Round 11 of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK – MARCUS BERG (AL AIN)
Marcus Berg’s starting spot for Sweden remains a topic of great debate, even though a 17-match scoreless streak ended this month.
In the Garden City, however, there are no complaints.
The centre forward moved onto nine goals in 10 AGL matches this term with his brace – plus an assist – in the 4-0 humbling of bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah.
GOAL OF THE WEEK – ALI MABKHOUT (AL JAZIRA)
Fresh evidence emerged this round of the undeniable thesis that Mabkhout has outgrown the Arabian Gulf League.
The second goal of his hat-trick in the 6-0 rout of lowly Emirates Club was a portrait of utter nonchalance.
The UAE star won the ball out wide, skipped past several defenders and fathomed a delightful chip when no goal chance appeared on. Domestic dominance with no fuss.
COACH OF THE WEEK – AL HAY JUMA (AL WAHDA)
‘Stalwart’ does not do justice to Juma’s service at the Clarets.
He skippered the club to repeat success during 15 years as a player. Now, the long-term backroom staff member has a shot at the No1 role on a temporary basis.
His debut saw a five-match top-flight winless streak snapped in a hard-fought 2-1 win at Ajman.
TALKING POINT – FALCONS BROUGHT DOWN TO EARTH
Emirates Club’s continued survival in the top flight has represented a football miracle, with the margins shrinking since 2015/16.
They have it all to do again this season after a 6-0 humbling at Jazira exposed their limitations and kept them inside the drop zone.
The Falcons spend little and scrap for every point. But with no relegation play-off this time, you wonder how they can stay up.
Al Wasl face a gargantuan task to turnaround their abysmal domestic form when they travel to undefeated Arabian Gulf League-leaders Sharjah on Thursday.
The Cheetahs went down to a 2-0 home defeat against unfancied Ajman on Sunday. This fifth reversal in their last six top-flight fixtures saw them sink down to 11th – some fall from last term’s third-placed finish under Rodolfo Arruabarrena.
Caretaker boss Abdullah Al Abdouli – who answered an emergency call in October after Gustavo Quinteros’ abysmal reign was ended after five months – remained positive in his pre-match press conference, despite travelling to the shock pacesetters.
“In the last game against Ajman, we committed a series of technical and individual mistakes,” said the ex-UAE assistant, who famously found a way past Egyptian heavyweights Al Ahly last week in the Zayed Champions Cup’s second round. “I do not blame the players, because of their great efforts in the past.
“Our focus is only on the upcoming confrontation with Sharjah. They are a respectable team, offering outstanding performance in league matches.
“We are currently working very hard ahead of the upcoming game with Sharjah and we are extremely well prepared. This is because of the importance of the result for the team and we will do our best to reach our goal.
“The next confrontation brings together two of the biggest teams in the UAE. Both of them have a great history and have made outstanding achievements.
“This makes the clashes between them always exciting, regardless of the position of both teams in the table.”
Meanwhile, another interim reign begins on the same night when former Al Wahda skipper Al Hay Jumaa faces Ajman.
President’s Cup winner Laurentiu Reghecampf was dismissed on Sunday by the Clarets after a 2-1 derby loss at Al Jazira made it five AGL matches without victory for 2017/18’s runners-up.
This has provided a temporary opportunity for Jumaa to impress, alongside ex-Syria international Dr Ammar Awad.
“The players must be highly responsible and bear the burden, plus the pressures, that surround the team because of failure to win the last five games in the league,” said Jumaa.
“Together, the efforts of the players, the management and the public will be able to overcome this stage and to win.”
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club know who they need to stop in Friday’s Dubai derby against Al Nasr – red-hot ex-Real Madrid striker Alvaro Negredo.
Last month’s hire of Arruabarrena has seen four wins and one draw recorded, in contrast to Jose Luis Sierra’s early struggles. Opponents Nasr have also recovered in style after they lost their opening trio, remaining undefeated since thanks, in part, to summer buy Negredo’s eight goals in eight AGL matches.
أروابارينا: المباراة تكتسب أهمية كبيرة بالنسبة لنا، لأننا نواجه فريقاً قوياً ومنظماً يملك لاعبين جيدين وخاصة في وسط الملعب والهجوم، لديهم اللاعب نغريدو الذي يقدم مستويات متميزة ويعتبر من مفاتيح لعب الفريق، أتوقع مواجهة صعبة وقوية بين فريقين كبيرين. pic.twitter.com/sHDNciy52H— نادي شباب الأهلي (@Shabab_AlAhliFC) November 28, 2018
The former Manchester City and Spain front man, however, was shutout for the first time in six top-flight matches during last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Bani Yas. A replication of such defensive acumen is the key for Arruabarrena.
He said: “The game is very important for us, because we are facing a strong and organised team with good players, especially in the middle of the pitch and the attack.
“They have Negredo, who offers excellent levels and is a key to the team. I expect a difficult and strong confrontation between two big teams.”
Other highlights of round 11 include Thursday’s battle of the promoted outfits when yo-yo club Ittihad Kalba host Bani, while champions Al Ain host rock-bottom Dibba Al Fujairah.
On Friday, caretaker Damien Hertog gets another chance to impress the Jazira hierarchy when floundering Emirates Club come to the capital. New boys Fujairah will be determined to snap a three-match winless streak, against Al Dhafra.
Undefeated leaders Sharjah will look to breakout UAE star Saif Rashid when their Arabian Gulf League campaign resumes on Friday with a trip to bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah.
Rashid, 23, received a late call-up to coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s Whites squad for this month’s preliminary training camp before January 2019’s Asian Cup. He excelled on the wing, however, in last week’s goalless draw against Bolivia and then netted the opener in Tuesday’s 2-0 triumph against Yemen.
The King will hope for his fine form to continue after their momentum was checked before the international break with a 2-2 draw against promoted Ittihad Kalba.
“Our goal is to get back on our winning streak,” Rashid said. “The pride and honour of scoring with the UAE will motivate me in the future.”
Second-placed Al Jazira, meanwhile, will be led by caretaker Damien Hertog in the Abu Dhabi-derby against an ailing Al Wahda who are winless in four top-flight matches.
The night’s other game sees Fujairah aim to continue their strong AGL return against lowly Emirates Club.