A change of guard could be completed on Wednesday night in the Arabian Gulf League.
Unbeaten leaders Sharjah welcome ailing champions Al Ain for a contest that contains sides in wildly contrasting form.
Here are the talking points:
MOVING IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS
Impending glory and ongoing disaster are the themes that define this game.
Ex-Palermo playmaker Igor Coronado remained a snip at €6 million when his brace saw the King come from behind and beat promoted Bani Yas 2-1 last Friday. Historic humiliation followed for their lurching fourth-placed rivals a day later, directionless Al Ain slumping to their heaviest home defeat of the professional era – a disgraceful, error-strewn 4-0 victory for mid-table Ajman.
The UAE’s most-decorated club have lost all sense of purpose – and won just three times in 11 fixtures – since a mid-season break that saw coach Zoran Mamic defect to Saudi Professional League giants Al Hilal and Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat sold to Al Ahly.
Everything has moved in a different direction, however, for Sharjah since they gave stalwart Abdulaziz Al Anbari the reins full-time in winter 2017.
Al Ain are no match for them in 2018/19 – as evidenced by October’s 2-1 victory on their territory in the reverse fixture. But can they earn a symbolic, emboldening win this midweek?
Not likely on current form.
It was a moment to sum up the pandemonium at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
Beyond the abysmal defending from creaking veterans Ismail Ahmed and Mohanad Salem, Brazilian forward Caio’s petulant reaction to coach Juan Carlos Garrido’s after being hooked spoke volumes about a poisoned mood.
The Spanish supremo now has a decision to make.
Ditch one of his few remaining stars and reinforce squad discipline, or risk further humiliation in the absence of an asset that is reportedly bound for Portugal giants Benfica.
Coronado neither sits atop of the AGL’s scoring or assist charts.
Yet, his influence on this campaign has been substantial. The Brazilian’s five goals and one assist, alone, against the other members of the top four – Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, Al Jazira and Al Ain – is a major reason why a top-flight trophy drought should not extend into a 24th year.
The Al Jazira pair of Ali Mabkhout (19 goals) and Khalfan Mubarak (12) have scored six more times and set-up five more strikes than Coronado. Even more than invigorated team-mates Welliton and Shahin Abdulrahman, however, the Brazilian has catalysed the King.
Collective and individual acclaim will be close if he produces another virtuoso display.
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