The 2012/13 Azerbaijani Premier League begins on Saturday with the same 12 teams as last season, after Turan Tovuz PFK and Sumqayıt Şähär PFK were given relegation reprieves having finished in the bottom two last term.
While the contenders, and the format, remain unchanged, there is one new rule in place – one player aged 21 or under must be included in every side's starting XI, with another of the same age on the bench.
Two new coaches are also involved, with Božidar Bandović assuming the reins at Bakı FK and Cevat Güler taking over at Rävan Bakı FK. Bandović was appointed after Bakı's UEFA Europa League first qualifying round defeat by ND Mura 05 of Slovenia. The new man's primary aim is to reach the group stage of European competition next term.
"It would be naive to think that suddenly bringing in ten new players will automatically send us to a group stage," said Bandović. "We have been late with these coaching changes so now we can only work, work and work. Only stability can help us be successful. That's why we decided to avoid big changes with the squad with just a few days before the season starts."
The favourites are the usual suspects, with title holders Neftçi PFK, İnter Bakı PİK, Xäzär Länkäran FK, Qarabağ FK, Bakı and Qäbälä FK all in contention. Olimpik-Şüvälan PFK, though, bolstered by 14 transfers, will attempt to upset the natural order, while Simurq PFK and Rävan Bakı also have ambitions.
Some of the leading lights have opted to rely on home-grown signings, yet there has been no shortage of arrivals from abroad. Former Panathinaikos FC striker Vangelis Mantzios will bid to improve Bakı, Paraguayan international Eric Ramos has joined Neftçi and Bruce Abdoulaye has reinforced İnter Bakı's ranks.
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