Singapore Football

IT'S BEEN A GOOD START

Now that we have entered a three-week break for the LionsXII, it's a good time to take stock of our season so far.

I have already said that the LionsXII will use the opening month of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) campaign as our pre-season, because the squad came together very late.

We have played five of the best teams in the MSL over the last few weeks and performed well.

Out of 10, I would rate our performance as 7.5.

Take a detailed analysis of our games and I'd say we could have won them all. 

Obviously, being knocked out of the FA Cup in the second round was a big disappointment. We also shouldn't have dropped points against Pahang, Johor Darul Ta'zim and Terengganu.

Overall, though, I'm happy because we have tried our best to attack in every match, and we are just two points behind leaders Terengganu.

DEFENCE

Some people say our defence is weaker this season because we've conceded five goals in five games and have just one clean sheet in the MSL.

But Selangor and ATM FA scored against us with probably their one good chance.

Overall, we are fit and energetic, and the fullbacks Shakir (Hamzah) and Faritz (Abdul Hameed) are learning how to complement the attack. 

Afiq Yunos has also been a very good replacement for Baihakki (Khaizan) and has formed a good understanding with Safuwan (Baharudin).

We can still improve in terms of communication between the backline and the goalkeeper. It could be that they are too quiet and players must realise that they have to speak up.

At the start of the season, we had a discussion and agreed on zonal defending at set-pieces. After conceding the fourth-minute goal at ATM, I switched to man-marking and we improved.

Different games require different tactics, and we will adjust accordingly.

Obviously, we also have to cut down on giving away cheap free-kicks in danger zones.

MIDFIELD

We are still lacking a bit of creativity in the engine room. 

Zulfahmi (Arifin) hasn't realised his full potential yet. He's also too quiet, but I'm happy the way he responded when he came off the bench to create the late winner against ATM.

He's got the talent and the physique and I believe he will get better.

I want competition for places and I'm very happy with the current situation. Everybody is working hard for a spot in the first 11 and there is keen competition, especially in midfield.

Firdaus (Kasman) has provided extra bite, Shahfiq (Ghani) holds and plays the ball well, and Isa (Halim) is enjoying himself playing with younger teammates.

My concern now is with the wingers, who are not consistent.

They seem to perform well only when I bring them on as a substitute.

I need Faris (Ramli), Gabriel (Quak) and Nazrul (Nazari) to take responsibility. They have the speed and ability, but they need to be more confident and improve on their decision-making.

ATTACK

Home or away, we've created many chances.

It's good that (Khairul) Amri is scoring quite often and other players are chipping in to ensure we don't rely too much on him.

After injury-time winners against Selangor and ATM, some people have said that we are like the Manchester United of old who keep scoring late winners.

I rather we score more early and wrap up the game before half-time!

The good thing is the boys look like they are enjoying their football. They are getting used to their roles with the attacking style we play, which is why we are able to come from behind and grab points.

This three-week break is crucial as we continue our pre-season. We will work on our strength and fitness, movement, combinations, as well as bringing the reserves up to the same level as the regulars with some friendly matches.

It is also a good time for injured players like Amri, Safuwan, Shakir, Raihan (Rahman), Hafiz (Abu Sujad) and (Abdul) Qadir to recover before our next big game against Kelantan on March 8.

Hopefully, we'll come back from the break ready to entertain our fans with more goals and better results.

LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad was speaking to David Lee