1. Another Opening Day Goal Fest
Last season, games between Shooting Stars and Plateau United produced the most goals over two legs in the league. Gbenga Ogunbote’s side relinquished a two-goal lead in the second half to draw 3-3 in their first game in Jos but they held on despite a late onslaught to win 3-2 in the reverse fixture. The Oluyole Warriors have had a good summer window and will be hoping it reflects on the pitch against a Plateau side that are going through a rebuild after the departure of Fidelis Ilechukwu and the appointment of former Enugu Rangers assistant, Mbwas Mangut as technical adviser. Both teams have scored lots of goals in preseason, so I expect to see a couple in this one.
Shooting Stars v Plateau United, Adamasingba Stadium, Ibadan.
2. First Taste Of ‘Sugar Ball’ For Akwa United
After missing out on the Super 6 last season on goal difference, Akwa United have let go of Deji Ayeni and brought in Fatai Osho. The former Enyimba and Remo Stars gaffer is back as the top man after two years assisting Stanley Eguma at Rivers United(2022 champion). We already know the football will be pleasing to the eye but can he marry it with better results than we saw in his time at Enyimba? that’s the big question. A first meeting in 8 years against a Bayelsa United side that went unbeaten at home last season is a good test to begin.
Bayelsa United v Akwa United, Samson Siasia Stadium, Yenegoa.
3. Can The Warriors Push On From Last Season’s Disappointment?
Since the end of last season and the start of a new government in Abia State, there have been wholesome changes at the Umuahia-based club. A new club chairman(John Obuh), Sporting Director(Ifejiagwa Emeka) assistant coach(Bethel Orji), and goalkeeping coach(Ike Shorunmu). With the enormous level of experience this new management setup possesses, the Ochendo babes will hope that this is the season they outshine their City rivals, Enyimba who won their 9th league title in June. The revamped technical crew of Niger Tornadoes, led by Abdulazeez Hamza Abarah will be hoping for a positive result at a ground where they have lost only once on their last three visits.
Abia Warriors v Niger Tornadoes, Umuahia Township Stadium.
4. The Real Thing Starts Now For Sporting
With the top three and Federation Cup winner from last season not in action this weekend, all eyes will be on Sporting Lagos to see how they begin life in the top flight. The ‘Noisy Lagosians’ have received massive plaudits for their good work throughout the off-season but as we all know, preseason is quite different from competitive games. Paul Offor has added quality and experience to the youthful side they had from last season in the NNL and that should help them to settle fast. A win in their first-ever game in the NPFL game will be immense and that’s a strong possibility against a Gombe United side that struggled last season.
Sporting Lagos v Gombe United, Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Onikan.
5. Another Shot At Redemption For Bolus
Already, Katsina United looks like a team with baggage going into the new season. The reported factional rancor on the administrative side and the departure of former league winner, Usman Abdallah, are already a cloud hanging over the newly promoted side. Add those to the appointment of Bolus, and you see why some people are already tipping them as early candidates to struggle. Coach Bolus has not covered himself in glory in his last three jobs(Yobe Stars, Vandrezzer, and MFM) but people have turning points and this could just be it for the former Giwa FC manager.
Katsina United v Kwara United, Muhammadu Dikko Stadium, Katsina.
6. Are Sai Masu Gida Back For Good?
After one season in the NNL, Kano Pillars are back in the big league where they belong. The four-time league champions ensured their stay in the second division was brief as they finished second in the playoffs. The Kano-based side were relegated in 2022 partly because of their troubles which cost them some points deduction. They will have the eyes of the viewing public to see how they behave on their return while their fans will be expecting them to challenge immediately. How will they manage both expectations?
Sunshine Stars v Kano Pillars, Akure Stadium, Akure
7. New Look Rangers Can Get Off To Flying Start
Like many other NPFL teams, wholesale changes have happened at Rangers, including the arrival of Fidelis Ilechukwu from Plateau United. This is Ilechukwu’s fourth job in five years as he continues to look for a settling place since leaving MFM. The Flying Antelopes are arguably his biggest one yet and he will be expected to help them challenge after the disappointments of recent seasons. These two have already met three times this year with the 7-time champion winning twice and drawing once. Doma surprised everyone last season by finishing just one point and two places outside the playoff spot. I’ve got a special interest in this one.
Enugu Rangers v Doma United, Awka City Stadium, Awka
8. Can Lobi Upset The Heartland Calm?
For the first time in a while, Heartland goes into a season without an impending chaos hanging around their neck. The Naze Millionaires start the season with a champion of the second division tag after conquering the NNL. The ‘Imolites’ went the whole of last season unbeaten and will be hoping to mark their return with a win. Lobi Stars have lost key members of the team that managed a top-six finish last term, including star man Joseph Atule and coach Mohammed Baba Ganaru. They have their usual seasonal in-house issues but a good start in Okigwe might just settle some nerves.
Heartland FC v Lobi Stars, Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri
9. Rivers And Bendel Carrying Nigeria’s Continental Hope
While 16 other teams will be battling out for their first points of the NPFL season, Remo Stars and Champions Enyimba will continue with their preparations with their opponents locked in key battles on the continent. Rivers United were supposed to host Remo but instead, the 2022 league winners will welcome Burkina Faso side, Etoile Filante in the CAF Confederation Cup as they look to make their home advantage count with the tie delicately poised at 1-1. Bendel Insurance was supposed to start their league campaign in Aba but they are already in Morocco where they will face RS Berkane. Failure of Nigeria’s representatives to get to the group stage will see the country’s continental slot reduced by two.
Rivers United v Etoile Filante, Adokiye Amiesiamaka Stadium, Port-Harcourt
RS Berkane v Bendel Insurance, Stade Municipal de Berkane, Berkane.
10. First Viewing Of The ‘Game Changer’
On May 24th, the NPFL and their strategic partner GTI announced a deal with Propel Sport to stream over 300 NPFL games this season. Since then, the deal has been hailed as the game changer for Nigerian football by everyone involved. This weekend, thousands of fans who have downloaded the NPFL Live app will have a first glance at the quality that the Pixellot AI technology can produce. From this writer, the simple advice from me is that you keep your expectations at a moderate level.