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Friday, August 18, 2017, 15:17
Hong Kong Premier League 2017/18: Preview
By Jeff Hardbattle
Friday, August 18, 2017, 15:17 By Jeff Hardbattle

Defending champions Kitchee have looked impressive in pre-season. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)

The Hong Kong Premier League finally makes its return next weekend, in what promises to be another high quality action-packed season. The 2017/18 campaign is set to kick off on Friday 25 August, with ten teams all competing for glory in the city’s top flight. Champions Kitchee will host last year’s runners-up Eastern in a massive opening clash at Mong Kok Stadium, whilst Saturday sees Southern hosting Pegasus and new boys Dreams FC taking on Tai Po. The opening week of fixtures will be rounded off on Sunday with Rangers facing the league’s second newest addition, Lee Man, and Yuen Long squaring off against Guangzhou-based R&F. Whilst the league suffered a huge blow over the summer with the news of South China’s withdrawal to the First Division, there has been plenty of activity going on with regards to transfers, and there is no doubting that fans can expect another year of drama and excitement.

Kitchee had to wait until the final day of the season to clinch their eighth league title after a 4-1 win over Eastern, but it looks as though they could have an easier time this year and may well dominate from start to finish. Despite only bringing in two players, namely Lucas Silva from Tai Po and Paulinho from Shenzhen FC, they have quality in abundance with players such as Sandro, Kristijan Vadocz and Fernando. Alex Chu is well on course to leading his team to another successful season, and they are surely the team to beat in the league.

Predicted finish: 1st

Eastern had something of a fall from grace last season, and though they did manage to qualify for the 2018 Asian Champions League qualifiers by virtue of winning the end-of-season playoffs, they lost out on the title to Kitchee and head coach Chan Yuen-ting stepped down from her position. Now headed by ex-Hong Kong national team assistant coach Szeto Man-chun, the Blues have bolstered their options by signing Finnish international Aleksandr Kokko and Brazilian midfielder Vitor Saba, as well as four players from South China, but have also lost the likes of Josh Mitchell, Miroslav Saric, Giovane da Silva, and Roberto Affonso. With other clubs having invested more in their side, Eastern may find life somewhat harder.

Predicted finish: 4th

Southern have made some astute signings over the summer, including defender Zesh Rehman. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)

Southern have gained some fabulous acquisitions during the off-season, and if anyone is going to challenge Kitchee for the title, it will most likely be Ricky Cheng’s side. Former Fulham and Queens Park Rangers defender Zesh Rehman has joined the Aberdeeners, along with Spanish duo Carles Martinez and Carlos Rodrigues, and Che Runqiu and Chan Man-fai from South China. The club targers silverware and looking at their side, that may well be within their reach.

Predicted finish: 2nd

Yuen Long had a terrific season last year, but having now lost their main sponsor KMB, the situation has changed in a big way for the Tangerines and they could find themselves scrapping it out towards the lower end of the table. They will be relying on Everton Camargo, who was a standout performer for Glory Sky last year, as well as defender Rafael Lacerda from Sao Paolo, but with players such as Diego Higino, Stefan Pereira and Luciano Silva all leaving, it looks difficult for the club to build on their previous campaign.

Predicted finish: 8th

Tai Po on the other hand can feel extremely satisfied with their business during the transfer window, and they are without question this season’s dark horses. Although they lost Lucas Silva to Kitchee and Itaparica to R&F, the signings of strikers Igor Sartori and Yuen Chun-sing (top scorer in First Division last year), midfielder Dhiego Martins, defenders Andrew Russell and Sean Tse and goalkeeper Tsang Man-fai more than compensate these departures. Expect the Greens to be up there mixing with the best.

Predicted finish: 3rd

Rangers are now back under the ownership of Biu Chun who spent the previous season presiding over Glory Sky, and in turn they replace former sponsor Lee Man who have formed their own team. With a budget of just $7 million, the club have stated that their priority is to develop youth and that results are secondary to this aim. There are some things to be positive about with the appointment of new head coach Dejan Antonic and signings such as Marko Krasic and Chuck Yiu-kwok (top local goal scorer last season), but the departures they have suffered such as Jordi Tarres, Fernando Recio and Denis Lima will no doubt weigh heavy. With a side full of young players, they look strong contenders for the drop.

Predicted finish: 10th (last)

Pegasus will be desperate to put their hugely disappointing eighth place finish in the previous season behind them, but the signs haven’t been great in pre-season and they suffered an 8:0 demolition by Thai side Muangthong United earlier this week. Former Eastern coach Yeung Ching-kwong is the new man in charge, and has snapped up Mahama Awal from South China as well as Bulgarian defender Rosen Kolev, Serbian striker Igor Nedeljkovic and Spanish defender Alfonso Artabe, but it remains to be seen if Pegasus can live up to the hype that previously surrounded the club.

Predicted finish: 7th

Dreams, who were known as Glory Sky last season, are now under the ownership of ex-Birmingham City board member Ryan Yeung. With a new look and feel about the club, they have brought in no less than five Spanish players, including former HKPL star Pablo Gallardo, and have loaned the promising Harima Hirokane from Kitchee, but it looks as though there is still a long way to go for the fledgling club, and they could struggle to pick up points.

Predicted finish: 9th

R&F look set to become something of a tour de force in the league this year, having vastly improved on their squad from last season. Signings like Giovane from Eastern and Itaparica from Tai Po are impressive, but Brazilian striker Bruninho’s inclusion in the team is particularly something to be feared by other clubs. Now under ex-Polish international Marek Zajac’s wing, their rise to prominence in Hong Kong football looks to be close at hand.

Predicted finish: 5th

Lee Man are very much the new kids on the block, having formed their own team after a season providing sponsorship at Rangers, but to look at their squad would suggest a seriousness about becoming a successful club. Jordi Tarres has followed the sponsors over from Rangers, and other acquisitions like Stefan Pereira and North Korean Son Min-chol make the team look like one not to be underestimated at any cost.

Predicted finish: 6th 

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