It’s been a remarkable journey for Al Jazira, who won only their second league title last season, one that got them to the Club World Cup stage, where two wins on home turf have brought them to this historic clash against the Spanish and European champions.
Here’s a statistical look at how Al Jazira and Real Madrid match-up.
BRIDGING THE TROPHY GAP
Madrid, of course, are one of the most accomplished clubs in world football. They’ve won both La Liga and the Champions League more times than any other club, and their overall trophy count stands at 87.
It’s fair to say Al Jazira have some catching up to do. Their triumph in last season’s Arabian Gulf League was only their eighth trophy in the club’s history.
WHO’S GOT THE BETTER STRIKER?
Karim Benzema – notwithstanding recent criticism – has been continually rated as one of the best strikers in the world.
On current form, however, it may be the Al Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout who’s the more likely to get on the score sheet. He’s scored nearly a goal a game in 2017, and has endured none of the struggles currently befalling Benzema. Mabkhout is confident and in a rich vein of form. Benzema is not.
FROM CHAMPIONS TO STRUGGLERS
Both Madrid and Al Jazira are champions of their respective leagues but haven’t had the best of times this season. Real’s struggles have been well-documented, of course. They’re eight points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona – a gap this early in the season has never been previously overcome – and they’ve failed to take the full three points in six out of their 15 league fixtures, a start that has seen them slump to fourth in the table.
Jazira are one place lower, having won only four of their opening ten league games. They’ve already lost as many games as they did the whole of last season (2) and dropped points six times as opposed to just four times last term.
Al Jazira’s keeper coach Manuel Almunia: "This game is a trophy for us already. It’s a game to remember for everyone; to play 90 minutes against one of the biggest in the world. This wouldn’t happen to too many people here. It will be a great day despite the result.” #ClubWC— M•A•J (@UltraSuristic_) December 11, 2017
Don’t be surprised if Wednesday’s clash turns into a goalfest. Both sides love to attack, as their title-winning campaigns showed last season. Madrid scored 104 goals in 38 league games, an average of 2.79 goals per game.
Al Jazira’s attacking form was not too far off. Led by top scorer Mabkhout, the league champions found the back of the net 72 times across 26 games, at 2.77 goals per game.
MANAGER BATTLE: JOURNEYMAN VS STAR MAN
Henk Ten Cate‘s coaching career has seen him go everywhere from Greece to China. He’s been an assistant at Chelsea and Barcelona, won cups in the Netherlands, resigned after just a month at Al-Ahli, and was recently close to being named the Dutch national team manager. That came on the back of his triumphant season with Al Jazira, but that was just Ten Cate’s fourth trophy during his long managerial career.
Zinedine Zidane has already surpassed that total. Last year’s La Liga triumph was his fourth trophy, in just a year-and-a-half since he was appointed Madrid manager – incidentally, just three days after Ten Cate was given the Al Jazira job. His count is now at 7, which is the joint third-most in Real Madrid history. An eighth at the Club World Cup would put him tied for second. It bears repeating: he’s only been a manager since last January.
Mourinho reportedly had milk and water thrown at him and shouted into the away dressing room in the wake of United’s loss to rivals Manchester City on Sunday, while it has also been claimed he was involved in a confrontation with City goalkeeper Ederson.
Here, Press Association Sport looks back on five other tunnel bust-ups.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Cesc Fabregas, (24 October 2004)
“The Battle of the Buffet”, as it was dubbed by the tabloids, is perhaps the most famous tunnel incident in Premier League history. Manchester United ended Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten run with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford, but controversy surrounded the awarding of the penalty for the hosts’ opener. Arsenal felt Wayne Rooney had dived after Sol Campbell withdrew his leg, and tempers flared after the game. Among the pushing and shoving, Ferguson was hit by a slice of pizza which then-Gunners midfielder Fabregas finally admitted to throwing earlier this year.
Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira (1 February 2005)
Arsenal captain Vieira and Manchester United counterpart Keane clashed in the tunnel before the match had even kicked off to spark an exhilarating tie, which United won 4-2. Keane was angered by Vieira criticising Gary Neville pre-match, and in a heated rant questioned the France midfielder’s decision not to play for Senegal – the country of his birth. Referee Graham Poll eventually convinced Keane to calm down, although it was the Irishman who had the last laugh at full-time.
