Albirex Niigata eye encore over star-studded Lion City Sailors
Sunday's clash the 'defining game of the season', says Sailors coach Vidmar
In the Lion City Sailors' seven games since the Singapore Premier League (SPL) resumed last month, they have lost only once - a 3-2 defeat by Albirex Niigata.
The Japanese side had figured out how to stop the star-studded Sailors, and will be seeking an encore at the Bishan Stadium on Sunday in a clash that Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar described as "the defining game of the season".
Third in the standings, the Sailors are just three points behind the White Swans, who have soared to the top of the table with five victories and a loss since the restart.
"It is a big game... A win for us will make the title race very interesting. A win for them will make it very difficult for us," said Vidmar.
"It would be a good, open game of football... the previous game will not have any effect on the team, it is a different kettle of fish. That's how it works."
Since losing to Albirex at Jurong East Stadium last month, Vidmar's men have plundered 22 goals in five games, winning four times and drawing once.
Albirex coach Keiji Shigetomi expects a tougher game than their previous meeting, as they will be playing away at Bishan.
"They are in form, so my players have to show bravery and the never-say-die spirit that they have displayed this season," he added.
Also vital is the need for Albirex to match their opponents' work rate, as the Sailors have scored in the second half for seven straight SPL matches, backing Vidmar's claims that his side are extremely fit.
"Our players are fit too, so we are looking to match them for the whole game," Shigetomi said.
"It will be a tight game, but I am confident that my players will give their best to win."
However, the 41-year-old Japanese acknowledged that his side were almost punished for their defensive lapses in their previous meeting, before Reo Nishiguchi secured victory with an injury-time goal.
"We were leading 2-0 before we let them back into the game. So we need to manage the game better in terms of possession and domination," he said.
"As they have many quality players, it is important that our players have to maintain concentration at all times and not let them dominate possession."
Shining brighter than the rest for the Sailors is the SPL's leading marksman Stipe Plazibat, with 14 goals, though the 31-year-old Croat has a "50-50" chance for Sunday, after suffering a hamstring twinge in the 3-1 win over Hougang United three days ago.
"We will give Stipe every opportunity to see if he can play," said Vidmar.
NOT JUST ABOUT PLAZIBAT
But Shigetomi was quick to point out that the Sailors are not a one-man team.
Among those who could step in for Plazibat is former Albirex forward Adam Swandi, who has contributed four goals and one assist since returning from a 15-month injury layoff.
On the 2018 SPL Young Player of the Year, Shigetomi added: "We are happy to see Adam back in action after his injury... We wish that he will continue his good form after this Sunday."