The international break is over and action will resume this weekend for round seven of the 2019/20 Saudi Professional League.
This wait has been longer than most for champions Al Nassr. September 27’s goalless draw at Al Ahli Jeddah was the last time under-pressure Rui Vitoria’s men took to the fields and they’ll be desperate to end a three-match top-flight winless run on Saturday at fourth-bottom Al Raed.
The only worry for Riyadh rivals Al Hilal is whether the intermission will check the boundless momentum that carried them into an early four-point lead. But with a 2019 AFC Champions League semi-final decider on the horizon, minds may wander at home to Damac on Friday.
Algerian miracle worker Noureddine Zekri will take his place in the dugout for the first time with the promoted side, as will fellow fresh hire Yannick Ferrera for pointless Al Fateh at Al Adalah on the same night. Here are the talking points:
RUSTY NASSR WELCOME CAVALRY BACK
Nassr fans and players have been starved of action.
But with the negative turn that 2019/20 had taken, this was no bad thing. The imperious form under ex-Benfica boss Vitoria in the second half of last term ebbed away in a four-match winless run that witnessed them eliminated in the ACL’s quarter-finals to Xavi’s Al Sadd, plus down in eighth domestically.
This sojourn, however, has not only offered the chance to reset weary minds – it’s also allowed a packed treatment room to lose bodies. Influential Brazil playmaker Guiliano and Nigeria forward Ahmed Musa have been back in training, while lethal striker Abderrazak Hamdallah’s tempestuous relationship with Morocco has provided extra recuperation for a persistent foot problem.
If this cavalry charge does not see off Raed, then there truly is something endemic to worry about.
HILAL’S SPINNING PLATES
Hilal, unlike their capital neighbours in yellow, have roared out the blocks under new boss Razvan Lucescu.
Their four-point SPL lead has been earned by scoring eight more goals than any other club, with talisman Carlos Eduardo joint-top scorer on five with Al Ittihad’s Romarinho. Success, however, breeds its own problems.
A 4-1 away win at Qatar Sadd still needs protecting in Tuesday’s continental last-four decider, while five members of the Saudi Arabia XI that, poignantly, drew 0-0 in Palestine on Tuesday were drawn from their ranks.
Lucescu has ample talent in his ranks, minus injured Syria forward Omar Khrbin. He must ensure whomever is selected exhibits a champions’ focus versus Damac.
FIRED UP FOR A FRESH START
The international break is a worrisome time for struggling managers.
These concerns proved accurate for Damac and Fateh. They did, however, take contrasting approaches to the problem.
The latter immediately binned ditched Mohamed Kouki and drafted in 2018/19 Al Fayha saviour Zekri after October 3’s 1-0 loss to Al Wehda. This has given the new man ample time to prepare for an exacting debut at Hilal.
Fateh, in contrast, belatedly parted ways with Fathi Al Jabal on Monday, giving 39-year-old Belgian Yannick Ferrera limited preparation time for Friday’s Adalah test.
Enduring loyalty to their shock 2012/13 SPL title winner Al Jabal may continue to work against them. Even in his absence.
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