David Navarro and Nicolas Burdisso (6 March 2007)
An on-pitch melee swiftly escalated as unused Valencia substitute Navarro ran onto the pitch and punched Inter’s Burdisso during a Champions League tie, leaving the Argentinian with a broken nose. The disruption continued in the tunnel with Inter players attempting to get into the Valencia dressing room to confront Navarro. The Spaniard was given a seven-month ban from football by UEFA and Los Che were handed a £106,000 club fine, with defender Carlos Marchena also hit with a four-match European ban. Inter defenders Burdisso and Maicon were banned for six matches, while team-mates Ivan Cordoba and Julio Cruz received three and two-game suspensions respectively.
Dave Kitson and Ruud Gullit (12 August 2007)
Reading substitute Kitson had only been on the pitch for 37 seconds when he was sent off for a late tackle on Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. But it was Gullit, working at the game as a Sky pundit, who Kitson clashed with in the tunnel. The Dutch great had suggested the striker should have his suspension doubled to six games, leading to an off-the-pitch row with Kitson.
Micah Richards and Federico Fernandez (24 October 2015)
Then-Aston Villa defender Richards and Fernandez had clashed during the first half of Swansea’s 2-1 win at Villa Park, a result which cost Tim Sherwood his job as Villa boss. Several members of both teams confronted each other post-match and the tunnel was seen to be shaking from side to side as stewards rushed in to calm the situation down. Richards was handed a one-match ban by the Football Association for his part in the brawl.
It was a moment the 32-year-old had dreamed about ever since making his Toffees debut way back in August 2002 but, having had to wait after more than a decade at Manchester United, when it came it was something of a gift.
The pent-up frustration was evident in the way he smashed home a 77th-minute penalty – awarded after Dejan Lovren needlessly fouled Dominic Calvert-Lewin – to cancel out Mohamed Salah‘s brilliant first-half strike and his celebration in front of the visiting fans was equally as exuberant.
Here are three things learned from Anfield.
IS SADIO MISSING BEING THE MAIN MANE?
Two negligent pieces of decision making ultimately cost Liverpool all three points.
One, of course was Dejan Lovren’s suicidal selection to put his hands into the back of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Debate may reign over the legitimacy of the penalty but there’s no arguing the stupidity of the Croatian given that was Everton’s first touch in their box in the second half.
The other was Sadio Mane and his ignorance of three teammates awaiting a tap in only to drag his effort wide before half-time.
Granted, his performance overall was pretty poor but suggestions the Senegalese is feeling overshadowed by the emergence of Mohamed Salah are utterly far-fetched.
After all, Mane assisted Salah twice against West Ham and again against Stoke. Having been in out of the side, it’s more likely Mane was looking to get back into his stride with a goal.
Should he have passed it? Yes. It was poor decision making, nothing more, nothing less.
ARROGANCE THE DOWNFALL
If criticism for the draw is levelled at anyone then it’s Jurgen Klopp.
No one questions the team selection if Mane makes the pass but the reality is the points were dropped and resting key figures Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho sent out the wrong message.
Klopp made 54 changes to his starting XI last season and already this term he’s made 59.
While rotation against midtable sides heading into the hectic festive period is more than reasonable, you would expect a Merseyside Derby to be an exception, regardless of positions in the table.
Ultimately, a lot of pressure was placed on Dominic Solanke as the spearhead and he didn’t deliver – the 20-year-old managed the fewest touches (34) of any outfield player in Liverpool’s starting XI.
Taking off Salah just after the hour mark was another sign of managerial arrogance as Klopp took Everton for granted.
He blamed the officials post-match but in truth he should be directing his vitriol at himself.
THE ARCH PRAGMATIST DELIVERS
Everton surrendered 21 percent of the possession, mustered 20 less shots than Liverpool (23) and had 383 touches of the ball to the host’s 951, yet they managed to sneak a point.
Sam Allardyce was never going to set his side out to go toe-to-toe with a team who had scored 12 goals in their last two games.
They were boring, horrible to watch and lacked any real attacking thrust but the pragmatism paid off and to that end Allardyce deserves credit.
It shouldn’t be seen as vindication of his brand of football but this weekend Allardyce and David Moyes took points off Klopp and Antonio Conte proving that sometimes football doesn’t win.
Allardyce: "They had three shots on target, we had two. That shows how we mastered a really good side."— Everton FC News (@LivEchoEFC) December 10, 2017