Nigeria Professional Football League (Week 33): Wikki Tourists v Enugu Rangers, ABS FC v Remo Stars, MFM FC v Enyimba, Kano Pillars v Plateau United, Shooting Stars v Gombe United, Lobi Stars v Abia Warriors, FC IfeanyiUbah v Nasarawa United, Niger Tornadoes v El-Kanemi Warriors, Sunshine Stars v Akwa United (all 4pm)
Six rounds of matches to go, the league title, continental places and survival race have all 20 clubs at different stages of success or failure. Leaders. Plateau United (with 58 points) are separated from Enyimba in fourth place by eight points. MFM FC (on 55 points) and Akwa United (four points behind) occupy second and third slots respectively.
Week after week, Plateau United, who first claimed the top spot from Week 2 and have usurped that prime position from Matchday 19, were expected to buckle under the pressure of blazing the trail, but the Tin City side appear set to pull a Leicester City from their hat having stayed resolute all the way through.
From relegation waters at the close of last season to the door of the Promised Land this season, MFM FC have successfully turned their story around in this campaign. Believed to be title pretenders, MFM FC have been unstoppable at the Agege Township Stadium this season, failing to pick maximum points only on one occasion during the visit of Akwa United. The trio of Chukwuka Onuwa, Stephen Odey and Sikiru Olatunbosun have formed a partnership that has propelled the team forward this term and placed them on the steps of history, dependent on a Plateau United implosion.
Akwa United started the campaign slowly but have steadily worked their way up the ladder and are sitting comfortably in third position, with analysts expecting them to leapfrog MFM FC into second by the close of the campaign. Abdu Maikaba and his squad have built a reputation of fine football this term, outclassing several teams with intricate interchange of passes that at times leave their markers stuck afield.
They however are worst hit by the African Nations Cup invitations, with four of their starters called up to the Super Eagles. This is a testament to their fine form this season, but can also be the unraveling point of their season.
Enyimba, one of the most decorated teams of the modern day Nigerian game, are in fourth place, a point below Akwa United in third, a point above El-Kanemi Warriors in fifth and three points above Nasarawa United in sixth. A fine run of form at the end of the season will see Enyimba cement their continental slot, and mathematically challenge for the title. This surge however must start this evening away to second-placed MFM FC, who will be looking to keep tabs on Plateau United. To their disadvantage, Enyimba have failed to score in their last four away matches plus 35 minutes.
El-Kanemi Warriors (on 49 points), Nasarawa United, FC IfeanyiUbah and Lobi Stars (all tied on 47 points) have the top-three positions in their sights, with a slip-up from the present occupants allowing any – or all – of them a chance to creep in and nick the available continental places.
Mathematically, no team are yet relegated. However, the next lower step, the Nigeria National League seems to have reached out into the NPFL and is dragging Remo Stars (with 29 points) and Gombe United (on 37 points) back down with it.
Other teams currently occupying the relegation places include ABS FC and Shooting Stars (both on 40 points), with Rivers United and Abia Warriors (both on 41 points) and practically every team in the lower half looking nervously over their shoulders.
French Ligue 1 (Week 1): Lille v Nantes (2pm), Angers SCO v Bordeaux (4pm), Olympique Marseille v Dijon FCO (8pm)
2017 English Community Shield: Arsenal v Chelsea (2pm)
Arsenal had the better of their London rivals in the FA Cup final in May but got thrashed in an off-season friendly in Asia last month. In this afternoon’s fixture – a friendly to open the season – both teams will test their squads ahead of Friday night’s first match of the 2017/18 EPL at Emirates Stadium where Arsenal will welcome 2016 champions Leicester City.