Saudi Professional League: Talking points as Henk ten Cate tries to tame Al Ittihad tiger

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Henk ten Cate (Twitter/@ittihad).

Blink and you’ll miss the Saudi Professional League.

A curious spell for the competition sees its resumption this weekend after a two-week hiatus for the King’s Cup preliminaries. But fans of the Kingdom’s top flight will only receive a fleeting taste to whet their appetites, with rounds 11 and 12 being postponed because of the national team’s late inclusion in the 24th Gulf Cup.

These quirks of the fixture list could impair rebounding champions Al Nassr’s momentum, while belated SPL debuts await Dutch veteran Henk ten Cate at tumultuous Al Ittihad and Tunisian Nacif Beyaoui at promoted Al Adalah.

Here are the talking points for round 10:

TAMING THE TIGER?

There have been ample challenges presented to Ten Cate throughout almost three decades in management.

Inspiring Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s galaxy of stars in the early 2000s under Frank Rijkaard, however, may pale in comparison to what awaits at Ittihad.

The fallen Saudi heavyweights made the warm 64-year-old their fifth permanent manager since May 2018 on November. The three weeks since have included a new contract for prolific Brazilian forward Romarinho, plus progression to the Arab Club Champions Cup quarter-finals courtesy of a 2-0 second-leg triumph versus the UAE’s Al Wasl and a 4-0 thrashing of lower-league Al Riyadh in the King’s Cup.

Early promise, then, that will be tested at Ettifaq on Sunday.

Ten Cate’s main priority is to prevent 2018/19’s shameful flirt with relegation. A poor SPL debut could see the untamed Tigers back in the drop zone and put the Dutchman under unwanted pressure.

NASSR’S TIME TO STRIKE

The mood has lifted in the blue half of Riyadh.

September’s quarter-final elimination from the 2019 AFC Champions League and five-point haul from their opening four SPL games had sent alarm bells ring. Fears about complacency from Rui Vitoria’s charges, however, have been emphatically allayed since.

A five-match winning run across the top flight and King’s Cup has witnessed 15 goals scored, with only two let in. Ceaseless Morocco striker Abderrazak Hamdallah netted six times across this spell – including an enlivening brace in victory at pacesetters Al Hilal.

Add to his tally on Sunday at Al Wehda with the Crescent on ACL final duty and ownership of first place will be theirs again. Will they ever let it go?

BOYS IN GREEN

Saudi Arabia’s surprise, late, decision to compete in the Gulf Cup has provided a headache for fixture planners.

But it has also presented a necessary test bed for national boss Herve Renard.

A strong squad was named on Wednesday for the tournament in Doha from November 26-December 8. The Green Falcons will soon take flight and only want victory.

Yet more delays for the SPL, but bigger things are at play.

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