Sharjah will be looking to make up ground on the league leaders when they take a tricky trip to Abu Dhabi to play Al Dhafra.
Two of the season’s biggest overachievers, Sharjah and Al Dhafra, are fighting in rarefied air this year, sitting above significantly better financed sides like Al Ain and Al Wasl.
The last time today’s opponents went up against one another, Al Dhafra came away from Sharjah with a stunning 3-0 win.
Coach Paolo Bonamigo is very keen to ensure his side do not endure a similar fate this time around.
“Last time we played, we were at a good level but were not at our best and Al Dhafra punished us,” said the Brazilian.
Sharjah’s form remains solid after a blistering start with the northern Emirati side losing just once in its last 12 league fixtures.
The nearest rival to Sharjah is Al Shabab, a team that has lost its grip on second place and who take on struggling Al Wasl on Thursday.
Shabab have a relatively easy schedule coming up with ties against Al Shaab, Ajman, Al Dhafra and Dubai Club.
Al Wasl have won just once in their last six fixtures and coach Hector Cuper is looking to get back on track.
“We have been working extra, intense training sessions to get the team up to the required technical level,” said the Argentine. “We want the players to translate their training performances and the intensity over into the games.”
Al Jazira coach Walter Zenga has warned his players not to underestimate Ajman when the two sides clash in the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) on Friday.
Zenga’s side have been in impressive form recently and travel to Ajman hoping to claim their fourth straight league victory.
But the Italian is wary of the bottom side having played out a stalemate the last time the two sides met in October.
“We know this won’t be an easy game,” said Zenga. “We are only taking it game by game as we want to be competitive. The match definitely won’t be easy game for my players.”
The 53-year-old pointed out to Ajman’s results against Al Ain (drew 0-0) and Al Ahli (lost 2-1) as reasons why his players must play to the best of their ability.
“They played well against Al Ain and Al Ahli. It’s enough for these results to understand that this will be a difficult game for us on Friday. Al Ain and Al Ahli are very good teams.”
Zenga said the mentality of his players has changed and is happy with his team’s recent performances.
“All of my players defend as a team. For me, I’m happy to work with them because now they refuse to be told of the idea of losing a game. We’ve had a good run in the league and this has shown the players mentality have changed,” said the former Inter goalkeeper.
Zenga also clarified he is his happy with Felipe Caicedo’s performance, saying he was misinformed about the striker’s lack of match fitness when the Ecuadorian joined the club in the transfer window.
Meanwhile, Al Ahli travel to Al Shaab, who are third bottom in the standings, on Friday.
Al Ain manager Quique Sanchez Flores has called on his players to turn their cup success into league results as his side travel to lowly Dubai Club on Thursday evening.
The Boss are currently in unfamiliar territory as they reside in the bottom half of the table thanks to an uneven and unstable season so far.
Defending their league title appears to be a more difficult task with every passing week as rivals Al Ahli continue to win relentlessly while Al Ain scratch around for valuable points.
While league form has been a problem, the Garden City club have had no such trouble in the President’s Cup where they have successfully moved through to the final following a win over Al Nasr.
With three draws from their last three, Al Ain need a win and Quique has told his players to tap into their inner Cup feeling.
“It is important to achieve good results in the league and we should prepare the players well to get their physical fitness up especially after the tough match of the President’s Cup semi-final which demanded huge efforts from the players,” said the Spaniard.
“The points we have lost over the last three matches in the league haven’t affected the players and they are showing desire to earn good results by committing in the training sessions.
“Now we have qualified to the final of the President’s Cup and we should improve our positive in league to get close to the leading place.
“We need to show the best performance we can and what is expected of Al Ain’s name and reputation.”
Quique may still have his eyes on the teams at the top of the table, but it will not have escaped his notice that his team are closer to the bottom of the table than they are to the top.
Even today’s lowly opponents Dubai, who have just nine points from 16 games, are nearer Al Ain in terms of league position than the Boss are to Al Ahli.
The Spaniard has been keen to remind his players that they are in different company at the moment, regardless of the team’s pedigree, pay roll or status.
“The match won’t be easy,” added Quique. “We know well that any team who plays against Al Ain shows their best on the field.”