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Source: Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Among the eight title contenders, Saigon FC were the most impressive performers, winning the first phase with two points clear and the fewest goals conceded. According to Saigon manager Vu Tien Thanh, such fantastic achievements are attributed to the players’ high sense of discipline and absolute compliance with the tactics set by the coaching staff. This is also a team with a pressing playstyle and a multi-layered defensive system and knowing how to block their opponents’ dangerous spearheads. However, the title race in phase 2 will be extremely fierce as Saigon FC seems to have yet to find a breakthrough in their playing style to secure wins alongside their defensive strength. This can be seen through the last two first-phase matches as Vu Tien Thanh’s side played faintly and lacked identity, losing 0-1 to Viettel FC and drawing 0-0 against Quang Ninh Coal. If such form continues, it will be very difficult for Saigon FC to defend their top spot as the gap with other chasers is now down to just two or three points.

Saigon’s city rivals and reigning runners-up Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) are also demonstrating instable form. There were matches witnessing the resounding victories for Chung Hae-seong’s troops, but immediately afterwards, they slumped to incomprehensible defeats. Despite possessing several talented players such as Ariel Rodriguez and José Guillermo, HCMC’s playing style is still somewhat dependent on forward Nguyen Cong Phuong. In the second-phase race, unless many solutions in the attacking line-up are deployed, Chung’s side will struggle to create breakthroughs, especially as they now only have 20 points in hand, level with three strong teams, title holders Hanoi FC, Becamex Binh Duong and Hoang Anh Gia Lai. In the worst-case scenario, HCMC could even be surpassed by V.League newbies Hong Linh Ha Tinh who are now in eighth place, just two points behind.

Despite concluding the first phase in fourth place, defending champions Hanoi FC remain the odds-on favourites for the overall trophy with a line-up of star players. The technical and tactical ability, abundant experience, uniform collective strength, and smooth combination are the strong points of the capital team that always make their opponents wary. In addition, they have significant advantages in the second phase with five of their seven matches to be played on home field and only two games away. The current biggest worry for manager Chu Dinh Nghiem is that the recurrence of injuries among some core players, especially midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai, has been weakening the team’s power. However, Hanoi fans are confident that their favourite team will produce a perfect sprint to successfully defend their crown in the same way as they have often done in previous seasons.

The most ominous challenger for the group of eight teams is probably none other than ambitious Viettel FC, who finished runner-up in the 2020 National Cup and concluded the first phase of V.League 1 in second place, and could even have taken first place if they hadn’t suffered the unexpected 0-2 defeat against Becamex Binh Duong on the last matchday. Viettel are now highly determined to cruise ahead right from the opening game of the second stage against Hoang Anh Gia Lai, to be played at home in Hang Day stadium. With the presence of excellent players in both defence and counterattacking such as Que Ngoc Hai and Bui Tien Dung, alongside the top scorer of the 2019 season Bruno Cantanhede, manager Truong Viet Hoang and his troops will surely do their utmost in the upcoming title race.

Quang Ninh Coal, Becamex Binh Duong and the two teams to have luckily escaped from the relegation battle, Hoang Anh Gia Lai and Hong Linh Ha Tinh, are currently holding psychological advantages and promise to be the biggest obstacles for the other title contenders. With the round robin format, each second-phase match will be of great significance to the teams, and just one defeat could possibly deprive them of the chance to conquer the overall trophy.

In the six-team relegation race, Quang Nam FC, who are now at bottom with only nine points, have fallen into the most disadvantageous position as they will play just two games at home among their total of five second-phase matches. Despite that fact, they should not be so disappointed because their gap with the two above-placed teams Hai Phong FC and Nam Dinh FC is only four points. Two wins against these opponents will help Quang Nam escape from relegation. SHB Da Nang are safest by leading the group of six teams with 16 points, second clear of bottom, followed by Thanh Hoa and Song Lam Nghe An on 15 points. Therefore, the relegation race is predicted to be a battle between Nam Dinh FC, Hai Phong FC and Quang Nam FC.

MIL OSI Asia Pacific News