As the Nigeria Professional Football Leagues (NPFL) resumes this weekend with matches across the country, one pertinent question most fans are already asking is which of the 20 teams on parade will be crowned champions at the end of 38 games of the 2019/2020 campaign.
After several delays, the new season is finally upon us and 19 different teams will be battling it out to unseat the defending champions, Enyimba International.
Last season, an abridged format was adopted and it was the People’s Elephant that came tops; winning an unprecedented eighth title at the season-ending Super Six tournament played at the Agege Stadium, Lagos.
While Enyimba will be hoping they can rule the NPFL again, they are guaranteed a fierce battle from some identified teams while some others might even spring surprises.
Some of the teams readily seen as possible title contenders and that should give Eyinmba a run for their money include Kano Pillars, Enugu Rangers, Lobi Stars and possibly Heartland FC with the massive changes at the club.
Apart from Enyimba and Rangers who have won the Nigeria League title eight and seven times respectively, Heartland and Kano Pillars rank high among the successful clubs in the league with five and four league shields to their names respectively.
Sai Masu Gida, as Pillars are fondly referred to, won 2019 Federation Cup after ending the Super Six in the second position behind Enyimba.
They will be looking forward to winning the title they last won in 2014.
Lobi Stars have also put themselves forward as genuine title contenders by hiring an astute manager like Gbenga Ogunbote and also recruited vastly experienced like players like David Tyavkase, Sibi Gwar, and Sunday Akleche among others to join strong guns like Sikiru Alimi to ruffle feathers.
For Rangers, though they were not that busy in the transfer market, they have been able to keep at least 90 per cent of their players and this will give them stability going into the new season.
While some will be fighting for the title, some definitely will be preoccupied with retaining their Premier League status and not dropping to the Nigeria National League, NNL.
It would be surprising if Adamawa United escape from going back to where they came from in the NNL, same for Jigawa Golden Stars who though are a descent side may be hampered due to their weak final strength.
Apart from the newly-promoted teams, Wikki Tourists also look like a team that could lose their Premier League status at the end of this present campaign.
Let the games begin!
Regardless of the earlier permutations, teams are expected to put their best foot forward in Sunday’s Match Day One fixture.
It will be an interesting battle between Plateau United and Lobi Stars at the New Jos Stadium, Jos.
Lobi, who topped in 2018, will look to shock Plateau at the 44,000 capacity Jos Stadium with their returnee veterans.
In Dutse, it will be a battle between Wikki Tourists and Jigawa Stars.
For many, the star fixture for the weekend will be in Kano where Pillars will host Rivers United.
Both teams are entertaining and have huge followership.
While Pillars have retained the bulk of their team, they have also added a few more to bolster their squad
Rivers on their part were involved in massive recruitment adding 16 new players to their squad with former Super Eagles defender Azubuike Egwuekwe the main attraction.
“Though they (Rivers United) defeated us in the pre-season tournament in Kano, but this (game on Sunday) is the real deal,” Kelly Kester, one of the new arrivals at Rivers United, told the club’s official website.
In Delta, Warri Wolves are back in the top flight since 2016 and will welcome a flamboyant Akwa United who said they are aiming for the NPFL title.
In Okigwe, Heartland FC coach, Fidelis Ilechukwu, will welcome his old club, MFM who are starting life under new manager Tony Bolus.
Illechukwu having spent 13 years with the Olukoya Boys before joining the Naze Millionaires should know the inner workings of his opponent.
In Anambra, FC IfeanyiUbah will welcome newly promoted Adamawa United.
The Nnewi side has lost a lot of players this season but have recruited budding talents hungry to make a name for themselves
Elsewhere, Delta Force will host Dakkada formerly known as Akwa Starlets as both teams will want to start life in the top flight on a winning note.
It will be another interesting tie between two ball-playing sides, Abia Warriors and Katsina United, at the Umuahia Township Stadium.
The home side have Henry Makinwa at the helm of affairs having lost Abdullahi Biffo to Kwara United.
However, the game between Rangers and Sunshine Stars will not hold, the same as the Enyimba versus Nasarawa United game because of the continental engagements of the People’s Elephants and the Flying Antelopes.
PHOTO CREDIT: NPFL