2020/21 Iraqi Premier League Preview and Predictions

15 months have passed without regular Iraqi Premier League football, as only a handful of games were played in the 2019/20 season before its cancellation due to the Iraqi protests and the COVID-19 pandemic. The competition’s long-awaited return is almost upon us with its 47th season set to begin on 25 October, meaning it’s time to take a look at each team and predict where they will finish!

Al-Samawa

Manager: Ghalib Abdul-Hussein
Star player: Saif Taher
Our predicted finish: 20th

Al-Samawa have had ups and downs since returning to the top-flight in 2016/17. They were close to being relegated twice, but will look back to their impressive 12th place finish in the 2017/18 season for inspiration. Despite the exciting signing of winger Saif Taher from Al-Sinaat Al-Kahrabaiya, they have lost their star forward Hussein Younis to Al-Minaa which will be a big hit for the side who scored the least goals in the 2018/19 league, and this might just be the year that Al-Samawa go down.

Al-Qasim

Manager: Jassim Jaber
Star player: Fahad Kareem
Our predicted finish: 19th

Al-Qasim are still somewhat of an unknown entity to most followers of the league, having been promoted for the first time last season where they played just three matches. Their squad contains a lot of young players, including the likes of Al-Shorta loanees Atheer Salih and Haidar Abdul-Salam plus midfielder Fahad Kareem from Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, but despite its potential it is a squad lacking top-flight experience. The Babil-based club will certainly have a task on their hands to avoid the drop this year.

Al-Sinaat Al-Kahrabaiya (Electrical Industries)

Manager: Emad Aoda
Star player: Mahmoud Ahmed
Our predicted finish: 18th

Al-Sinaat Al-Kahrabaiya surprised everyone in their first ever top-flight campaign in 2017/18 by coming 11th but predictably dropped off with an unspectacular 2018/19 season. They are relatively sound defensively but have struggled in the attacking department, where they will hope that new signing and former league champion Muhaimen Salim can help bring the goals. It will be interesting to see how the Whites fare this season; we predict they will be heading for the relegation play-offs.

Naft Al-Basra (Basra Oil)

Manager: Ammar Hussein
Star player: Hussein Jawad
Our predicted finish: 17th

Naft Al-Basra (formerly Naft Al-Junoob) have had a quiet transfer window, which is a surprise considering their ageing squad and their disappointing 2018/19 campaign. They have lost four of their best players: midfielders Sadeq Zamil, Firas Zamil and Manar Taha to Al-Shorta, Al-Najaf and Al-Hudood respectively as well as striker Omar Mansouri to Naft Al-Wasat. Without adequate replacements, it is difficult to see the club improving on their most recent league position.

Zakho

Manager: Ahmed Salah
Star player: Amjad Waleed
Our predicted finish: 16th

A club that have suffered financial problems in recent years, Zakho returned to the top-flight last season where they lost three of the four games they played. Despite the club’s struggles, they have bought impressively by bringing in Iraq internationals Waleed Salim and Amjad Waleed, who were both important components of Al-Shorta’s 2018/19 title-winning side. Veterans Saif Salman and Essam Yassin have also joined along with four foreign players and it should be enough for them to stay up.

Al-Kahrabaa (Electricity)

Manager: Abbas Attiya
Star player: Alaa Mhaisen
Our predicted finish: 15th

Al-Kahrabaa have been a tough side to beat in recent years, and have developed a number of exciting young players. However, many of those players have started to move on to bigger things, with the club saying goodbye to defender Hassan Ashour and winger Murad Mohammed who have both signed for Al-Shorta. The goalscoring exploits of striker Alaa Mhaisen should keep them competitive but we don’t expect them to reach the same heights as in recent seasons.

Al-Hudood (Border)

Manager: Mudhafar Jabbar
Star player: Manar Taha
Our predicted finish: 14th

Al-Hudood are another side who have had a solid few seasons in the league, but their main problem comes in the striking department with the Baghdad-based side averaging less than a goal per game in the 2018/19 season. The departure of their star striker Hussam Jadallah to Al-Shorta will make it even more difficult for Al-Hudood in that respect, and it remains to be seen whether new signing Manar Taha will be able to fill his shoes.

Erbil

Manager: Rodion Gačanin (Croatia)
Star player: Sherko Karim
Our predicted finish: 13th

Erbil are no longer the same juggernaut of a team that stormed to four league titles between 2007 and 2012, but they still have a number of quality players in their squad, including former league winners Miran Khesro and Karrar Hameed in midfield and former Iraq youth team stars Farhan Shakor and Sherko Karim in attack. Finances continue to be a problem though, shown notably when they failed to pay Yaser Kasim on time last season. We expect to see a fairly mid-table finish for the Yellow Castle.

