NPFL Invitational represents opportunity for indifferent Enyimba, Plateau United
These may still be early days, but of the four teams representing Nigeria in next year's continental competitions, only Akwa United and MFM FC are looking convincing during preseason, although the upcoming NPFL Invitational provides an opportunity for Plateau United and Enyimba to improve on their recent toil.
MFM finished second behind Plateau United and will join the champions in the CAF Champions League, while Akwa United are Aiteo Cup champions and will compete in the CAF Confederation Cup along with Enyimba. The seven-time league champions finished third in the league.
Over the course of the last month, all four clubs, along with others, have been involved in four pre-season tournaments. It's already more than at any other time in domestic league history, and so far, two of the four have made strong showings.
Starting on Monday, they will contest the NPFL Invitational Super 6 along with the CHAN Eagles and Kano Pillars.
The official pre-season tournament organised by the league organising body, which has gone through several transformations over the years, will mark the toughest test yet for the clubs, while also providing a fine tune-up for the local Super Eagles as they prepare for next month's CHAN tournament in Morocco.
It's the latest step in improved pre-season scheduling for Nigerian sides, with teams typically playing individual one-off matches rather than more competitive tournaments.
So when both domestic and continental campaigns get underway next year, there should be little reason for any of the four to complain of a lack of preparation time, as has been the case in previous years.
However, their performances so far have been somewhat underwhelming.
MFM have been the only one of the three to win at least one tournament, claiming the South West Pre-Season tournament with a 3-1 win over 36 Lions FC.
It was a tournament they were expected to win, featuring clubs below them on the food chain like Remo Stars and Crown FC.
They had faced stronger competition in the Gold Cup a few weeks earlier - where they were finalists last year - but failed to emulate that feat this time around.
The tournament was won by Kano Pillars, with victory over hosts Lobi Stars.
However, they arrive in Kano brimming with confidence and fired up to win the NPFL Invitational.
Akwa United failed to reach the final of the South South/South East pre-season tournament which had a strong field including FC Ifeanyi Ubah, Abia Warriors, Heartland, Rangers, Rivers United and Cynosure FC, among others.
That tournament was won by FC Ifeanyi Ubah, who topped Rivers United in an entertaining, goal fest of a final.
Akwa did bounce back to reach the final of the Ahlan Cup in Kano a few days later, but found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-0 hiding against Pillars.
Enyimba and Plateau United were also involved in the Ahlan Cup which featured 12 teams across two divisions.
Neither side made it to the semi finals, and therefore the NPFL Invitational thus provides one final opportunity for the cubs to bed in their new players and work out any tactical kinks ahead of the challenges to come.
Kano Pillars, backed by what should be their usual partisan home crowd, in addition to their good pre-season form, look nailed on favourites for the Invitational, but expect the continental clubs and the CHAN Super Eagles to be focusing on longer term objectives.