The Persian Gulf Pro League kicks off on Friday where title favorites hope to get off to a flying start to their campaigns.
There were fears over further suspension to the league – initially scheduled to begin on October 31 – due to the surge in the coronavirus cases in the country, but the National Headquarters for Managing and Fighting Coronavirus eventually gave the green light for the competition to go ahead as planned.
Of the regular contenders for the title, only Persepolis and Foolad Khuzestan will see their last season’s managers on the bench heading into the new season.
Yahya Golmohammadi’s Reds, eyeing a record-extending fifth consecutive title, will hope to carry on the momentum from the AFC Champions League campaign, which saw them secure a place in December 19 final, into Friday’s clash at Saipa.
Persepolis, however, will see some of its key assets in the previous four glittering seasons being replaced by new signings.
While the Tehran-based club has parted ways with international goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, first-choice center-back Shoja Khalilzadeh, as well as frontline duo Ali Alipour and Mehdi Torabi, Golmohammadi hopes the likes of Hamed Lak, Milad Sarlak, Ehsan Pahlevan and Issa Al-e-Kasir will fill the void of the departed players.
Also on Friday, Javad Nekounam’s Foolad, which impressively finished third last season, will travel to Isfahan to play Zob Ahan.
Tractor, meanwhile, under new manager Alireza Mansourian, will host Naft Masjed Soleyman in Tabriz.
Mansourian will be aiming to rebuild his damaged reputation – after a disappointing time in Esteghlal – by bringing the Tabirz faithful’s long hunger for the title to an end.
Aluminium Arak, in its top-tier debut, will host Nassaji Mazandaran in the other of the four Friday fixtures.
On Saturday, Sepahan legend Moharam Navidkia, who hopes to bring back the glory days of his playing career with the club, will embark on a new chapter, as the manager of the Isfahan-based giant, when playing away to Amir Qalenoei’s Golgohar Sirjan.
Qalenoei himself will have a point to prove against his former club after a run of disappointing results saw the league’s most decorated manager’s days in Sepahan end in the latter stages of last season.
Esteghlal is the other title challenger with a new face in its dugout.
The long-time dilemma of the Blues’ hot seat finally led to the club’s board naming the veteran Mahmoud Fekri as the manager – after he delivered some decent results with Nassaji Mazandaran.
Last season’s runner-up will be well aware of the importance of a powerful start, as many of Esteghlal fans believe below-par results in the early stages of the previous seasons saw their club fall behind its archrival in the title race.
Esteghlal will play Mes Rafsanjan at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Mehdi Rahmati’s Shahr Khodro will host Mashinsazi Tabriz, with San’at Naft and Paykan squaring off in Abadan.