Ten clubs will compete for local football glory this year. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)
This weekend the Hong Kong Premier League will start into its fourth season since its inauguration in 2014, with ten teams competing for local football glory. While Kitchee and Eastern will be again the most promising title contenders, district clubs such as Tai Po and Southern District have also made serious investments over the summer and will hope to bother the usual suspects. Guangzhou-based R&F could develop into another dark horse after putting HK$20 million into the new squad as they will aim to pick up at least a cup trophy. Although the absence of South China in top-flight football, where they stayed for almost 100 consecutive years, is still a huge blow, there should be enough excitement on the pitch that can let the Premier League survive without the Caroliners, at least for a year.
Yapp Hung-fai is still one of Eastern's key players and will captain his team. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)
KITCHEE v EASTERN, Premier League, Mong Kok Stadium, Aug 25, 8:00 pm
The new season will start in the same manner as the last one ended. On 6 May, Kitchee beat Eastern 4-1 in the “winner-takes-it-all” season final, which eventually saw the Bluewaves clinching the title and leaving the opposition empty-handed. The reigning champions tried to build on their team’s success and only made slight changes over the summer, but they still secured two high-profile signings: Brazilian striker Lucas Silva joined from Tai Po and naturalized midfielder Paulinho returned from Shenzhen FC, where he had recovered from an injury for most of last year. Eastern on the other hand had to replace a crucial number of key players, including Roberto Affonso, Giovane da Silva, Miroslav Saric, and Josh Mitchell, who all left the club. Given Kitchee’s pre-season form, during which they also beat the Macau representative team 6-0, they should be the clear favourites for the Friday night clash, but if Eastern could cause an early upset, this might reshuffle the cards.
Kitchee's Fernando was awarded 'Player of the Year' last season. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)
SOUTHERN v PEGASUS, Premier League, Aberdeen Sports Ground, Aug 26, 2:30 pm
Currently there are still some concerns if the match between Southern and Pegasus can go ahead as planned. The Aberdeen Sports Ground was seriously hit by typhoon Hato this week, with one roof apparently collapsing under the storm. Nevertheless, the weather will hardly have any effect on the odds for the game. Southern, who surprised many with a top 3 finish last season, have made very strategic signings over the summer to strengthen their squad, including former Fulham defender Zesh Rehman, but they also kept almost the entire core team that made the recent success possible. In contrast, new Pegasus coach Yeung Ching-kwong has to deal with many changes in personnel and relatively poor pre-season performances suggest that the team still struggles to adopt. Facing Southern in the first round will be a serious test for the Flying Horsemen.
DREAMS v TAI PO, Premier League, Tsing Yi Sports Ground, Aug 26, 5:30 pm
Dreams are one of two new clubs in the Premier League and have chosen Tsing Yi as their preferred home ground. With a limited budget of just HK$7 million, the club’s objective is rather to develop young players than to seriously compete for titles. Still, they decided to offer very attractive membership packages and could therefore mobilize more fans than expected. On their debut, they face very strong opposition in Tai Po, who had probably the most impressive transfer window this summer. Coach Lee Chi-kin has bolstered up his “Kin army”, in which young talents such as Tan Chun-lok, Wong Wai, Lee Ka-yiu and Yuen Chun-sing are given a lot of responsibility. Although their new defensive line – with Andy Russell, Eduardo Praes, Leung Kwun-chung and Sean Tse – might still need some time to form a unity, they should have enough confidence to start with three points into the new season.
RANGERS v LEE MAN, Premier League Sham Shui Po Sports Ground, Aug 27, 2:30 pm
At first sight this game might not look that intriguing, but it could actually be described as one of the league’s new derbies. Last season Lee Man were still the main sponsor of Rangers, but they eventually insisted on building up their own team. Consequently, most key players of Rangers joined the new club, including striker Jordi Tarres, who is still on loan from Kitchee. Rangers on the other hand struggled with signings over the summer and in their recent press conference they limited expectations by focusing on a relatively young team, which also tries to accommodate some of Hong Kong’s famous “bad boys” such as Tommy Chuck Yiu-kwok, Lai Lok-yin and Lau Cheuk-hin. This could be a risky bet, but if things pan out as planned, it could also become a new success story.
YUEN LONG v R&F, Premier League, Yuen Long Stadium, Aug 27, 5:30 pm
The first round of the new Hong Kong Premier League season concludes with a game between Yuen Long and R&F. The Tangerines have to make do without sponsor KMB, which surprisingly jumped ship to introdcue its own team in Hong Kong’s Third Division. Luckily, Yuen Long could secure another bus company as patron, but they might still find themselves in a relegation fight this year. This match will also be an indicator for the actual strength of R&F. Much has been rumored about their great potential – and that they could even challenge for the title – but it is yet to see how their team has developed under new coach Marek Zajac. Aside from Itaparica, Bruninho, Giovane da Silva, Roberto Affonso, and Marko Perovic, they also brought in experienced Chinese centre-back Zhao Ming as well as Shandong Luneng’s young goalkeeping talent Zhou Yuchen. However, R&F still have to follow specific rules this season: They will only be allowed to field two foreign players at the same time, while at least three Hong Kong players need to be in the starting eleven. For the first time R&F will also have a team in the reserve division, which will only consist of local players.