Unfazed by delayed start to season, Johor Darul Ta'zim immediately pick up where they left off

Gunning for an 11th consecutive Malaysia Super League title, Johor Darul Ta'zim showed no signs of rust on Saturday as they returned to action with a 3-1 win over Negeri Sembilan. Johor Darul Ta'zim FC

As it is, the new Malaysia Super League campaign was already starting later than usual.

With the competition transitioning from a calendar-year schedule to one to a 2024-25 season -- akin to Europe's major competitions -- fans were made to wait an extra couple of months for competitive action to return to Malaysian football.

As ever, all eyes were on Johor Darul Ta'zim -- champions of the last ten seasons -- and whether they would kick things off looking as dominant as they have been for a decade now.

If there was not already enough anticipation over the next campaign, JDT were then made to wait an extra week to officially begin another title defence -- and, unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.

A series of attacks targeting several prominent players at the start of the month prompted Selangor to pull out of the Charity Cup match with the Southern Tigers on May 10 due to security concerns, even as the hosts provided assurances that police presence would have been tripled for the curtain raiser of the new season.

So, in rather anticlimactic fashion but understandably so given the importance of the safety of all involved, the new campaign got underway without arguably Malaysia's two biggest clubs absent from proceedings.

It also denied observers the chance to see how comfortably JDT would fare against one of the teams with a realistic chance -- even if it is not much -- of offering some sort of resistance to another routine title triumph of the reigning champions.

The fact that the tie was considered a "walkover", with a 3-0 win awarded to the Southern Tigers, would have left neutrals groaning as it meant that JDT were already up and running with three points in the bag without even having to kick a ball.

Yet, JDT did indeed finally take to the field on Saturday and, as if it was not obvious already, will once again take some stopping this term.

A 3-1 victory over Negeri Sembilan may not be the most dominant of winning margins but, in truth, they were hardly troubled all evening long -- barely needing to get out of second gear once Bergson da Silva fired them two goals up inside the opening 17 minutes.

While JDT are no strangers to revamping their squad at times, continuity seems to be the theme in 2024-25 with the retention of a significant number of their foreign contingent - including Bergson, captain Jordi Amat, Spanish playmakers Juan Muniz and Oscar Arribas, while even Fernando Forestieri was re-signed after initially being released by the club at the end of last season.

In fact, the only prominent new face in the team against Negeri Sembilan was Syria international Jalil Elias.

Yet, that is not to say that JDT are content to rest on their laurels.

With their starting XI once littered with experienced Malaysia internationals such as Aidil Zafuan and Farizal Marlias who were admittedly in the twilight of their careers, the rejuvenation of the team has been an ongoing process.

While absent at the weekend, Arif Aiman - while still only 22 - has been an influential member of the side for three seasons now, and the Southern Tigers will only get better once he returns.

Meanwhile, goalkeeper Syihan Hazmi has well and truly taken over the No. 1 spot from Farizal, while Feroz Baharudin is now a regular feature in defence having initially had to bide his time as an up-and-coming prospect.

JDT also have relatively young players such as Syahmi Safari, Hong Wan and Ramadhan Saifullah ready to step up when called upon, and it should not be too surprising if even more inexperienced campaigners ones like Daryl Sham and Gabriel Nistelrooy get an opportunity throughout the course of the campaign.

With the new MSL season just two weeks old, hope naturally springs eternal for those hoping it will not be a runaway title triumph for JDT once more.

Unsurprisingly, it is Terengganu, Sabah and Sri Pahang who have made the best starts of the rest of the field with four points to their names, while Selangor were 1-0 victors over Kedah Darul Aman in their own delayed start to action.

But it usually doesn't take long for normal service to resume -- either in the form of the challengers faltering, or JDT simply gathering steam en route to an unstoppable charge.

Even if they had to wait longer than usual to get back to business, it hardly took the Southern Tigers any time to pick up where they left off.

They will take some stopping again in the 2024-25 MSL season.