The domestic season set to kick off with the Supercup (Al-Am'ary vs. Hilal Al-Quds) on August 5th. One day later the season kicks off for the other eight Premier League teams with the start of the Yasser Arafat Cup. Below we preview the competition and tell you who is set to contend for the title this season.
Yasser Arafat Cup Groups:
2. Shabab Al-Khaleel
3. Jabal Al-Mukaber
4. Tarji Wadi Al-Nees
5. Merkaz Tulkarem
1. Hilal Al-Quds
5. Thaqafi Tulkarem
Merkaz Shabab Al-Am'ary (MSA)
Last Season: Champions
Key Additions: Houssam Wadi, Ismail Amour, Assem Abu Assi, Ahmed Keshkesh
Key Losses: Eyad Abugharqud, Nadim Al-Barghouthi, Ahsan Sadeq, Saleh Aslieh
The defending league champions seem primed to repeat having strengthened their midfield through the acquisitions of Wadi and Amour. Assem Abu Assi was an upgrade at goalkeeper, but he has announced his intent to return to Gaza to be closer to his family [UPDATE: Abu Assi has done a 180 and now wants to stay]. The loss of top goal scorer Eyad Abugharqud should be made up with the return of Ahmed Keshkesh after a successful two-year stint in Jordan with Wihdat. Al-Am'ary's starting XI will also include 7 national team players with the likes of Suleiman Obeid, Khaled Mahdi, Ayman Alhendi and Ahmed Harbi also in the fold.
Hilal Al-Quds (HAQ)
Last Season: 2nd Place
Key Additions: Ali El-Khatib, Alaa Attieh, Saed Abu Saleem, Mohammed Khweis, Maen Obeid, Shadi Allan, Raed Fares, Hatem Karim
Key Losses: Mohammed Abdel Jawad, Ehab Abujazr, Mohammed Jamal Jebreen
Hilal Al-Quds captured the FA Cup and came incredibly close to lifting a league title as well. The team leaned heavily on goalkeeper Abdullah Saidawi who kept the most clean sheets last season and striker Murad Alyan who scored 20 league goals and had a whopping 34 in all competitions. The question is whether or not these two players can continue their fine run of form. Ali El-Khatib should help improve service to Alyan in midfield and if Alaa Attieh- top scorer in the Gazan Legaue- is allowed entry into the West Bank he should be able to take some pressure off Murad Alyan. The club should finish in the top three but at least two rivals have done a better job of strengthening their squads in the offseason.
Shabab Al-Dhahrieh (SAD)
Last Season: 3rd
Key Additions: Khaled Salem, Amir Abu Arar, Diya Abu Eyadeh, Ahmad Allan
Key Losses: None
It seemed that The Oryxes had lost a key player in National Team winger Atef Abu Bilal until the FA ruled that Abu Bilal had violated his contract by signing with Shabab Al-Khaleel. Dhahrieh finished 3rd last season and will be an interesting team to watch after adding promising young striker Khaled Salem to the team. Salem wasn't in fine form with Merkaz Tulkarem last season but was one of the Olympic Team's best players this past year scoring against Lebanon, Lega Pro Select, and in both legs against Bahrain. With a better supporting cast will this be the season Khaled Salem breaks out? This is definitely the dark horse in the competition, a lot will depend on how the new players pan out especially the ones coming over from the Israeli League- Amir Abu Arar and Diya Abu Eyadeh.
Merkaz Shabab Balata (BAL)
Last Season: 4th
Key Additions: ِAbdelhamid Abuhabeeb (contract renewed for 3 years), Ahsan Sadeq, Arafat Abu Sarhan.
Key Losses: Saed Abu Saleem, Mohammed Khweis, Wasim Eqab, Mustafa Kamil
The good news is that Balata has retained one of the best players in the game in Abdelhamid Abuhabeeb. The bad news is that his supporting cast in attack has opted to leave and to add insult to injury goalkeeper Saed Abu Saleem has also left to ostensibly sit on the bench at Hilal Al-Quds. Balata surprised everyone in their first season in the top league but they look set for a sophomore slump. Can Abuhabeeb save them from a relegation dogfight? We think so.
Tarji Wadi Al-Nes (TWN)
Last Season: 5th
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: None
Champions three years ago Wadi Al-Nes has always preferred to look within for their stars. The core of this team comes from a single family Amjad Zidan and Ashraf Nu'man are cousins (Hence the same last name- Fawargha) so are Khader Yousef and Toufic Ali (last name- Abu Hamad). The stability means Wadi Al-Nes are unlikely to suffer a dip in form on the other hand they won't exceed expectations either.
Last Season: 6th
Key Additions: Fahed Attal, Mohammed Abdel Jawad, Nadim Barghouthi Mohammed Jamal Jebreen, Fayez Aslieh, Salah Aslieh, Mousa Abu Jazr, Khalil Abu Jazr, Eyad Abugharqud, Jehad Rabie, Walid Abbas
Key Losses: Mohammed-Ali Shatrit, Ali Ayesh, Raed Fares
The most successful club in Palestinian football has spared no expense in returning to the pinnacle. Eyad Abugharqud and Fahed Attal will link up to create what should be the most potent strike force in the league. Abdel Jawad, Nadim Barghouthi and Fayez Aslieh should strengthen the back line whilst Jebreen and the Abu Jazrs should provide the midfield with an attacking punch. It all looks good on paper but will the squad gel in time?
Jabal Al-Mukaber (JAM)
Last Season: 7th
Key Additions: Yahya Badra
Key Losses: Assem Abu Assi, Ismail Amour, Houssam Wadi, Ali El-Khatib, Jamal Allan, Ahmad Allan, Shadi Allan, Mahmoud Awdeh, Hatem Karim
Last season was a huge disappointment for the defending champions who spent most the season closer to the bottom than the top of the league. The core of this team has left but it can't be too hard to match the abysmal 24 points in 22 games the team collected last year. It will be a rebuilding phase and if the remnants of this team don't rally around each other Mukaber will most certainly be going down. Either way, this team is poised for a relegation fight.
Al-Bireh Institute (MB)
Last Season: 8th
Key Additions: Wasim Eqab, Houssam Ziyadeh, Mahmoud Awdeh
Scored a measly 19 goals last season- second lowest only to Asker who were relegated. Wasim Eqab and Houssam Ziyadeh were brought in to address the team's anemic scoring. Will be one of the favorites to go down but might have an ace in their sleeve in the form of a good youth academy. They'll need some of the youngsters to step up if they are to stay up.
Thaqafi Tulkarem (TTK)
Last Season: 9th
Key Additions: Miha Sinisimac (manager), Mustafa Kamil, Fadi Hasasneh
The least star-studded line-up in the league will struggle to stay up but perhaps the new Croatian manger can bring some fresh ideas to the team. Goalkeeper Fahed Al-Fakhuri will be leaned on heavily.
Merkaz Tulkarem (MTK)
Last Season: 10th
Key Losses: Khaled Salem, Maen Obeid
Our pick to survive the relegation scrap based mostly on the fact that they somehow managed to avoid the axe this past year. In the final 8 games of the season, perhaps buoyed by the break in play thanks to the Challenge Cup Qualifiers, Tulkarem lost only once while collecting 4 wins and 3 draws. To put things in perspective in the first 13 games of the season Merkaz collected a paltry 6 points in the final 8 an impressive 15! It will be interesting to see how the team adapts in the absence of Khaled Salem and Maen Obeid.