Bali United’s final five games of a dismal 2018 season finished 0-1, 2-5, 0-4, 1-2, 0-2. It was a season that started off with so much promise but ended with the Tridatu Warriors closer to the relegation zone than the top of the table.
Fast forward to 2019, and Bali United are off to the perfect start, being undefeated in their opening five games under new manager Stefano ‘Teco’ Cugurra. Teco led Persija Jakarta to the Liga 1 title in 2018, breaking a drought of almost two decades.
There are a host of new faces in the squad, notably midfield dynamo Paulo Sergio who signed from Bhayangkara and Brazilian defender Willian Pacheco. The tall and agile defender has shored up a previously porous defence, so expectations are once again high for the team who were within a whisker of winning the 2017 title.
Bali United opened their 2019 campaign at home to Persebaya Surabaya and took a nervy 2-1 win at home, before finally beating their bogey team Bhayangkara five days later thanks to a cracking second-half goal from club stalwart Yabesroni.
Defending champions Persija Jakarta were the next opponents, providing manager Teco a chance to square off against his former team for the first time. A late Paolo Sergio goal was enough to give Bali United all three points.
Thanks to games being postponed due to rioting over the Presidential election results in Jakarta, and again for international matches, Bali United played their fourth consecutive home match against PSIS Semarang. They scored a narrow 1-0 victory after the visitors seemed intent on defending for a 0-0 draw against superior opposition.
After four straight wins and one 2-2 draw in their recent fixture against Kalten Putra FC, Bali United sit atop the Liga 1 table, three points clear of second place Madura United.
Manager Teco understands the need for tempering expectations and also ensuring the players can recover from the arduous nature of away matches in Indonesia, with the archipelago meaning at least one flight is required to get to every game.
"Of course we have to prepare a good recovery program to get around a fairly tight schedule. The players must also be able to maintain their conditions so they can be fit during the match," Coach Teco told baliutd.com.
The league-leaders next game will be away to Badak Lampung FC, the team formerly known as Perseru Serui, who have undergone a name change and relocation since the conclusion of the 2018 season.
After an international break of three weeks, Bali United will now play three games in eight days, before another two-week break, making rest and recovery difficult to manage.
"I think we must keep thinking positively with one point in the first away match. Certainly, we have to be even harder in the future. After this, we will go to Lampung and we must have the right recovery program to achieve maximum results there," added the manager.
The often lengthy delays between matches, followed by a packed schedule, is part of footballing life in Indonesia, but isn't necessarily all bad, as it gives the coach more time on the training pitch with his squad.
Bali United's two-goal against Kalteng Putra both came from set pieces and were both scored by defenders, using set plays that were worked on in training sessions during the break.
"Yes, we indeed often practice dead ball situations during training. These two goals were scored because we have practiced a lot during the break. In addition, the players also showed their quality to be able to score goals in the match.
"I think we have played quite well in the first half by being able to score one goal. In addition, we also created a number of opportunities. But in the second half, we conceded too fast. It must be admitted there was a marking error in the back line when the opponent's goal happened," concluded Coach Teco.
After the match against Badak Lampung FC, Bali United will enjoy a two-week break before resuming action away to Barito Putera in a game that kicks off a hectic run of four matches in just 12 days.