Al-Minaa (Port)

Manager: Valeriu Tița (Romania)
Star player: Emad Mohsin
Our predicted finish: 12th

It is always difficult to predict where Al-Minaa will finish, with the financial instability at the club leading to periodic ups and downs in the team’s league positions. After three consecutive years in the top six from 2015 to 2017, the Sailors fell all the way down to 17th position in 2019. They had a good start to the abandoned 2019/20 season though, losing just once in eight games, and have strengthened the team with the signing of Iraq international striker Emad Mohsin. We’ve gone for a mid-table finish, but there is certainly potential within this side to achieve more in the right circumstances.

Al-Karkh

Manager: Karim Salman
Star player: Abdul-Razzaq Qasim
Our predicted finish: 11th

Al-Karkh surprised the nation with a 6th place finish in 2018/19, although it must be noted that they failed to win any of their last eleven games in that season. Their team is a young one, with several promising players including forward Al-Hassan Saad as well as Abdul-Razzaq Qasim who shone for the Iraq youth team recently. They also have a young striker in Shihab Razzaq Farhan who scored a great goal against Al-Samawa last season. It will be difficult to match the heights of their 2018/19 campaign but expect Al-Karkh to be a difficult team to beat this season.

Al-Diwaniya

Manager: Saad Hafidh
Star player: Maxi Rolón (Argentina)
Our predicted finish: 10th

The team who has been on everyone’s lips this summer, Al-Diwaniya have had a quite spectacular transfer window under the presidency of businessman Hussein Al-Ankoshi. They have transformed their entire squad with more than 25 signings including former Barcelona B players Maxi Rolón and Isaac Padilla plus former Anderlecht striker Nathan Kabasele. However, it will likely take some time for this new squad to gel and it remains to be seen whether their foreign signings have what it takes to adapt to the league. We have seen foreign players with eye-catching résumés struggle to make an impact in the league all too often in the past – particularly at the bigger clubs. Nevertheless, Al-Diwaniya should be aiming high this season and it would be great to see them prove us wrong and push for an advanced position in the top half, especially since they are a team from the provinces with a strong local support.

Al-Talaba (Students)

Manager: Ahmed Khalaf
Star player: Abdul-Qadir Tariq
Our predicted finish: 9th

Similarly to Al-Minaa, the financial and administrative instability at Al-Talaba make it difficult to anticipate how they will perform in this season’s league. Traditionally one of Iraq’s top four clubs, Al-Talaba have failed to make the top half in both of the last two completed seasons. Purely based on the talent in the squad though, they should be able to put an end to that this season. They have experience in defence with former league winners Samal Saeed and Ali Lateef, while their midfield includes box-to-box player Bashar Saadoun and they have an exciting attacking trio of Solomon Williams, Mohammed Khalid Jaffal and Abdul-Qadir Tariq.

Amanat Baghdad (Baghdad Mayoralty)

Manager: Essam Hamad
Star player: Mustafa Karim
Our predicted finish: 8th

Amanat Baghdad have become accustomed to finishing in the top eight, largely thanks to their consistent defensive record, with only Al-Shorta and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya conceding fewer goals in the 2018/19 season. The signing of centre-back Karrar Mohammed from the title holders should help them continue their strong record at the back. Their attack is considered to be their weakness, but the trio of Ali Saad, Sajjad Hussein and Mustafa Karim should bring them enough goals to maintain a strong league position.

Naft Maysan (Maysan Oil)

Manager: Razzaq Farhan
Star player: Hassan Hamoud
Our predicted finish: 7th

Naft Maysan had a surprisingly poor start to the abandoned 2019/20 season, failing to win any of their six games, but their 5th place finish in 2018/19 is evidence of the team’s quality. Hassan Hamoud and Akram Raheem provide creativity in their midfield with former league top scorer Wissam Saadoun bringing the goals. They have also signed legendary goalkeeper Noor Sabri who returns from a short spell in retirement. Perhaps their biggest coup however is manager Razzaq Farhan, who worked wonders in his first coaching role at Al-Diwaniya where he took them from the relegation places up to 14th in a short space of time and his arrival has rightly excited fans of the Knights.

