With a win, a draw and a loss in the first three games of the 2021 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season, it would be fair to say that the Lion City Sailors have not had an ideal start to the campaign.

Having kicked off the year with a thrilling 3-3 draw against title rivals Tampines Rovers, Aurelio Vidmar’s side went on to thrash Tanjong Pagar United 5-0, before falling to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Hougang United.

Here, we highlight the major talking points from the Sailors’ opening three matches.

Song’s still influential

Given the high-profile signings the Sailors made during the off-season, it was no surprise that much of the spotlight was fixed  on those players rather than on the team’s existing stars.

However, it was a stalwart of this Sailors squad, Song Uiyoung, who shone brightest in the first three games. Now into his 10th season in Singapore, the 27-year-old proved he remains one of the most important members of the squad, with three goals in as many fixtures.

It was he who opened the Sailors’ goalscoring account this year, in the 3-3 draw with Tampines. The South Korean made an intelligent run into the box to convert Haiqal Pashia’s low cross with the deftest of touches.

Song followed that up with two more goals against Tanjong Pagar three days later – his first, a superb cushioned volley on the turn, was soon followed by a well-timed header off Shahdan Sulaiman’s in-swinging cross. 

Those two goals meant that Song had scored 12 in his last 12 outings for the Sailors – a run that stretches back to the team’s 4-0 win over Geylang International last October. Unfortunately for Song, he was unable to find the back of the net against a resolute Hougang side.

But Song – who is currently the Sailors’ joint-top scorer along with Stipe Plazibat – is more than just about goals. The midfielder’s overall link-up play in attacking areas has helped to connect the lines between the Sailors’ midfield and attack. And so, while multi-million signing Diego Lopes continues his integration into the team, Song will be expected to continue being the man to keep the Sailors ticking.

New signings making an impact

While it usually takes time for new signings to bed into the team, most of the Sailors’ off-season recruits have managed to hit the ground running. 

And among the most impressive of the bunch is Nur Adam Abdullah. Turning 20 in April, the tenacious left-back plays with a maturity that belies his tender years. He has hardly put a foot wrong defensively, and has also been a constant threat in the final third with his overlapping runs. It is little wonder then that Nur Adam, who played the full 90 minutes in each of the Sailors’ first three games, earned a maiden call up to the Singapore National Team.

Meanwhile, fellow defender Amirul Adli has enjoyed a decent start to the season as well. While the Sailors have conceded six goals in three games, the 25-year-old has largely been on point with the timing of his tackles, while also showing strength and composure to bring the ball out of defence.

In attack, Faris Ramli has unsurprisingly been a bright spark for the Sailors. Coming off the bench in the Sailors’ first two outings, the 28-year-old made a positive impression in both matches – his delightful flick led to the Sailors’ third goal against Tampines, while against Tanjong Pagar, Faris first earned, then confidently dispatched a penalty to get off the mark for the season. 

Star signing Lopes has also shown glimpses of his immense quality in the two substitute appearances he has made so far this season. His performance against the Jaguars was  particularly eye-catching, with his presence and ability to control the tempo from the middle of the park proving crucial in breaking down a stubborn Tanjong Pagar side. It will still take more time before Lopes is fully integrated into the team, but with what we’ve seen of him so far, there is little doubt that he will add a different dimension to the Sailors’ football.

Cutting out the errors

Of course, we cannot shy away from talking about the mistakes at both ends of the pitch that have cost the Sailors precious points in these first three games.

In the games against Tampines and Hougang, the Sailors crafted out several gilt-edged opportunities to score, but were unable to capitalise on them.

And in the defensive third, the Sailors have made multiple errors – both individually and as a team – that have led to them conceding goals and ultimately, points.

This two-week international break perhaps comes at the right time for the Sailors who will seek to regroup and work to mend the chinks in the armour.

Nine players will be away on international duty with the Singapore national team for this week, but there is still the following week where Coach Aurelio can get his full team together for training again. This break will perhaps provide extra time for Fellipe to ramp up his fitness levels as he looks to make his much-awaited Sailors debut.

All is not doom and gloom for the Sailors. Such is the competitiveness of the SPL that no team in the league has a 100 percent record after three rounds. This is probably an indication that this season will be an open one, with ample time for the Sailors to get the ship in order, and back on course to meet the target of finishing the year as SPL champions.