In what could be the toughest test on the road for Persian Gulf Pro League leader Persepolis, Yahya Golmohammadi’s men will visit Foolad Khuzestan in Ahvaz on Friday.
At Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, Esteghlal will be looking to get back to winning ways, when the defending champion welcomes Malavan FC on Thursday.
Sitting five points clear of Sepahan on top of the table, the Tehran-based Reds know that maximum points at the Foolad Arena will play a crucial role in their quest for a sixth league title in seven years.
Persepolis heads into the contest on the back of three successive wins – including a massive away triumph over third-placed Golgohar Sirjan – while Foolad is yet to walk away with a league victory since the World Cup pause.
A busy summer transfer window promised a serious title charge by Foolad but Javad Nekounam’s side has only managed one win in eight home fixtures this season – a 3-2 victory over Tractor in August – sharing the points on six occasions, four of which have been goalless.
When the two teams met in the reverse fixture, Foolad’s solid defensive display and organized pressing high up the field kept Persepolis at bay all night as it finished without a goal in Tehran.
Golmohammadi will have Mehdi Torabi available again after the Reds’ talisman missed the home win against Zob Ahan due to suspension.
Foolad could give a debut to new Spanish signing Roberto Torres, who has joined the southern Iranian club from La Liga outfit Osasuna as a free agent.
Sa Pinto on the brink?
Ricardo Sa Pinto will be desperate to see his team beat Malavan at home as back-to-back defeats at Tractor and Sepahan have left the Blues lagging in the fourth place – eight points adrift of the top.
Another setback could all but finish Esteghlal’s title defense, pushing Sa Pinto further to the exit door, although club CEO Ali Fat’hollahzadeh has dismissed any deadline for the Portuguese, whose side has won only one in the previous five outings.
Meanwhile, Sepahan, fresh from a last-gasp home victory over Esteghlal, will look to pile the pressure on Persepolis when playing away to Nassaji Mazandaran on Thursday.
In Sirjan, Amir Qalenoei’s Golgohar will have a tough job on its hands on Friday against fifth-placed Mes Rafsanjan, which, like Persepolis, has left the pitch empty-handed only once this season and enjoys the best defensive record in the league, conceding only five goals in 15 matches.
New Naft Masjed Soleyman head coach Reza Enayati will begin the rescue mission at home, when the bottom club hosts Havadar, while San’at Naft Abadan, second from bottom, will play away to Aluminium Arak.
Zob Ahan and resurgent Tractor will lock horns in Isfahan, with Paykan and Mes Kerman – both struggling just above the relegation zone – going head-to-head in Tehran.