After eleven games played this year's edition of the West Bank Premier League stands in stark contrast to the 2011/12 season. From a competitive standpoint, there are three, maybe even four teams who could win the league. At the halfway point last year the league was Hilal Al-Quds's to lose and despite their indifferent form over the second half of the season, a perfect first half was enough to ensure that the trophy was Jerusalem bound.
This season, the defending champions got off to a slow start, losing to Shabab Al-Dhahrieh in the opener and struggling to find their best form. Things have picked up since then but it is abundantly clear that Murad Alyan will not be able to carry rt his team on his back as he has done for the past three years. That said, Hilal have recovered after their indifferent 0-1-3 start. They currently are top of the form table with a 6-0-1 record having bagged 17 goals over that span. Even if they come up short in the league, the form should carry over to their AFC President's Cup Campaign slated to get underway in March. They'll be hoping to win the competition after Al-Am'ary managed to advance to the final of the 2012 edition.
The surprise of the campaign has come in the form of The Oryxes of Al-Dhahrieh. After losing top scorer After Abu Bilal to their crosstown rivals few expected the team to be capable of mounting a serious title challenge. The acquisition of Abed Kaebia has helped offset the loss of Abu Bilal and the Maccabi Haifa product has been the league's best player thus far. Everything the team does in attack goes through Kaebia and he has not only collected six goals for himself but has also contributed to Yahya Al-Sobakhi's league leading seven goal output. Despite a two point lead at the top of the table, Al-Dhahreih's weaknesses are well known as they are a team incapable of pragmatic play. Shabab Al-Khaleel killed them on the counter in a 3-0 loss and Iraq's Al-Quwa Al-Jawiyya did the same when the sides met in the UAFA Cup. Despite their suspect defense, The Oryxes have decided that the best course of action in the second half would be to equip themselves to win 4-3 if necessary. Capitalizing on a contractual disagreement, Al-Dhahrieh poached Mohammed Jamal from Shabab Al-Khaleel which should add more width to an already stacked attack.
Speaking of the high flying, free spending Hebronites, the loss of Fahed Attal to an ACL injury has been mitigated by the arrival of Ahmed Abdelhalim on loan from Wehdat. Abdelhalim and Attal were once interchangeable parts in a Wehdat team that won all four domestic trophies in one season. Only two points behind the leaders, Shabab Al-Khaleel will be hoping that the additions of loanees Abdelhalim alongside Faisaly's Mohammed Al-Salman will offset the loss of Attal and Mohammed Jamal.
The dark horses in the title race this season are Samir Eissa's Jabal Al-Mukaber who have been pieced together cleverly in the off season. Eissa has brought in many an unknown since taking the helm last January. Goalkeeper Majdi Khalaila has been a revelation this season keeping nine clean sheets in eleven games. The back line anchored by Wassim Eghbariyeh and Captain Rafit Eyad have been superb allowing only two goals all season. Despite their reputation as grinders, this is a team that can score goals, too. The winter break should have provided the team with an opportunity to gel so maybe wins along the lines of the 5-0 drubbing of Ahli Al-Khaleel can be expected.
As for the rest of the league it has been pretty average. Ahli Al-Khaleel are the best of the rest, while Balata and Tarji Wadi Al-Nes have struggled to cope with the losses of Abdelhamid Abuhabib and Ashraf Nu'man, respectively. Al-Am'ary are falling all over themselves and would be fighting relegation if not for the atrocious form of the newly promoted Hilal Jericho and Islami Qalqilya. When NT manager Jamal Mahmoud refers to a "lack of quality" this season as compared to last, you get the feeling he's referring to the mid table who were stronger and more capable of pushing the title challengers into producing better displays.
That said here's hoping that we get treated to an enthralling and exciting second half to the WBPL season!
Football Palestine's Best XI:
Manager: Samir Eissa (Jabal Al-Mukaber)