JDT's new defenders primed for Malaysia Cup opener against PKNS
Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) are preparing an all-out assault on domestic domination when the Malaysian season resumes on Tuesday, with the start of the Malaysia Cup.
But the Malaysia Super League (MSL) leaders, who have already captured the Charity Shield and FA Cup this season, face a hectic schedule, cramming in six matches in all competitions before the end of July.
The Southern Tigers kick off their Malaysia Cup Group C campaign against PKNS, whom they defeated 2-1 in May to win the FA Cup final.
Despite being touted as favourites on paper, JDT head coach Mario Gomez is not underestimating his Premier League opponents.
"They have a strong side and have good players like Gabriel Guerra and [Juan Manuel] Cobelli who can cause any team problems. We are expecting a heavy game from them," Gomez told ESPN FC.
The Argentine, who was recently invited for the AFC Elite Club Coaches Forum in Shanghai, was also satisfied with his team's preparations, despite the lack of friendlies before the second half of their domestic campaign.
Up to 11 JDT players were selected for the national team's Oceania Tour in June, and as a result, the Johor played only one friendly -- against sister club JDT II which they won 2-1 on July 1.
"We have been preparing well for the season and the players are ready for the challenge," said Gomez, who revealed that defenders Dominic Tan and Hasbullah Abu Bakar, who were drafted in from JDT II, could feature.
"We will assess their progress in the next four months and they could play a part in the Malaysia Cup and league games. They are exciting prospects and I look forward to seeing their potential."
The youngsters would be the only two additions to the team ahead of a gruelling campaign which sees matches being played almost every three days until October.
But Gomez, whose side are also involved in the AFC Cup quarterfinals, has promised to utilise the depth of his 29-man squad. JDT have won six trophies since 2014, supported by their ambitious chairman, the Crown Prince of Johor.
"Every game is important and I will give a chance to all my players," said Gomez.
After PKNS, the 2014 Malaysia Cup runners-up welcome the visit of Kedah as the MSL restarts on July 16.
JDT, who have scored the most goals in this season's AFC Cup group stages, will play Gomez's former team South China of Hong Kong in a two-legged last eight tie on Sep. 13 and 20.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.