Archrivals Esteghlal and Persepolis head into Monday’s Tehran derby in contrasting moods.
The capital’s Blues are second in the Persian Gulf Pro League table with 18 points – three points adrift of San’at Naft Abadan with two games in hand – while the defending champion sits 11th, although it has played two games less than Monday’s opponent.
Mahmoud Fekri’s men look to build on a recent fine form, which has seen them claim back-to-back victories away to Golgohar Sirjan (2-1) and at home against Aluminium Arak (2-0).
“I’ve told my players not to get carried away by their position in the table as the derby is a massive game for both sides. We will try to control the game, especially the latter stages of the match,” Fekri, who makes his derby debut as an Esteghlal manager, said in the pre-match press conference.
The good news for Fekri is that his frontline duo has found its scoring touch in recent weeks as both Amir-Arsalan Motahari and Mehdi Qayedi were on the scoresheet against Aluminium Arak.
Last season’s topscorer of the league Cheick Diabaté is also clear of injury as he was given some minutes in the last game but will probably start the match on the bench again.
Persepolis, meanwhile, is yet to win a game following the AFC Champions League final defeat in mid-December.
The Reds had been held to 1-1 draws at Nassaji Mazandaran and then against Zob Ahan at home before playing to a goalless stalemate against Sepahan at the Azadi Stadium last Tuesday.
“We played some good football in the last three games – except for the second half against Zob Ahan,” Persepolis manager Yahya Golmohammadi, whose team has been on a 40-day winless streak, said on Sunday.
“The kind of football we played was enough to win those games, but we were unlucky and wasteful, though it’s not an issue to bother us. The Esteghlal game is a perfect opportunity to start our winning run,” added Golmohammadi, who failed to beat Esteghlal as the Reds’ head coach in the previous two meetings – a 2-2 draw in the league last season followed by a Hazfi Cup last-four defeat in the shootout.
Golmohammadi will have to find a solution to his side’s attacking woes, as it has scored only six in seven outings, with all of the strikers yet to get off the mark.
Disappointing performances by Arman Ramezani and Mehdi Abdi forced the manager to field two midfielders – Vahid Amiri and Ahmad Nourollahi – in the frontline against Sepahan, while the departure of Iraqi midfielder Bashar Resan after the ACL final has added to the Reds’ problems in front of the goal.
Monday’s encounter will also be a battle between two summer signing keepers.
Both Hamed Lak and Rashid Mazaheri, representing Persepolis and Esteghlal respectively, have been two key figures for their clubs, having registered five clean-sheets, conceding only twice.
San’at on top
On Sunday, San’at Naft Abadan overtook Esteghlal for the top spot of the table with a 1-0 victory at Nassaji.
San’at skipper Taleb Rikani scored with a sizzling strike from behind the box in the 36th minute, before Nassaji captain Hamed Shiri saw his spot-kick saved by Farzin Garousian with 18 minutes left from normal time.
In Isfahan, first-goals saw Sepahan and Foolad Khuzestan settle for a 1-1 draw.
Ayanda Patosi gave Foolad the lead with eight minutes into the game, only to see his goal canceled out by Mohammadreza Hosseini.
In Arak, a Hamed Pakdel double for Aluminium – including a 96th-minute equalizer from the spot – either side of goals by Darko Bjedov and Abdollah Hosseini earned the home side a point against Zob Ahan.
Mes Rafsanjan beat bottom-side Mashinsazi at home 1-0, courtesy of a Faraz Emam-Ali’s 76th-minute goal.