Heavyweights Al Hilal’s domestic re-emergence after nearly two months away is set to headline the Saudi Professional League’s final round of 2019.
Razvan Lucescu’s men have had the, welcome, distraction of continental and global pursuits since October 31’s epic 3-3 draw at Al Fateh. They resume their pursuit of champions Al Nassr on Thursday at Al Hazem.
Elsewhere, Al Ittihad’s 12 months of sorrow concludes against Al Fateh on Saturday and Abha’s quiet climb up the standings should continue versus fellow new boys Damac.
Here are the round 13 talking points:
HILAL’S GRAND RETURN?
Hilal have been rather busy, to put it mildly, since their last top-flight outing.
A joyous end to 19 years of continental exasperation was, emphatically, earned in their 3-0 aggregate triumph versus Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in the 2019 AFC Champions League final. There was then the valiant 3-1 loss to Copa Libertadores holders Flamengo in the Club World Cup semi-finals, on their way to a creditable fourth-placed finish.
This has been a special spell, even for a club that proclaims itself to be Asia’s grandest. How, then, will they react to the quotidian demands of the SPL?
They restart six points off the lead in fifth, but with three games in hand to leaders Nassr.
Opponents Hazem are a distant 11th, only six points off the relegation places. From the last 10 meetings between the club, nine stand as Hilal victories.
The exception to the aforementioned run, however, came just a year ago.
Hazem also have recent pedigree when it comes to upsets in Riyadh. Ex-Sweden forward Carlos Strandberg got the clincher in September when Nassr were stunned 1-0.
Hilal minds flooded by recent glory and glamorous pursuits must refocus instantly. A tricky task for boss Razvan Lucescu to complete.
ITTI MUST HEED 2019’S HARSH LESSONS
Ittihad cannot wait to see the back of 2019.
A renaissance under new boss Henk ten Cate has proved to be a false dawn. Al Faisaly triumphed 2-1 against 10 men at King Abdullah Sports City, while a subsequent 4-1 loss at Al Fayha was harrowing.
These results pushed the eight-time champions back to within one place of the bottom three, producing flashbacks of 2018/19’s narrow scrape against relegation.
Itti have now lost six of their last seven Pro League games. A farcical transfer policy sees them operating with just four foreigners, even though they’ve added seven this year alone.
Significant errors will, eventually, catch up with them. It could be the case in 2020.
PROMOTED ABHA STAND APART
An unfamiliar sight can be found in the SPL’s upper reaches.
Promoted Abha’s solid start to their third-ever top-flight campaign has put them in a comfortable seventh. A commendable achievement for the Prince Mohammad bin Salman League holders.
Analysis of their season to date showcases a club happy to make the most of the breaks.
Their xG (expected goals) of 13.2, according to Wyscout, is the division’s lowest. Yet they’ve outscored this prediction by five to rise up the table.
Consistency has been key. Their average age of 27.4 is the joint-fourth highest, while they’ve made the lowest substitutions (23).
All very sensible – and all very productive. They only need nine more points from 18 more fixtures to better the tally of 2018/19’s third-bottom outfit, Al Qadsiah.
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