Embattled Al Hilal boss Zoran Mamic will be the centre of attention during a potentially decisive round 27 of the Saudi Professional League.
A 2-1 midweek defeat to Iran’s Esteghlal in the AFC Champions League deepened the sense of crisis at the champions. Rumours have swirled about the 47-year-old being dismissed if his side are defeated at fellow heavyweights Al Ahli Jeddah, little more than two months since he was poached from Al Ain after the startling exit of Jorge Jesus.
Elsewhere, bottom-placed Ohod could be relegated and there is a gargantuan match of great significance at both ends of the table when leaders Al Nassr host floundering giants Al Ittihad.
Here are the latest talking points:
MAMIC’S LAST STAND?
How have we come to this?
Even in the frenetic, capricious and chaotic realm of the SPL, Mamic’s fall from grace has been staggering. From gallantly prevailing in nine of his first 11 fixtures in all competitions, to winning just two of his last five.
Critically, this spell included devastating 97th-minute defeat in last month’s Riyadh derby at Nassr – a result which saw the Croat’s six-point lead upon arrival descend into a one-point disadvantage.
Crippling injuries in centre midfield have bitten. But this does not fully explain perplexing decisions such as the ill-advised shackling of the adventurous Mohamed Kanno as the anchor man and placing the ageing Sebastian Giovinco on the wing.
Hilal will also have to deal with fit-again Syria centre forward Omar Al Somah. Fifth-placed Ahli’s last domestic outing was an ominous 4-0 dismantling of defensively minded Al Shabab Riyadh, although they went down 2-0 versus Iran Persepolis in midweek.
Spirit and mentality will be key for the visitors at a lively King Abdullah Sports City.
Has Mamic’s parlous situation, however, already reached critical mass, or will his squad scrap for their manager? We’ll soon find out…
UPS AND DOWNS
Nassr and Ittihad were Saudi football’s financial basket cases.
Both benefited more than most from the General Sports Authority’s lavish summer reset of the struggling Saudi game.
Deserved pacesetters Nassr have soared with the likes of 25-goal predator Abderrazak Hamdallah. Yet at the Tigers, institutional crisis and reckless spending appears systemic.
They’ve spent the entire season in the relegation places. But three-successive wins, in three different competitions, have escalated hope of a late escape act under the rehired Jose Luis Sierra.
A fourth will reshape the scrap for survival and glory.
OHOD VICTIMS OF OWN CHAOS
The time is fast approaching to say “Maa Salam” to bottom-placed Ohod.
A trio of coaches and six winter foreign signings point to endemic disorder.
An 18th defeat of the campaign, against third-bottom Al Fayha, will seal their fate. Even victory might not be enough if results don’t go their way, elsewhere.
Such mismanagement means they will not be missed.
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