2019 AFC Champions League: Xavi stands in way of Al Nassr as they aim for the semi-finals

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Al Nassr will look to build on a slender advantage at Xavi’s Al Sadd and earn a debut AFC Champions League semi-final berth.

Abdulrahman Al Dawsari and the exceptional Guiliano notched last month in Riyadh when the Saudi Professional League holders – who have never got this far before in the current format – came back from behind to defeat the Qatar Stars League winners 2-1. This slender advantage means that a blockbuster second leg should be in store on Monday at Doha’s Jassim bin Hamad Stadium.

REST OR WORK?

Contrasting preparations have been experienced by this pair of regional heavyweights.

The end of the international break saw Nassr thrust straight back into action on Friday for a fraught goalless draw versus neighbours Al Shabab.

But Sadd have been able to solely focus on this clash. The 2011 ACL winners – and only non-Saudis left in the west – have not played since August 31’s 7-1 dismantling of Al Shahania.

Extra time on the training pitch was also recorded with star attacker Akram Afif after an acrimonious recent stint with Qatar.

Will this work prove the difference for the rested hosts, or can the battle-ready visitors prevail?

HAMDALLAH’S TRICKY RETURN

It was not the return that record-breaking striker Abderrazak Hamdallah envisaged.

A yellow card for a fracas with belligerent Tunisia goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha was all he gained upon his comeback from August 22’s foot injury.

The Morocco striker was kept unusually quiet, registering one on-target attempt and one off-target attempt.

Hamdallah also missed the opener versus Sadd. But his pedigree in the QSL – where he netted 39 times in 37 games for El Jaish and Al Rayyan – should provide a terrorising presence, plus the promise of a cherished away goal.

SWITCHING STYLES

Those expecting the Barcelona blueprint to be replicated by Xavi in his first managerial role have been left bemused.

The lionised midfielder initially favoured a 3-4-1-2 formation. His sizeable Qatar contingent’s comfort with the system, surely, influenced this choice.

The humiliation of Shahania, however, featured a ‘Barca-esque’ 4-3-3. With this tie so delicately poised, it will be intriguing to see which route the coaching novice goes down.

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