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Al-Ittihad march, Al-Hilal’s struggles continue: 5 things we learned from the latest Saudi Pro League action
Every round of matches is now crucial in the Saudi Professional League and here are five things Arab News learned from the latest action.
Attackers grab headlines but defense drives Al-Nassr’s challenge
Al-Nassr’s 1-0 victory over Al-Taawoun was their sixth consecutive victory and puts the team in second place ahead of Al-Shabab. The arrival of Miguel Angel Rosso as a new coach took the team to a new level, or at least made them play at the level they should have already been. What the Argentine has also done is make the eight-time champions tough to beat.
After the 4-0 win over Faisaly, it was a tougher test against another relegation fighter. Al-Taawoun caused problems and it was difficult for Talisca and Pity Martinez to get their creativity flowing. However, when you have a defense as strong as Al-Nassr’s, attackers can afford the occasional day off. Ramiro Mori and Abdulelah Al-Amri develop a great bond in the middle of the defense.
Al-Nassr haven’t conceded a goal in 393 minutes of league football and that lays the foundation for this winning streak. From now on, the team of Rosso is that which worries the leaders of Al-Ittihad the most.
Forget Hamdallah, Romarinho makes the difference
The match itself is not one to be remembered for long, but the final minutes will be as Al-Ittihad beat Al-Faisaly 1-0. It was an eighth straight victory that extended their lead at the top to six points with one game less.
It was heading for a 0-0 draw when a corner fell to Romarinho at the far post with two minutes of regular time remaining. The Brazilian was unmarked and had time to control the ball, but he was surely also thinking about what scoring would mean in the title race. He kept his composure to fire into the roof of the net for what he said was one of his most vital yellow-and-black goals.
“This goal has a special feel and it came thanks to the support of the fans,” said Romarinho. “We expected a tough game and that’s what happened. Al-Faisaly are a well organized team.
It was not only a crucial goal that could have a say in the end of the title this season, but it was the eighth in eight games for Romarinho.
Much has been said and written about the big signing of Abderrazak Hamdallah earlier this month – and rightly so as the Moroccan sniper is a goalscoring machine – but it was the Brazilian who hit them.
Time is running out for Jardim in Al-Hilal
Just two months ago, Leonardo Jardim lifted the AFC Champions League trophy in Riyadh after leading Al-Hilal to a record fourth continental title, but it felt a long time ago on Friday after a 1-1 draw against relegation contenders Al-Bâtin.
Al-Hilal’s league form suffered after that Asian win, with just two points coming from the next four games and that put Jardim under pressure. Nine points from the next three games suggested a turn had been turned, although the points came against struggling teams.
But with Al-Ittihad winning six in a row, Al-Hilal’s trio of wins did not extend the deficit and they now find themselves 10 points behind the leaders. It’s going to take something special for the defending champions to catch up. At the moment, champions don’t seem to have it and are less than the sum of their talented parts,
Next is the FIFA Club World Cup. There won’t be a coaching change before then, but Jardim can’t afford too many missteps.
Relegation teams are hard to crack
You must feel a little sorry for Al-Faisaly. The Copa del Rey winners have picked up just two points in the last seven games and it’s no surprise they’re in danger of falling, one place down.
Still, Al-Faisaly are a decent team and deserved a point from their trip to Jeddah to face the leaders. In the last four matches, they have faced Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and Al-Hilal. It’s a punishing schedule. It’s no surprise that they only picked up one point when they deserved a little more.
Those at the top know that there are no easy parts or easy points. Al-Taawoun gave Al-Nassr a real test and felt they should have come out of this clash with a point and Al-Batin got a point against Saudi and Asian champions Al-Hilal.
Al-Shabab cannot afford to keep losing points
On the first day of 2022, Al-Shabab were just one point clear of the summit, but Thursday’s 1-1 draw at home to Al-Fateh was the third in a row for last season’s runners-up. Those six lost points are a problem when Al-Ittihad, the first-place team, keep winning.
There were again complaints about the refereeing but, while it’s easy for title hunters to blame the officials, there was a simpler explanation for the result.
Al-Shabab had the chance to put the game to bed before Al-Fateh’s late and charming equaliser. However, they missed the suspended Ever Banega. The Argentine’s skill and cunning make the difference, create space and upset defences. At least Odion Ighalo is back on the scoresheet. If the Nigerian, who broke the deadlock with a shot from outside the box, can provide a decisive advantage then Al-Shabab have a chance, but after dropping six points they are now slim.