The Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) is finally set to resume again today with the first set of matches in the belated 2020/21 season now billed to take place across the country.
Fans who have been starved of top-flight local football for almost nine months can now heave a sigh of relief with the resumption of the NPFL.
Unfortunately, it would not be business as usual as there will be restriction in the number of fans allowed into the different match venues in line with COVID-19 protocols.
A handful of teams will be playing their home games at adopted grounds having failed to get the all-clear from the League Management Company for their original facilities.
Two derby clashes are top on the cards among the matchday one fixtures and many believe this should set the right tone for a possibly intriguing season.
PREMIUM TIMES takes a deep look at the top three matches and the other games on the opening day of the NPFL 2020/21 season
Akwa United v Dakkada FC
The Uyo Derby is a new addition to derby ties in the NPFL as Dakkada FC (formerly Akwa Starlets) only gained promotion into the elite division last season.
In the maiden NPFL clash between both teams in February 2020 at the Godswill Akpabipo Stadium, it ended in a pulsating 2-2 draw.
For some, this might just be an indication of a looming fierce rivalry between the two teams from the oil-rich state.
However, a lot has changed since both teams met last season, so predicting the outcome will be a tough call.
For Akwa United, they have retained their manager Kenedy Boboye for this season and a large chunk of their players from last season.
The same can not be said of Dakkada who have lost a handful of their key players to rival clubs and are also starting life under a new coach in Umar Kwasau.
The Kaduna-born, former FC Taraba, Kada City, and Delta Force gaffer takes over from Caleb Esu whose contract expired at the end of last season and was not renewed by the club.
We expect goals at the Nest of champions.
Prediction: Akwa United 1-1 Dakkada FC
Enyimba FC v Abia Warriors
While the Abia derby has over the years been fiercely contested between these two sides, the Peoples’ Elephant have the upper hand and have maintained a great deal of dominance in the previous outings.
In 11 derby clashes, Enyimba have six victories while Abia Warriors have been lucky just twice with a win while the other three games ended in stalemates.
MATCHDAY 1 loading…
— Abia Warriors FC (@AbiaWarriors) December 26, 2020
Enyimba are presently hurting from the 3-0 defeat they suffered in Sudan in the Champions League and one expects them to vent their anger on their neighbours in the derby tie that has been moved forward to Monday.
It is safe to say this is a brand new Abia Warriors team with the massive transfer business carried out by the Umuahia-based side.
Former Super Eagles assistant coach, Imama Amapakabo, is now at the helm of affairs on the Abia Warriors bench.
With the quality recruitments made, it would not be surprising to see the club ruffling feathers starting with the Monday clash.
However, with Enyimba’s experience and near invincibility at their home ground, we expect them to nick this tie.
Prediction: Enyimba 2-1 Abia Warriors
Rivers United vs Rangers
Just like Enyimba, Rivers United are also campaigning on the continent but on their part, they would be going into this NPFL game high on confidence following their exploits in South Africa against Bloemfontein Celtic.
— Rivers United FC (@RiversUnitedFC) December 26, 2020
Rivers United have enjoyed a 100 per cent winning record against Enugu Rangers in all their past home games but the Flying Antelopes through their coach, Salisu Yusuf, have promised an upset in Port Harcourt this term.
Coach Salisu insists he is unfazed with the recent massive win secured by Rivers United, instead he is preoccupied with hitting the ground running in the season opener.
“That is football. You can win today but lose tomorrow. The most important thing is that we know what we want to play and how we want to go about it to get the result we want. My belief is that you can get any result anywhere and our target in Port-Harcourt is a positive result,” the coach told the Rangers Media team.
Rivers United 1-0 Rangers
In the other fixtures, Plateau United will host Kwara United at the New Jos Stadium.
Plateau United pic.twitter.com/MTOVrgCiJh
— PlateauUnitedFC (@plateau_united) December 25, 2020
Though the Peace Boys are still hurting over their unceremonious ouster from the CAF Champions League, they are also aware they need to be at their best to finish well in the league in order to have another chance at continental glory.
As for Kwara United, having been saved from relegation last season, they have done well to bolster their squad with some quality signings for this new campaign
In Nnewi, FC Ifeanyi Ubah will still be relying on their youthful players as they face Lobi Stars while Warri Wolves will be the guests of MFM FC at the Agege Stadium.
This is to inform our Supporters and Fans that we have been granted provisional approval by the @LMCNPFL to use the Soccer Temple, Agege Stadium for the new Nigeria Professional Football League season billed to start this weekend. pic.twitter.com/AWRRB5AXyO
— MFMFCLagos (@MFMFC_Lagos) December 24, 2020
Heartland are away to Katsina United while Adamawa United will be hosting Kano Pillars in their adopted home ground in Gombe.
Jigawa United at their adopted home ground in Kaduna will be playing host to Sunshine Stars while Nasarawa United and Wikki Tourists will be slugging it out at the Lafia Stadium.
NPFL Match Day 1 fixtures and venues
Akwa United Vs Dakkada Fc (Match to be played in Uyo)
Rivers United Vs Rangers Fc (Match to be played in Port Harcourt)
Enyimba Fc Vs Abia Warriors (Match to be played in Aba)
Plateau United Vs Kwara United (Match to be played in Jos)
Adamawa United Vs Kano Pillars (Match to be played in Gombe)
Jigawa Golden Stars Vs Sunshine Stars (Match to be played in Kaduna)
Katsina United Vs Heartland Fc (Match to be played in Katsina)
MFM Fc Vs Warri Wolves (Match to be played in Agege)
Nasarawa United Vs Wikki Tourists (Match to be played in Lafia)
Fc Ifeanyi Ubah Vs Lobi Stars (Match to be played in Nnewi)
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