Johor Darul Ta'zim still look the team to beat despite strong starts to Malaysia Super League season by Sabah, Kedah Darul Aman

It should not come as a surprise that Johor Darul Ta'zim began their 2023 Malaysia Super League season with a win.

After all, since the first of their nine consecutive league triumphs, they have racked up 139 victories from 187 outings prior.

If anything, it was a reflection of their dominance that their fans might have been slightly disappointed they only managed a 2-0 win in Friday's season opener -- which doubled up as the curtain-raising Charity Cup tie -- although it has to be remembered that Terengganu are no slouches themselves, having ran JDT the closest in the MSL last term despite ultimately finishing a hefty 12 points behind in second place.

But a league campaign is not a sprint but a marathon and, as perennial winners, JDT do not need anyone to remind them of that.

Which is why, while their title defence may have gotten to an unspectacular if steady start, the Southern Tigers still look the team to beat in 2023.

Both Sabah and Kedah Darul Aman issued statements of intent over the opening weekend, claiming 4-0 and 4-1 triumphs respectively over PDRM and Perak, who admittedly are expected to be populate the lower half of the table this year.

For Sabah, the fact that mercurial Indonesia international Saddil Ramdani began the season with a two-goal outing would be a huge boost to coach Ong Kim Swee, given continuity and consistency have at times eluded him as complements to his undoubted talent.

Meanwhile, Kedah displayed their firepower as they overcame going a goal down after just three minutes with four individual scorers against Perak.

New signings Willian Lira and Jonathan Balotelli -- who have brought experice from top-level Asian leagues to the Darul Aman Stadium -- made an instant impact by both getting on the scoresheet, with the former part of the Ventforet Kofu side that claimed a stunning Emperor's Cup triumph in 2022 as a second-tier outfit in Japan while the latter has had spells in South Korea with Busan IPark and Jeonnam Dragons.

Others such as Terengganu, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur City also have reason to believe they can find themselves near the top of the table come the end of the season.

Nonetheless, after just the opening round of the new campaign, the very top spot still looks destined to be JDT's especially given how they have not been willing to rest on their laurels and have strengthened over the offseason.

With a new man in Esteban Solari at the helm, after his predecessor Hector Bidoglio was reassigned to a technical director role, JDT have also added more quality to an already-glittering squad.

New signings Juan Muniz and Oscar Arribas both made their bows against Terengganu, with the former taking no time to open his account with the first goal of the new season before the usually-prolific Bergson da Silva added a second.

Rather than solely focus on bringing in new star names each year, rejuvenation has also come in the form of bright young talents coming through the ranks.

With the likes of Arif Aiman and Ramadhan Saifullah breaking through in recent campaigns, the next to do so could be Feroz Baharudin.

At 22, Feroz has had some previous first-team exposure but it was a statement for Solari to hand him a starting berth in the opening game of the season.

For a side that has enjoyed as much success as JDT has for the past nine years, evolution rather than revolution is the name of the game.

And although their title defence is just one game old, the signs are already there that they could be evolving into a side that will claim a tenth consecutive MSL crown in 2023.