Following a long break, lovers of the Nigeria Premier Football League are about to witness a season of unending actions with matches to be played from now till June when the regular season will end.
Started on Sunday with the game between Akwa United and Bendel Insurance at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium Uyo, the Nigeria Premier Football League will fully starts its second abridged league season in about 4 years.
Divided into group A and B, the four newly promoted teams from the NNL will rub shoulders with the sixteen who beat the drop last season.
Unlike last season, the Interim Management Committee led by Gbenga Elegbeleye has put a lot of changes in place among which is the payment of referee's match allowances, millions of naira to clubs, official match balls etc to ensure we have a successful season.
Not just that, the clubs know quite well that at the end of the season, a prized money up 100 million naira awaits the winner. No better way to start a season that is long due.
An abridged league season where a lot of fireworks is expected definitely will give to the fans more than they bargained for.
Nigeriasoccernet.com takes a look at the 20 teams and how they are expected to fare in the season.
1. Rivers United
Defending Champions Rivers United will hope they can repeat last season's feat but first will have to finish among the top 3 in group A. The Stanley Eguma's men definitely have what it takes to pick one of the 3 Super Six tickets from group A.
Rivers United are expected to pick up a ticket to the super six and also go all the way to the final should they keep the impressive form from last season. Based on their current form on the continent, they look poised to defend their NPFL title.
2. Plateau United
A proper NPFL team with a more of a Southern football structure. Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu and his Jos based team finished last season as the first runner up. Team chemistry, proper management structure and experience have set the team on a high since winning their first and only league title in 2017. However, the team need to be more pragmatic rather playing for one touch too many football.
Although consistency is had to find these days in the league but Plateau United should qualify for the Super 6 if they maintain some level of consistency like we saw them do last season both at home and away.
Under the tutelage of Gbenga Ogunbote last season, Remo Stars surpassed all expectations to finish 3rd in their first return to the apex league after 3 years in the lower division. Not many gave them the chance then as their usual routine was to promote and relegate.
Although Ogunbote is no longer in charge, Daniel Ogunmodede looks poised to continue where the former gaffer left off and having served as the head coach of the team when they got promoted to the NPFL in 2021. With Ogunmodede's experience and having also gotten more exposure following his recent return from Portugal where he'd gone for training , it won't be surprising if they end up picking up one of the Super Six tickets from group A.
4. Kwara United
Stability and consistency is one thing we've seen with the Harmony Boys of late. Since 2021 season, Kwara United have maintained some level of consistency which has seen them become one of the favorites for continental places at the start of each season. Finished 4th last season, they represented the country well during the CAF Confederation Cup campaign although they capitulate where it mattered most.
Ready for group A campaign, Kwara United will definitely fight for the Super Six tickets but are likely to narrowly miss out because they will be playing their home games outside their natural habitation and that might likely contribute to the results they'll achieve.
5. Enyimba International
As the most successful club in the nation, Enyimba has failed to leave up to expectations of late and despite their investment last season, the Finidi George led side failed to produce. Another heavy investment has been done for this season, that should change club's recent narratives.
A strong contender for the league title as a result of the good business they've done during the transfer window.
6. Bendel Insurance
The newly promoted Bendel Insurance came into the league as the best from the second tier, winning the NNL Super four. The Benin of Arsenal can boost of the undying support of the government and an experienced head coach (Monday Odigie).
Two of the major ingredients of a traditional NPFL teams. Concentration, strength and top league inexperience could be their weakness.
They've started the season brightly with a big win away at Uyo against Akwa United. A little more consistent results on the road and at home will see them remain in the league but picking the Super Six ticket will be difficult by the virtue of the group they found themselves.
7. Akwa United
Another team with strong government backing, dynamic with strong administration. However, while all of these qualities are great for the off the pitch rating, Akwa United need to be more compact and less frenzy in their approach in the pitch.
The experience of the players and coaches of the former champion has put them in strong position to pick one of the Super Six ticket.
8. Shooting Stars
After four years of hiatus in the league, the Oluyole Warriors last season last season and despite the high expectation the very historic team, 3SC could only manage escaped relegation by two points. While the season is expected to be different after the signing of an experienced manager like Gbenga Ogunbote and quite exciting experienced league players, Shooting need to improve on their home performance.
It is advisable not to place high expectation on this team as the Ibadan based team will be comfortable with remaining in the league.
9. Nasarawa United
One of the least respected team from last season. Less noisy but deep rooted in North. Nasarawa have mastered the act of playing and sneaking points away from the corridor of the host. The only down side this season for them will be the league format.
A strong team in recent years and by the virtue of what they're known for, they'll be a strong contender for the Super Six as well.