Al-Najaf

Manager: Hassan Ahmed
Star player: Ali Salal
Our predicted finish: 6th

Al-Najaf look to be on the way up following their appointment of former Al-Naft coach Hassan Ahmed last year. They had a strong start to the abandoned 2019/20 season, remaining unbeaten in their seven matches, and have brought in former Iraq goalkeeper Mohammed Gassid to protect their net. Midfielder Firas Zamil also joins from Naft Al-Basra and should form a good partnership with attacking player Ali Salal who caught the eye of many with his impressive performances last season.

Naft Al-Wasat (Midland Oil)

Manager: Radhi Shenaishil
Star player: Karrar Jassim
Our predicted finish: 5th

Naft Al-Wasat were one of the best teams in the short-lived 2019/20 season, winning five of their seven games under former Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil, and their summer activity has only increased their chances of a strong finish this time around. They have signed 2007 Asian Cup winner Karrar Jassim, who was one of the main driving forces behind Al-Shorta’s championship win in 2019, while they also bring in Moroccan striker Omar Mansouri, one of the league’s best foreign strikers in recent years. Between the sticks is Ali Kadhim, touted by many as Iraq’s future number one. Expect the Najaf-based side to have a strong season.

Al-Naft (Oil)

Manager: Yahya Alwan
Star player: Mohammed Dawood
Our predicted finish: 4th

Simply put, any team with Mohammed Dawood up front is capable of achieving big things. The 19-year old sensation scores goals for fun and the Oil side will hope that he can avoid injury, which unfortunately has not been the case in previous seasons. Supplying Dawood is one of the league’s brightest creative players in Bassam Shakir, while the defence looks strong with the Greens retaining Raad Fanar and Ahmed Abdul-Ridha at the back. They have one of the most experienced coaches in the league in Yahya Alwan, who won his first league title as a coach all the way back in 1986, and we see another top four finish beckoning for the Baghdad-based club.

Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force)

Manager: Ayoub Odisho
Star player: Ali Husni
Our predicted finish: 3rd

With Ahmed Ibrahim and Maitham Jabbar in defence, Ibrahim Bayesh and Karrar Nabeel in midfield, Ali Husni and Sharif Abdul-Kadhim on the wings and a striking quartet of Aymen Hussein, Hammadi Ahmed, Amjad Radhi and Mohammed Qassim Nassif, the Falcons have a great mix of youth and experience in their squad. They have ranked in the top two in each of the past three seasons, but they have been fairly quiet on the transfer front this year which contrasts with their rivals Al-Zawraa and Al-Shorta. It is yet to be seen whether Ali Husni can return to his previous form after a year out through injury, while Zahir Midani will be sorely missed in midfield following his move back to Al-Zawraa.

Al-Shorta (Police)

Manager: Abdul-Ghani Shahad
Star player: Mazin Fayyadh
Our predicted finish: 2nd

Al-Shorta made a mark on Asia last month with a 2-1 win over Saudi side Al-Ahli and are a step ahead of their rivals in terms of preparation. Ali Faez and Saad Natiq form a commanding centre-back pairing and their midfield is packed with quality in Saad Abdul-Amir, Amjad Attwan and Mohammed Mezher. New signings Mohammed Qasim and Ahmed Jalal will complement Mazin Fayyadh well, however all three players are relatively injury-prone and only time will tell if they are able to avoid any major setbacks. The loss of star striker Alaa Abdul-Zahra is also a blow, especially after losing Mohanad Ali just last year, but Mohammed Shokan and Marwan Hussein are both good finishers with a point to prove. Al-Shorta are the current holders, but the challenge to defend their title will be tougher than ever!

Al-Zawraa

Manager: Basim Qasim
Star player: Alaa Abdul-Zahra
Our predicted finish: 1st

Al-Zawraa have made some serious moves in the transfer window over the summer, signing Syrian midfielder Zahir Midani from rivals Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya and snatching full-back Dhurgham Ismail from Al-Shorta in a surprise deal. Perhaps most importantly, the Gulls have re-signed goal machine Alaa Abdul-Zahra, the 2018/19 league top scorer who has averaged 24 goals a season since becoming an out-and-out striker. Accompanying him up front will be the ever-consistent Mohannad Abdul-Raheem, with the likes of Hussein Ali, Mahdi Kamel and Ammar Abdul-Hussein available to supply them on the wings. It could be argued that Al-Zawraa are lacking a real leader in central defence, such as an Ahmed Ibrahim or a Saad Natiq, but at the same time the Gulls do possess Iraq’s best goalkeeper in Jalal Hassan.

There is very little between the top three sides and it is shaping up to be one of the closest title races in recent history – but we think Al-Zawraa’s strength in depth will help them come out on top for their 15th title!