As defending champions -- and having made a series of eye-catching acquisitions in the offseason -- Lion City Sailors were always going to be the team to beat in the 2022 Singapore Premier League season.
And as the new campaign got underway at the weekend, the Sailors enhanced their credentials as title favourites by getting off to a winning start while two of their main challengers faltered right from the get-go.
Having had to wait till Sunday to take to the field, the Sailors would have already seen Albirex Niigata (S) -- runners-up last term and four-time champions in the previous five years -- fall to a shock 2-0 loss to Tanjong Pagar United on Friday, before fellow traditional heavyweights Tampines Rovers were held 2-2 by Balestier Khalsa the following evening.
- JDT cruise past Kuala Lumpur to claim Community Shield
- Vietnam win AFF U-23 after beating rivals Thailand in final
- Don't miss The John Dykes Show, with all new episodes each Friday on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar. Click here to join the conversation!
On paper, LCS had the toughest of opening fixtures out of the trio coming up against a fast-improving Hougang United outfit who finished third in 2021 -- a second top-three finish in the past three seasons -- and it initially looked as though another upset was on the cards when Pedro Bortoluzo fired the Cheetahs ahead after just seven minutes.
But following a debut double on the previous weekend in a 2-1 Community Shield win over Albirex, Kim Shin-wook -- the towering South Korea international brought in to be the Sailors' new focal point in attack -- did what he does best by heading home a pinpoint Shahdan Sulaiman freekick.
Two fine team goals in the second half would then see the Sailors go on to seal the victory, with the latter a product of a combination between two star names as Maxime Lestienne -- another of their big-name arrivals -- set up last season's marquee signing Diego Lopes.
As a sign of how much more fearsome LCS could become, they were able to start both Lestienne and Lopes on the bench before bringing them on when needed as the duo looks to return to peak match condition, and yet ultimately claim victory over a Hougang side expected to perform well again in 2022.
While it was only the first match week of the season, the teams expected to push the Sailors all the way already look to have plenty to prove.
Albirex often begin each campaign as an unknown quantity due to the massive annual upheaval within the squad but they rarely get it wrong on the recruiting front. Although Friday's loss to Tanjong Pagar could easily have just been a minor blip, failure to embark on a strong run of results could see doubts cast over their class of 2022.
Meanwhile, as five-time champions, Tampines will always be expected to be thereabouts in the title hunt but there is some concern that the current squad is lacking in experience following the offseason departures of Baihakki Khaizan and Daniel Bennett, even if the Stags do have the highly-regarded Gavin Lee at the helm.
That leaves Hougang as arguably the only other side that could have a realistic chance of challenging for the title and yet, the Sailors have already bettered them right on the opening weekend.
With the Singapore Premier League extending to a 28-game calendar this year, there remains more than time for the competition to deliver its fair share of twists and turns.
Nonetheless, given how dominant the Sailors already look, their challengers could need to fast find some form or risk the title race becoming a foregone conclusion in no time.