Players' extra training among reasons for Albirex dominance
Here are seven reasons behind the Japanese side's successful title defence
Albirex Niigata will be presented with the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League trophy tonight, after a successful title defence.
Here's a look at how they did it.
Hougang United coach Philippe Aw said: "Most of the time, Albirex's opponents allow them to retain ball possession.
"Albirex are patient with keeping the ball, they make opponents run and, in the second half, when the opponents get tired, that's when they punish you.
"They can perform as a team because there's no player who is unfit."
Japanese football is known to be one of the best in Asia, but it was not just their technical skills that helped them dominate the sport.
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic felt that hard work was also a key factor behind their success.
He said: "These Albirex players come from a very high level of football.
"Their work rate is excellent and their attitude on the field is very good, so these two factors combined together is also why they are at the top of the game."
Albirex have let in only 14 goals in 23 games this season, making their defence the
meanest. The next best backline belongs to Tampines, who have conceded 20 goals in as
Albirex have lost only twice in 23 S.League games this season — going down 2-0 to Home
United at the Jalan Besar Stadium in June and 2-1 to Hougang United at Hougang Stadium
the following month.
With former J-League goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa between the sticks and a rock-solid
backline in front of him, Albirex have kept 13 clean sheets in the S.League this term.
Albirex have the best defence in this season's S.League, conceding only 14 goals in 23 games.
Home United striker Amiruldin Asraf believes that Albirex's solid backline and the common vision among players is what makes them hard to break down.
He said: "They may not be the most skilful players, but when it comes to defence, they defend as a team. And the same goes for attack. So their teamwork and discipline are what makes it hard for teams to penetrate their defence."
4. TSUBASA SANO
Even after training, the guys will do their own runs. They put in hours in the gym, and train at their own time, which helps improve their fitness on a whole.lbirex vice- chairman Koh Mui tee on his players
Into his first year in the S.League, Albirex striker Tsubasa Sano has 23 goals to his name and is currently the second top scorer, two goals shy of Home United Stipe Plazibat's goal haul.
But Sano is not just a goal-scoring machine. When opponents pose a threat to the White Swans' defence, Sano joins the pack to keep the wall strong.
Aw, whose side defeated Albirex once this season at Hougang Stadium, said: "A good striker like Sano doesn't just attack and score goals.
"He knows when it's necessary to drop back and help the team defend, and remain as compact as possible, which is very important."
Albirex train six times a week, with sessions lasting two hours each. But while almost every S.League club does the same, Albirex vice-chairman Koh Mui Tee believes that it is the extra training that these guys put in which matters the most.
Koh said: "The training intensity is very high, training sessions last close to two hours, but even after training, the guys will do their own runs. They put in hours in the gym, and train at their own time, which helps improve their fitness on a whole."
6. STRONG HOME FORM
The grounds of Jurong East Stadium are known as one of the hardest to visit for other S.League teams. Albirex have been unbeaten at their Jurong East home ground for the past two years and counting.
Their last defeat there was in November 2015, when Tampines Rovers pipped them 1-0. They have since won 27 games consecutively in this fortress.
7. 2016 BREAKTHROUGH
Winning their first S.League title last year proved to be a much-needed boost for the Japanese side.
Finishing third in 2012, 2013 and 2015 were the closest they got to winning the title before last year's breakthrough.
With just six players from last year's team staying on this year with Albirex, chairman Daisuke Korenaga said that a huge part of the White Swans' success should be attributed to the experience of head coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga, who was formerly first-team coach at J-league side Shimizu S-Pulse.
Korenaga said: "Coach (Kazuaki) knows how to control and motivate the players. He has travelled with many of the top clubs in Japan, so he knows how to keep them hungry. He does not let them off easily and that's one of the reasons why our players are so focused."
- Geylang International v Albirex Niigata (7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
- Warriors FC v Hougang United (7.30pm, Choa Chu Kang Stadium)
- Garena Young Lions v Brunei DPMM (7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
- Tampines Rovers v Home United (7.30pm, Our Tampines Hub)