All eyes will be on Arak, central Iran, when Sepahan and Persepolis battle it out in the Persian Gulf Pro League on Wednesday.
With both Iranian giants struggling with consistency in recent weeks, there will probably be more than just the three points on the line when the two sides go head-to-head.
The two sides are tied on 22 points – trailing league leader Esteghlal by three points – after 11 rounds of games, with Sepahan sitting second on goal difference.
Sepahan is technically the host of the fixture but the League Organization decided to move the game to the neutral venue of Imam Khomeini Stadium following last season’s row between the champion and the runner-up on and off the pitch.
Moharram Navidkia’s men step into the game on the back of three defeats in four outings – including successive setbacks against Esteghlal (1-0) and Paykan (2-1) – though they were lucky to see the Disciplinary Committee of the federation reverse the 4-2 humiliation against Golgohar Sirjan into a 3-0 scoreline in their favor after Golgohar fielded an illegitimate player – Gabonese Eric Bocoum.
Despite being the best team of the league in terms of ball possession and shots on target, Sepahan has failed to fully capitalize on its front-foot performances as the Isfahan-based club has only managed to find the back of the net on 15 occasions, with the striking force of Sajjad Shahbaz-zadeh – last season’s top scorer – and summer signing Shahriyar Moghanlou sharing four goals between them.
For Persepolis, it has been two wins on the bounce – against Paykan (3-1) and Zob Ahan (2-0) – but Yahya Golmohammadi’s men are yet to deliver the kind of convincing display this season that has seen them dominate the Iranian football with five consecutive league titles.
International winger Mehdi Torabi is from his best form for the Reds, while new signings have failed to fill in for departed duo Ahmad Nourollahi and Hossein Kan’anizadegan – the pillars of the last titling-winning campaign.
While Farhad Majidi’s Esteghlal has been enjoying an unbeaten start to the season – thanks to a solid backline which has conceded only twice throughout the campaign – Sepahan and Persepolis are fully aware a triumph in Arak could get their title charge back on the right track.
A defeat, meanwhile, will leave both Navidkia and Golmohammadi with more frustration and issues to tackle, nearly midway through the season.
Elsewhere in the league, Esteghlal will take on Javad Nekounam’s Foolad Khuzestan in Tehran in the late fixture of the day, knowing a home win could see the Blues extend their lead on top.
Fourth-placed Aluminium Arak – four points off the top – will play away to San’at Naft Abadan, with Golgohar hosting Mes Rafsanjan.
Bottom-side Padideh will visit Paykan, while Tractor welcomes Zob Ahan.
Nassaji Mazandaran and Fajr Sepasi, meanwhile, will host Naft Masjed Soleyman and Havadar respectively.