A hotly anticipated summit clash in the Arabian Gulf League awaits on Friday when Sharjah host Al Jazira.
The pair come into this consequential fixture locked on 37 points, with nine matches to play. Only November’s 1-0 victory for the 2018/19 champions, settled by Igor Coronado’s first-half penalty, separates them.
Both, however, come into the game under a cloud. Jazira failed last week to hit the front for the first time this term when an early 2-0 lead in the Abu Dhabi derby versus Bani Yas descended into an epic 3-3 draw, while leaders Sharjah’s 3-0 President’s Cup semi-final hammering by Al Nasr on Monday made it four matches without a win.
“We will not change anything in our training methods or style of play”, Pride of Abu Dhabi boss Marcel Keizer said. “We know how important and special this match is, because the winner will be the sole leader of the league table.
“We are expecting a complicated and tough game against a strong side, but we will keep preparing with the same discipline, intensity and focus.
“We will face them with our special style of play. The players are feeling comfortable with the system, and we achieved some great results thanks to it, so there is no reason at all to make any changes now.”
Depleted Al Ain, meanwhile, will begin life without Shoya Nakajima after the waylaid Japan playmaker added to their injury concerns.
The celebrated 26-year-old’s loan spell from Porto is expected to be over after he suffered a serious ankle injury in training. This will ensure he only played twice for the improving Boss, ahead of Thursday’s lengthy trip to an Al Dhafra down in 10th.
“Of course, we are now experiencing difficult times,” said Al Ain technician Pedro Emanuel of Nakajima. “We will lose an important player because of his injury during the last training session, which is difficult for us, especially after we saw what he could do for the team.
“I know that this matter is not easy for the player and we should find solutions within the team itself because it is difficult to find a substitute for the Japanese player with the same abilities.”
Nassif Al Baydawi’s reign at relegation-threatened Fujairah continues with a must-win match against ninth-placed Ittihad Kalba, a mid-table meeting is in store when Al Wasl host Al Wahda and bottom-placed Hatta face a tough task at buoyant Nasr.
President’s Cup finalists Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club will aim to extend their 13-match undefeated run, in all competitions, versus 11th-placed Khor Fakkan and Bani Yas will close on the top two with victory against sinking Ajman.
MATCH-WEEK 18 FIXTURES
17:30 Fujairah v Ittihad Kalba
17:30 Al Dhafra v Al Ain
20:15 Al Wasl v Al Wahda
17:30 Al Nasr v Hatta
17:30 Bani Yas v Ajman
20:15 Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club v Khor Fakkan
20:15 Sharjah v Al Jazira