we're 5-0 down, always try to get one goal back, and when we do, get another, and so on so forth. Always make it difficult for our opponents, for we are Hougang! Semangat! #1H1H


LCS vs Hougang Quick Report:

- 4-2-3-1 formation preferred (LCS)

- Dangermen: Max Lestienne, Shawal Anuar, Diego Lopes

- Loss of Bailey Wright to injury

- Gabriel, Kiki and Shahdan are most probably ruled out through injury. We also don't have the services of Zulfahmi anymore.

- Lookout for Louka who performed admirably against Balestier should he come off the bench for Gabriel or Kiki.

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

Who will be in the semis?

  • 0%Hougang United

  • 0%Tanjong Pagar United

Choose words of encouragement for our boys!🥳

  • 0%Hougang United! Win, lose or draw, we'll always be w u!🎶

  • 0%Satu Hati, Satu Hougang! #1H1H 🐆

  • 0%Na na na Na! Hey Hey Hey! United all the way! 🤝

  • 0%C'mon Lads! If you can win Haiphong, then u can win this!

You can vote for more than one answer.

Who do you think will score?

  • 0%Kracjek

  • 0%Maksimovic

  • 0%Shawal Anuar (LCS)

  • 0%Max Lestienne (LCS)

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