LionsXII more versatile after injury crisis

Putting players in new roles reaping rewards as they climb up MSL table

INJURIES to key players earlier this Malaysian Super League (MSL) season had led to a poor start by the LionsXII, with just one win in their opening eight matches.

However, they have since gone on a decent run, winning three and drawing one out of their last four fixtures, to climb from ninth to seventh in the MSL table.

As coach Fandi Ahmad told The Straits Times, he turned the negative into positive by somehow getting square pegs to fit into round holes.

WELL-ROUNDED BUNCH

Nazrul (Nazari), Zulfahmi (Arifin), Izzdin (Shafiq) and Hafiz (Sujad) understand their roles in different positions better, and this gives us more, compared to earlier on this season.

- Fandi Ahmad, on the benefits of putting players in unfamiliar roles earlier this season

The 53-year-old credited his players' flexibility and quick adaptation for their recent surge as his charges prepare to face Malaysian police outfit PDRM FA in the MSL at the Shah Alam Stadium tonight.

He said: "The boys are now getting better as a team.

"Some of the players have more confidence now and they have been very useful to us.

"Our players such as Nazrul (Nazari), Zulfahmi (Arifin), Izzdin (Shafiq) and Hafiz (Sujad) understand their roles in different positions better, and this gives us more, compared to earlier on this season."

With Safuwan Baharudin on loan at Australian A-League club Melbourne City earlier this season, and Afiq Yunos and Faritz Hameed suffering long-term injuries, it left gaping holes in defence.

To fill those defensive roles, the "square pegs" came in the form of Zulfahmi and Nazrul, two players whose instinct is to create rather than to destroy.

Though Zulfahmi relishes delivering a killer pass, the attacking midfielder is happy to chip in wherever Fandi sees fit.

"I have to adapt and sacrifice for the team," the 23-year-old said. "Playing in defence has helped made me a more well-rounded player.

"It was quite surprising to play there at first but Fandi had faith in me and motivated me."

Similarly, winger Nazrul, who stands at just 1.65m tall, has been successful as a right-back, even though he often had to mark opponents with bigger build.

While there is much to be optimistic about, Fandi acknowledged that it will be backs against the wall tonight when they face PDRM, who are fifth in the MSL table on 18 points, one ahead of the LionsXII.

Playing their third game in seven days, fatigue will be a problem, together with their less-than-sterling away form, which has seen them winning only once in seven attempts so far.

"Our performance might not be the best because it's the fasting period," Fandi noted.

"We will tend to drop a bit during the (Ramadan) period, usually we will press right till the end.

"It will be a very tough game. PDRM have a strong attacking force especially with their striker (Dramane) Traore.

"They will be fully focused so we need to concentrate more on our defence - playing a soak and counter game."

Added Zulfahmi: "We need to stay compact. Shah Alam is such a big field so tactical discipline is important."

PDRM FA v LionsXII

StarHub Ch112/Ch205 & 76.25MHz, 9.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2015, with the headline 'LIONSXII MORE VERSATILE AFTER INJURY CRISIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe