Saudi Professional League: Al Ittihad wave goodbye to Jose Luis Sierra for a second time

Matt Monaghan 19:31 20/10/2019
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Jose Luis Sierra (EPA).

Jose Luis Sierra has departed fallen Saudi Professional League giants Al Ittihad for the second time in little more than a year.

Sierra, 50, was dismissed in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s 1-0 reversal at Al Wehda. This fourth loss in seven 2019/20 top-flight fixtures left the toothless Tigers down in eighth and only four points above the relegation zone, while last month they also were downed by rivals Al Hilal in the 2019 AFC Champions League’s quarter-finals.

The ex-Chile midfielder guided his former side to safety after he answered February’s alarm call, following Slaven Bilic’s woeful reign. He had previously won the 2017 Saudi Crown Prince Cup and 2018 King’s Cup, prior to departing for an ill-fated three-month stint at the Arabian Gulf League’s Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club once his deal was, surprisingly, not renewed.

Saudi Arabian Mohamed Abdali has been placed in temporary charge while they assess candidates to become the club’s fourth permanent manager since May 2018. Okaz newspaper has stated that negotiations have been opened with Croatia’s Zlatko Dalic.

“The Board of Directors of at Al Ittihad, headed by Mr Anmar bin Abdullah Al Ha’ili, have decided to sack Chilean coach Luis Sierra as coach,” a statement read. “We give thanks to him.”

“The Board of Directors clarifies that the decision to dismiss him was a result of the negative results achieved by the team.

“The council announced the appointment of Saudi national Mohamed Abdali to lead the team at the present stage.”

Ittihad are next scheduled to visit the UAE’s Al Wasl on Wednesday in an Arab Club Champions Cup round-of-16 opener.

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Saudi Professional League: Talking points as Al Nassr cavalry arrive, Al Hilal require focus

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(EPA).

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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Saudi Professional League: Talking points as Al Hilal show squad, and physical, strength at Ettifaq

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Al Hilal (EPA).

Saudi Professional League leaders Al Hilal survived a shuffling of their pack and physical buffering by hosts Ettifaq to emerge with a valuable 4-1 triumph.

Several heroes from Tuesday’s 4-1 thrashing of Xavi’s Al Sadd in the 2019 AFC Champions League semi-final opener were named on the substitutes’ bench as coach Razvan Lucescu sought to inject freshness into his side. This strategy gained reward in the 20th minute when talisman Carlos Eduardo – not registered in Asian competition – rolled home a penalty earned via the video assistant referee after Senegalese striker Souleymane Doukara struck ex-South Korea centre-back Jang Hyun-soo with an elbow.

Struggling hosts Ettifaq, however, refused to be cowed throughout this feisty contest and midfielder Saleh Al Amri lashed an intricately worked free-kick into the top corner of stand-in goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Waked’s goal moments before the half-hour mark.

A response was required at Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium Dammam and it duly came in the second half. Al Raed loanee Saleh Al-Shehri scrambled in a 56th-minute corner to open his Hilal account, before replacement Bafetimbi Gomis’ exhibition of trademark composure witnessed him shoot unnervingly low in the 76th minute for a fourth top-flight goal in six 2019/20 run-outs, and Eduardo scrambled in during the final throes.

CHAMPIONS’ RESOLVE

The joy from the midweek raid on Doha would have been swiftly knocked out of Hilal in Dammam.

A riotous first half saw the sides share 13 fouls (7/6 to the men in green). Chances were also shared evenly.

Hilal’s Saudi Arabia centre-back Ali Al Bulaihi cleared a Fawaz Al Torais header off the line and then critically put off Slovakia centre-back Filip Kiss from the subsequent corner, while at the other end Al Shehri should have done better with a wayward header.

Yet the visitors would exhibit champions’ resolve to ignore these distractions in a dominant second half. Lesser title pretenders would have drained points.

STATE OF PLAY

Lucescu must be a content man headed into his second international break as Hilal boss.

Sweet progress into next month’s ACL final seems assured, while maximum pressure is being applied on domestic rivals.

Razvan Lucescu (EPA).

Razvan Lucescu (EPA).

A quirk of the fixture list caused SPL holders Al Nassr to sit out this match-week. The yellow half of Riyadh will now note they boast nearly half their rivals’ points tally (16/8) with a fifth of the season played.

Even with a game in hand, they’ll now need to go on some run in the winter. A Herculean challenge has been set by last term’s relentless runners-up.

LOSING THEIR EDGE

There was much to admire from Ettifaq.

Potential Saudi call-ups Al Torais and Al Amri were lively, while Tunisia playmaker Naim Sliti oozes creativity. They did, however, lack the cutting edge to make the most of an excellent first half.

Doukara does not convince as a replacement for Al Shabab’s Cristian Guanca. The 14-goal Argentine’s omnipresent threat will be missed throughout 2019/20.

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