Finally, the 2021/22 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) is scheduled to begin today with the first game to be played at the renovated Mobalaji Johnson Arena (MJA), Onikan Lagos.
The last time I watched a league game there, Shooting Stars held host Ikorodu United to a 1-1 draw. This season, MFM FC will use the MJA as their home ground, taking a break from the Agege Stadium that is undergoing renovations too. The MJA recently hosted games involving the female national team and the Budweiser game involving John Terry and Roberto Carlos. By 6pm today, hostilities will begin for the new season. MFM FC will host Remo Stars in a private regional derby.
August 5, 2021 was the last time we had an NPFL game with Akwa United finishing as champions of the league. Will they retain the title? Let us take a look at some stats from last season.
Last Season Stats
Last season promised to be different after Wikki’s Promise Damala opened the season’s account with his 5th minute goal against Nasarawa United. But it was Reuben Nicodemus who turned that tie around with a brace for a home win for Nasarawa United. Nicodemus didn’t score another league goal last season for Nasarawa United but his team mate Silas Nwankwo scored 19 times – joint best with Charles Atshimene of Akwa United.
Rabiu Ali – 14 (Kano Pillars), Michael Ohanu – 14 (Kwara Utd), Chukwuemeka Obioma – 13 (Abia Warriors), Mohammed Zulkifilu -13 (Plateau Utd), Sadeeq Yusuf – 13 (Sunshine Stars) and Rasheed Ahmed – 12 (Katsina Utd) make up the top 8 scorers from last season.
Despite playing away from Kano, no team picked up more points at home than Kano Pillars. The Sai Masu Gida played at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna, but they conceded just thrice at home, at least 2 goals fewer than any other team in 2020/21.
- Most home points: Kano Pillars (53), Nasarawa United (52), Akwa United (51), Rivers United (51), Lobi Stars (51).
- Fewest home points: Adamawa Utd (24), FC Ifeanyiubah (34), Sunshine Stars FC (35), Warri Wolves (37), Jigawa Golden Stars (37).
- Fewest goals conceded at home: Kano Pillars (3), Kwara United (5), Rivers United (6), Rangers FC (6).
- Most goals conceded at home: Dakkada FC (18), Wikki Tourists (17), Adamawa United (16), Abia Warriors (16).
Nasarawa United were the only side to score over 40 goals at home in the 2020/21 NPFL. They scored at least 5 more goals than any other team. Heavy-weights Enyimba FC (25) and Kano Pillars (26) scored below 30 goals at home this season. Adamawa United (17), Sunshine Stars (18) and Jigawa Golden Stars (19) are the only teams to score less than 20 goals at home in the season.
Six teams were unbeaten at home in the 2020/21 season, one more than the previous season. Rivers United and Lobi Stars are the only teams that have maintained an unbeaten home run since the beginning of last season.
- Unbeaten teams at home: Kano Pillars, Akwa United, Rivers United, Lobi Stars, Kwara United and Enyimba FC
Enyimba FC earned one of the three continental spots from the league thanks to their outstanding away form. They won more, scored more, lost fewer and got more points on the road than any other team on the NPFL in 2020/21. Only Akwa United more goals away from home than Enyimba in the season.
- Most away wins: Enyimba FC (6), Kwara United (4), Akwa United (3), Nasarawa United (3), Dakkada FC (3)
- Most away points: Enyimba FC (23), Akwa United (20), Kwara United (16)
Adamawa United had an “improved” away performance from the 2019/20 season. Despite scoring fewer goals, they got a point in 2020/21 as against none from the season before. They are among the 5 teams that failed to win an away match in the season. They were also among 5 other teams that scored less than 10 goals on the road.
- Fewest away goals scored: Adamawa United (3), Katsina United (4), Dakkada FC (7)
- Fewest away points: Adamawa united (1), Warri Wolves (4), Katsina United (5), FC Ifeanyiubah (5)
Three of the four teams with the fewest away points got relegated. To survive in the NPFL, team need to pick up good points on the road.
1-0 wins were the most popular score-line in the 2020/21 season, accounting for 27.4% of the total number of matches. This 27.4% is the lowest in the last 10 seasons for 1-0 score-lines. There were more 2-1 wins (17.6%) than the 2019/20 season (16.7%) while the 2-0 wins occurred as often as the previous season (13.4%).
The goalless draws went down from 12.9% in the 2018/19 season to 11.6% in 2020/21. 6.6% of the scores were 3-0 wins, a high rate since 7.9% in the 2013/14 season.
Kano Pillars recorded more 1-0 wins (11) than any other team last season. 10 of their 17 home wins were 1-0 wins. No Nasarawa United home game ended goalless; neither was an away game for Warri Wolves & FC Ifeanyiubah.
Sunshine Stars recorded 9 goalless draws last season, the most by any team. 6 of their home matches ended goalless, at least 2 more than any other team. Enyimba FC were the kings of 2-1 wins. Ten of their wins last season were 2-1 score-lines, at least three more than others.
The New Season
In this new season, I am pretty sure Enyimba won’t want to be associated with 2-1 wins. They have already made improvements with the arrival of Finidi George as the manager of the team. They would start off their NPFL campaign with the Abia Derby in Aba.
In other Matchday 1 fixtures, Akwa Utd will begin their title defense at the Nest of Champions against Kano Pillars, Gombe United will host Shooting Stars, Lobi Stars will host Rivers Utd while Rangers will travel to Katsina Utd.
Sunshine Stars will hope to avoid any relegation battles this season as they begin their season with Wikki Tourists. Niger Tornadoes will host Plateau Utd, Kwara Utd will hope to put the disappointment of missing out of continent when they host Dakada FC. Usman Damala’s Heartland FC will host Nasarawa Utd in Owerri.
How will the season end? Will we have a new champion? Will Akwa Utd retain the title?