Tehran archrivals Esteghlal and Persepolis will go head-to-head in the 97th capital derby at the Azadi Stadium on Saturday, seeking to maintain their early momentum in the Persian Gulf Pro League title race.
Sharing just 17 goals between them with seven games into the new campaign, both sides are yet to fully convince their millions of supporters, but have still managed to keep the pace with league leader Sepahan.
Esteghlal – looking for a first league title since 2013 – sees the occasion a perfect opportunity to get back in the winning ways after four consecutive draws, which have seen Farhad Majidi’s Blues fell to fifth in the table – three points off the top.
Majidi will be hoping to celebrate a first league victory over city rivals as Esteghlal manager, with the Blues’ last triumph in the fixture coming in a 1-0 win in March 2018.
However, Esteghlal has come out victorious against Persepolis twice in the Hazfi Cup in recent years – both in the shootout – including a quarterfinal win when the two sides last met in July.
Meanwhile, back-to-back 1-0 home victories over San’at Naft Abadan and Naft Masjed Soleyman ended a three-game winless streak for the Reds, who are after a record-extending sixth successive trophy, helping Yahya Golmohammadi’s men move up to second in the table – one point above Saturday’s opponents.
In the other eagerly-anticipated game of the day, third-placed Golgohar Sirjan will host Sepahan, knowing a victory will see Amir Qalenoei’s men go equal on points with the table toppers.
Both sides have played some front-foot football over the past year, but the table suggests the game could still be a cagy affair.
Sephan has remarkably conceded only a single goal so far while the figure stands at three for Golgohar, which along with fourth-placed Aluminium Arak and Esteghlal have been unbeaten this season.
Also today, newly-promoted Havadar – second from bottom – welcomes fellow struggler Naft Masjed Soleyman, with San’at Naft and Paykan squaring off in Abadan.
On Sunday, Rasoul Khatibi’s Aluminium will visit his former side Tractor, while bottom side Padideh will be after a first victory when playing Nassaji Mazandaran at home.
Fajr Sepasi will take on Javad Nekounam’s Foolad Khuzestan in Shiraz, with Mes Rafsanjan playing away to Zob Ahan in Isfahan.