Azerbaijan Premier League 2023-24 Season Preview

In August, the Azerbaijan Premier League will return for another exciting installment. Qarabağ return once again as the football betting sites’ heavy favourites. Last season, the Horsemen clinched their record tenth title, swatting away all competition and continuing their domestic hegemony. Can anyone step up to crumble Gurban Gurbanov’s reign over the Premier League? Sabah were the standout competitors last season, but eventually fell short in second. 


Title Race


Qarabağ are the team to beat yet again in the Premier League. The club lost several key players like Musa Gurbanli to Djurgårdens, which could be a loss in the dressing room. But the Horsemen have more than enough depth to challenge again this season. Nariman Akhundzade, on whom the club has high hopes of a star campaign: at 19, the midfielder carries big creative responsibility in this Qarabağ side. Winger Hamidou Keyta is a potential asset and looks like an excellent signing on a free from Zira.


Sabah’s late capitulation last season means Murad Musayev has jumped into the transfer market early this summer. Jearl Margaritha and Vincent Thill has joined the club to provide more firepower. However, after losing key player Oleksiy Kashchuk, the Owls will be looking for a replacement in between the sticks. With the core form last season, Sabah will be desperate to go one step further this season. They’ll be the most enjoyable team to watch – but will that be enough?


European Chase


Neftchi Baku’s massive squad overhaul and learning curve under Adrian Mutu might leave them short this season. The Oilers will be desperate to turn around their disappointing campaign last season. The club captain Emin Mahmudov will be a key player for the Oilers next season after scoring 17 goals in 36 appearances in the league. Former Qarabağ player Gara Garayev brings class and swagger to Neftchi’s midfield alongside the more industrious Filip Ozobić.


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Gabala’s excellent achievements of securing the Azerbaijan Cup and qualification to the Europa Conference League showcased their ability last season. The Radars lost a huge part of their squad this summer, so manager Elmar Bakhshiyev has to rely on shrewd signings and tight-knit squads to keep in the divisions this season. Expect a disjointed start for Gabala, but Bakhshiyev should have the individual quality to keep them competitive regardless, the Radars have the potential to motor.


Rashad Sadygov-led Zira did not trouble the relegation zone all season and was a match for everyone. It’s a stronger squad this year, with the emergence of defensive battlers Ruan Renato and Magsad Isayev, which means usual suspects of previous seasons aren’t assured of their place, but the league itself is stronger too.


Turan Tovuz are unlikely to disappear off the radar now that they are backed by a new sponsor. The Gray Wolves are a team on the rise under Aykhan Abbasov and could challenge for the top four next season, having achieved a six-place finish last term. Recruitment has been encouraging, too, as defender Budag Nasirov came out from retirement to provide solidity.


Relegation Battle


Sabail will need more consistency under Shahin Diniyev to move away from relegation troubles. The Sailors narrowly avoided relegation on the final game of the season and it could be another tough year. Conversely, they will likely remain lumbered with some of the injury-prone low performers on high wages.


Sumgayit have lost the element of being a surprise package, so opponents now know what to expect. Samir Abbasov’s side must overcome the psychological blow of throwing the European dreams away in the early weeks of the campaign.


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An early exit feels plausible if things go sour in August, so Kapaz have risked wasting a whole summer of preparation. Kapaz are the worst-run club in this league, though, and more often than not that shows on the pitch. After a summer of widespread change, though, this season could be trickier than the club’s board would like.


Araz Nakhchivan’s promotion to the Premier League was an unexpected surprise but Azer Baghirov’s team will have to scrap for every point they earn. If the additions can bring the required fresh energy, athleticism and quality for the top-flight, Araz might beat the drop.


By: Fuad Alakbarov / @DrAlakbarov

Featured Image: @Juanffrann / Aziz Karimov – Stringer