Al Jazira’s caretaker boss Damien Hertog was thrilled from “all different angles” after the Arabian Gulf League’s new joint-leaders battered Emirates Club 6-0.
A trademark hat-trick from UAE hot shot Ali Mabkhout – that included a comically effortless chip – and a trio of his own from assist-king Khalfan Mubarak saw relegation-threatened opponents ruthlessly put to the sword at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. This result, allied with Sharjah’s 1-1 draw at Al Wasl and Al Ain’s 4-0 dispatching of Dibba Al Fujairah, created a three-way tie at the top.
This emphatic scoreline also put the Pride of Abu Dhabi first in the scoring charts, plus continued the positive strides made in last week’s impressive 2-1 derby win at Al Wahda.
“I am very delighted with the performance,” said Hertog, whose won both top-flight matches since fellow Dutchman Marcel Keizer was poached by Sporting Lisbon after only five months in charge. “I give big compliments to my team.
“After big games, we had dropped points against teams that are lower in the league. This time, we succeeded in the mission to get the three point – well deserved, obviously.
“There was some very good attacking play and very nice goals. They showed their great football.
“All compliments to the team. It also gives you an opportunity when 4-0 up to give other players, who work hard in training during the week, a chance with the team.
“From all different angles, I am very delighted with this game.”
Mabkhout and Mubarak are fuelling an unlikely title charge by Jazira.
The former overtook Sharjah’s Welliton at the top of the scoring charts, moving onto 13 goals in 11 run-outs. Mubarak’s solitary assist on Friday night was his ninth of the campaign – three more than anyone else.
These emphatic displays are a contrast to 2017/18’s woeful title defence, when off-the-field issues bled into the results.
Despite a promising opening few months, Hertog is not taking anything for granted.
“We never spoke about competing for the title, so far,” said the ex-Feyenoord Under-19s tactician. “We speak about playing well and playing our game.
“If we want to be a big team, you have to win the games against the bigger teams and the smaller teams. If you can keep on doing this, still unbeaten in the league, then we can take it all the way.”
Hertog has carried on the fine work started by Keizer in the capital. With no announcement made about a permanent successor to the former, is the status quo likely to remain for the rest of 2018/19?
“No, no news,” he replied, while laughing, when asked about an extended stay. “It’s a quick answer.”
Jazira next travel to third-bottom Al Dhafra on Tuesday.
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.