Azerbaijan Premier League – 2018-19 Preview
With Azerbaijan Premier League’s August kick-off rapidly approaching, we’ve been taking a look at each of the teams that will take part in the 2018-19 season.
2018-19 has already started adding fuel to the fire through the appointments of new managers. It will be intriguing to watch whether one of these new managers starts dominating the league table or the never changing philosophy of Gurban Gurbanov will bring the seventh title to the Horsemen.
Qarabağ start as heavy favourites to win a six successive league title; whether the gap to them closes, depends on those chasing. The Horsemen are arguably the most entertaining side to watch in Caucasus, and combined flair with results to push Gabala and Neftchi all the way last season.
Mahir Madatov had a successful season with Qarabağ in 2017-18, scoring a respectable 8 goals in Premier League. Much more will be expected of the Azerbaijani teenager.
Key man: Dani Quintana
One to watch: Innocent Emeghara
Last season’s position: 1st
It’s been a summer of change at Gabala this summer, both on the pitch and in the dugout. Roman Hryhorchuk departed after four years with the club, taking over at Astana, so Sanan Gurbanov was brought in from Gabala for his first senior coaching role in Azerbaijan. It will be a tough season ahead for the Radars, and despite their attacking merits, it could be one with an unfortunate ending.
Key man: Vojislav Stanković
One to watch: Lalawélé Atakora
Last season’s position: 2nd
Following the fortunes of Neftchi Baku is nothing if not dull. After the unfair sacking of Tarlan Ahmadov and the sudden appointment of Roberto Bordin, the Neftchi board made countrywide headlines when they then moved to secure an Azerbaijani football icon as their new manager.
Bordin has quickly off-loaded much of the squad he inherited, and made 9 new signings so far. Doubts remain as to whether Neftchi have enough firepower to go toe to toe with Gabala over an entire season. The club have not offered a credible title challenge since the club’s financial meltdown. For Bordin’s first season to be judged a success, finishing second in the league, plus winning a cup, is probably the minimum requirement.
Key man: Emin Mahmudov
One to watch: Bagaliy Dabo
Last season’s position: 3rd
Zira fans are looking forward to a third successive season of European football and aspirations remain that they can challenge domestically too. Time for Aykhan Abbasov’s young guns to deliver trophies.
Depth in defence could be their main downfall, with a lack of quality options beyond first choice centre-back pairing Joseph Boum and Ilkin Qirtimov.
Key man: Sadio Tounkara
One to watch: Alexandru Dedov
Last season’s position: 4th
The team that set the bar for punching about their weight in Premier League, Sumgayit continue to be something of an enigma. Season after season, they outperform pre-season predictions on a miniscule budget, and there is little reason to believe things will be different this year.
Despite a blistering first half to last season and a memorable cup run, a tired-looking Sumgayit ended up finishing well outside the European cup qualifications. This still exceeded expectations and supporters are hoping to see more from new manager Nazim Suleymanov. A top-half finish would be great but, if Nazim Suleymanov works wonders like Samir Abbasov at Sumgayit last season, maybe fans can dare to dream even higher.
Key man: Afran Ismayilov
One to watch: Murad Khachayev
Last season’s position: 5th
Despite some positive moves in the transfer market, this season looks likely to be another struggle as Keshla still has some gaping holes. The team have the quality to mean relegation won’t be a concern, but neither will they be troubling the European places.
Key man: Adrian Scarlatache
One to watch: Amil Yunanov
Last season’s position: 6th
Sabail will be hoping for more success following their brush with relegation. The Seamen have brought in experienced players from the Premier League, which compared to the teams around them, does not seem to be the moves needed to contend with the strength and depth of their new league. The squad just may not be strong enough to contend with the teams in the Premier League.
Key man: Shahriyar Rahimov
One to watch: Édgar Pacheco
Last season’s position: 7th
The club have cashed in on talented players Marko Dević and Javid Imamverdiyev and the new manager has brought in a raft of new signings, which he must quickly gel into an effective unit. Elshan Ahmadov will be looking to ruffle a few feathers in the Premier League with his unique brand of football.
Key man: Javid Imamverdiyev
One to watch: Marko Dević
Last season’s position: 5th in Azerbaijan First Division
By: Fuad Alakbarov