Tampines Rovers coach Juergen Raab has revealed that Home United are their biggest title rivals and that his team also needs to be wary of defending champions Albirex Niigata in the coming matches.
Notably, the Stags lost their league opener, which also doubled up as the Hyundai Great Eastern Community Shield, against the White Swans, despite taking the lead in the first half. It has not been an ideal start to the season for the Tampines, who are now at the fourth spot with six points (two wins and two losses) from four league games.
On the other hand, Albirex are sitting at the top of the table with 10 points from four matches but they are facing pressure from second-placed Home, who have seven points in their bank from only three games.
Aidil Sharin's men, have looked the most impressive side in the league. The Protectors, whose marquee signing Stipe Plazibat is in red-hot form (scoring 13 goals from eight games in all competitions), will look to leapfrog the league leaders when they take on Hougang United on Sunday.
"Home United do have a strong squad this year, but we must also keep our eyes on last year's champions Albirex Niigata (S) in particular. However, the season has not been underway for long so I am sure things will change. That is football," Raab told International Business Times Singapore.
The exits of their big names, including former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant, at the end of last season meant Tampines had to revamp their squad. And Raab replaced former coach Akbar Nawaz as recently as in January only after the latter had begun the new season, leading the Stags at the AFC Champions League qualifiers.
With only limited time at his disposal, the German tactician has done his best to balance focus between the league and AFC Cup duties. However, the results have not gone the Tampines' way as the five-time league champions have only won three of the nine (all competitions) in the 2017 season and have struggled to win two league games on the trot.
Despite the initial struggles, Raab, who has been handed a three-year-contract, believes that his team will aim for the league title and that they are also focussed on rebuilding a team, which will focus on empowering younger players.
"Our aim is to of course win the title. At the same time, we are looking to rebuild our squad with younger players for the future. It's a balance," the 58-year-old added.
Raab's men take on fifth-placed Geylang International, against whom they have not lost in their last five meetings, at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday, which will also be their third game in seven days.