10. Sunshine Stars
The last Nigerian club to reach the CAF inter-club competition semifinal. Since their exploits between 2011 and 2012 where they reached the semifinal of both the CAF Confederation Cup and CAF Champions League semifinal, Sunshine Stars have been a shadow of themselves battling relegation year in and out.
However the introduction of Edith Agoye during the summer seems to be a good one as more than ever before they looked prepared for the season ahead of them.
It'll be difficult to predict a top 3 finish for them based on their recent inconsistency but the team will comfortably remain in the league at the end of the season.
11. Abia Warriors
The Warriors from Umuahia have stayed afloat since gaining promotion to Nigeria's topflight league in 2013 and they have tried to hold their own in a state that also has giant, Enyimba international. The Uchendo Boys as they were called some time ago finished 13th last season, but will want to change that narrative this season.
A team with much hype but has always produce below par results. Looks like the struggle will continue this season as a result of their activities in the market. Surviving the drop depends on how well they start the season.
12. Dakkada FC
Dakkada FC having managed to beat the drop last season might not survive it this time around. Unlike their brothers Akwa United, Dakkada seems to be getting little attention from Akwa Ibom State government and their silence during the transfer window and preseason gives us an idea of what to expect from them during the season.
Dakkada FC will likely struggle this as a result of the preference given to Akwa United, their sister club under the same sponsor.
13. Rangers Int'l FC
The fact that they'll be playing their second consecutive season away from the Cathedral should be a thing of concern for the management of one of few Nigeria's traditional clubs left in the league. However, Abdul Makaiba's experience in the league will be a contributing factor to what they will achieve this season.
Placing too much expectations on the Flying Antelopes might be risky. As their league performances of recent has been poor. However, should they hit form on time, they might sneak into the Super Six.
14. Niger Tornadoes
Lucks don't come to teams everytime but I think they enjoyed a bit of it last season. This season, they look like one of the teams that will run out of luck as there might not be enough time for them to recover because of the abridged league format. They known to be a slow starter anyway.
Known for their slow starts to league season, should they follow the same routine this season, they might end up in the NNL.
15. El Kanemi Warriors
Newly promoted El Kanemi Warriors from Borno are one of the traditional teams in the Nigeria Premier Football League. Though have been off and on the league in recent times, they are back in the league after their last time in 2019 and look set to maintain that status. Though that looks a herculean task.
The Warriors will have to fight till the end to remain in this season's league which may take many clubs unawares if care is not taking due to it brevity. They may be relegated.
16. Doma United
A privately owned club from Gombe, looks organised, poised and ready to show the league they are no push overs. "We're ready to play in the elite league. We didn't come this far to stop, we will play in the elite league." the CEO of Doma, Alhaji Suleiman Umar (Mai Doma) had said.
It is left to be seen what the Savannah Tigers have in stock for the season.
Doma United may not be able to cope with the heat of the league and may return to the NNL if they don't hit the ground running from the first match of the season.
17. Bayelsa United
This is another returnee to the league after seven years and some months away in the NNL. Founded in 2000, but have not had it so smooth in the league. They will seek to consolidate on their achievement of winning the NNL by keeping their place in the NPFL.
The Prosperity Boys are likely to maintain their league status with the heavy support coming from the state government of Bayelsa. A support which has translated to laurels and achievements in sport as a whole in the state.
18. Lobi Stars
A regular mid-table team who knows how to play their ways around the league without getting down. Lobi Stars like every other season will give the big boys headache this season. However, their chances of a Super Six depends on how they fare against the whipping boys.
Lobi Stars as usual will go all the way to remain in the league as they don't have what it takes to challenge for the Super Six.
Wikki Tourist of Bauchi, one of the teams no one is really look at which will surpass expectations. Having turned their home ground to a fortress, Wikki Tourist know how to gather points on the road and their understanding of the league's terrain will work for them this season. They quite know how to pick points from derby games even while playing away and that will spore them to achieving the unthinkable this season.
With the teams in group B where Wikki Tourist will play, they're a strong contender for the Super Six ticket.
Gombe United put up a solid show in their first season after promotion finishing in the top half during the 2021/22 season. A fairly good team they've been able to assemble but this season might be their last considering the group they found themselves. A tough group A with majority of the super powers in the league means Gombe United will need a miracle to beat the drop this season.
A return to the NNL in view but a good run at home and a few points on the road might help them escape.
The abridged league season will definitely be an interesting one to look out for.
Promises to be full of surprises and like we witnessed in the opening game between Akwa United and Bendel Insurance where the newly promoted visitors stunned their host 2-0, we expect many more if such results.
This might just be the best of the leagues in recent years.