Fallen giants Al Ittihad’s latest reboot and a test of Al Hilal talisman Carlos Eduardo’s enduring importance headline match-week 15 in the Saudi Professional League.
Former Al Nassr defender Bruno Uvini and coveted Tunisia forward Anice Badri could both debut for the 13th-placed Tigers when they host second-bottom Al Adalah. At the opposite end of the table, Brazilian midfielder Eduardo will hope to remain in leaders Hilal’s XI across Riyadh at Al Shabab after his heroics versus Al Faisaly.
Surprise-package Al Raed’s roaring form also faces a defining test at third-placed Al Ahli Jeddah. Here are the talking points:
STILL KING CARLOS?
Eduardo’s status as the beating heart of AFC Champions League winners Hilal has been diminished throughout much of the last 12 months.
The 30-year-old was not registered for the second half of the Asian campaign, while fevered rumours of a cross-border switch to the Arabian Gulf League swirled in the summer.
But should it be this way?
A nerveless 88th-minute penalty on Monday looked to have secured victory for his employers, in an eventual – and eventful – 2-2 draw at Faisaly. This, remarkably, represented a bountiful first top-flight start since October.
Hilal are stacked in attack. Any combination of Eduardo, Salem Al Dawsari, Andre Carrillo, Omar Khrbin, Sebastian Giovinco, Hattan Bahebri and Nawaf Al Abed spells danger behind Bafetimbi Gomis in Razvan Lucescu’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Only Gomis (12) has more SPL strikes than him (nine) in 2019/20. Evidence that Eduardo is still the club’s clutch attacker. Will he be treated as such at Luis Garcia’s improving Shabab when their one-point league advantage is on the line?
Attention in the SPL is drawn towards the titanic clash at the top between Riyadh heavyweights Hilal and Al Nassr, plus Ittihad’s travails at the opposite end.
But the story of 2019/20 may yet be written by Raed. Besnik Hasi’s men have won seven of their last eight SPL fixtures, a run that has put last term’s eighth-placed finishers into fourth.
Tireless Moroccan midfielder Mohamed Fouzair, evergreen Syria playmaker Jehad Al Hussain and summer addition Raed Al Ghamdi combine in a side that has excelled in attack, yet looks – uproariously – suspect in defence.
This weakness at the back will pique the interest of Ahli’s Omar Al Somah and Djaniny – scorers of a combined 17 goals.
But victory for the on-song hosts at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium would earn them third spot and solidify belief they can be this term’s Al Taawoun.
UNLEASH THE TIGERS
The cavalry is coming to the rescue.
A six-match winless run in all competitions under beleaguered Henk ten Cate has sparked a reaction. Uvini and Badri are the latest to join the Ittihad carousel.
They follow swiftly on from Argentine battler Leonardo Gil, plus the reinstated Brazil goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe. A poignant goodbye has been given to ex-Chile playmaker Carlos Villanueva – who has joined Al Fayha after nearly four years’ service.
These players must now prosper where multitudes have withered in Jeddah. A five-point gap to the relegation zone can quickly shorten if results do not go their way.
This is why the clash with promoted Adalah acts as a bellwether. The creditable 1-1 draw at holders Nassr last-time out in the SPL will count for little if they slip up against one of just a trio of teams below them.
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