Following mixed results in the King’s Cup preliminary round, Saudi Pro League clubs return to league action with varying objectives; some teams will have an eye for AFC Champions League next week, while others will be looking to gain an early advantage in head-to-head clashes that could end up making the difference in the title race and the relegation battle.
Al Fayha v Al Ittihad, Friday, 7pm (UAE)
The clash between two of Saudi Arabia’s representatives at the AFC Champions League also sees the two meanest defences in the Saudi Pro League colliding. Al Ittihad have conceded just five goals and kept as many clean sheets, while Al Fayha have conceded six.
In the absence of Karim Benzema, Al Ittihad defeated Al Fateh 2-1 in their most recent league outing, but they struggled to overcome first division Al Kholood in the King’s Cup, needing a penalty shoot-out to advance to the last16. Meanwhile, Al Fayha came from behind to beat Al Riyadh 2-1 in the cup, having also defeated the same team 3-1 in the league days earlier.
Prediction: Al Fayha 1-2 Al Ittihad
Al Tai v Al Nassr, Friday, 7pm
Al Tai became one of two SPL clubs to be eliminated from the King’s Cup by a first division team, losing to Al Faisaly 2-0 on Tuesday, a result that sealed the fate of head coach Kresimir Rezic. He is replaced by former Al Hilal and Al Ahli boss Laurentiu Reghecampf.
Meanwhile, Al Nassr continue to steamroll every opponent they face, winning their last seven games in all competitions. Even without Cristiano Ronaldo, they defeated Ohod 5-1 in the cup, while their last five league games has seen them score 21 goals.
Prediction: Al Tai 1-4 Al Nassr
Al Hazem v Al Taawoun, Friday, 7pm
Both teams advanced in the King’s Cup with wins over Al Arabi and Al Qadisiyah respectively, but in the league their fortunes could not be more contrasting.
Under Pericles Chamusca, Al Taawoun have been a breath of fresh air, winning five of their first seven games and only narrowly losing to Al Ahli 3-2. They find themselves in third place, just two points off the top. Meanwhile, Al Hazem’s first campaign back in the top flight has them rooted to the foot of the table, without a win and with only three points.
Prediction: Al Hazem 1-5 Al Taawoun
Al Hilal v Al Shabab, Friday, 10pm
While the two Riyadh neighbours are separated by nine places and as many points in the table, momentum will be with 11th-placed Al Shabab when they take on second-placed Al Hilal.
A poor start to the season saw Al Shabab lose three of their first five games, before they kick-started their season following the signings of Yannick Carrasco and Romain Saiss, winning both their last two games and qualifying to the round of 16 in the King’s Cup with a 2-1 win over Al Batin, with Carrasco bagging both goals.
In turn, Al Hilal have won only one of their last three matches in all competitions, drawing at home against Uzbek minnows Navbahor in the AFC Champions League and against Damac in the league. They needed a second half strike from Ruben Neves to overcome second tier Al Jabalain 1-0 in the cup.
Prediction: Al Hilal 1-1 Al Shabab
Abha v Al Riyadh, Saturday, 4pm
A game that could end up making the difference in the relegation battle come the end of the season sees promoted Al Riyadh travel south to face Abha, with both teams eager to get back to winning ways.
The hosts have lost their last three SPL games and are sitting in 13th place, just two points above their opponents who occupy 17th place in their first season in the top division since 2004/05. Al Riyadh were knocked out of the cup by Al Fayha midweek.
Prediction: Abha 2-2 Al Riyadh
Al Raed v Al Okhdood, Saturday, 7pm
Another match in the survival race sees Al Raed and Al Okhdood looking to move apart from one another, with both having collected just four points this term. A more solid defence gives the visitors the advantage, having only conceded eight goals, but they will have to find goals as no other team in the league has a less potent attack than the Najran-based team’s three goals in seven games.
Prediction: Al Raed 0-0 Al Okhdood
Al Fateh v Al Wehda, Saturday, 7pm
Georgios Donis returns to Al Ahsa to face his former team Al Fateh with the two sides evenly matched. Following the arrival of striker Odion Ighalo, Al Wehda have won back-to-back matches and rose to seventh place, just one place and a point above their upcoming opponents who lost their last game to leaders Al Ittihad 2-1.
Prediction: Al Fateh 2-2 Al Wehda
Al Ahli v Al Ettifaq, Saturday, 10pm
It will be an emotional reunion for several members of the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League winning Liverpool side as Roberto Firmino’s Al Ahli welcome to Jeddah an Al Ettifaq team featuring the likes of Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum.
Steven Gerrard’s men have been flying high, winning their last four matches in all competitions, with Henderson and former Celtic striker Moussa Dembele proving a devastating duo, combining for four goals this season so far. Meanwhile Al Ahli are sixth in the table, only a point behind their visitors, but have struggled to stay tight at the back, shipping 13 goals already, the fourth highest in the division.
Prediction: Al Ahli 3-3 Al Ettifaq
Al Khaleej v Damac, Saturday, 10pm
Both teams have started the season poorly, but Pedro Emanuel’s Al Khaleej have finally found their rhythm, winning two of their last three matches, with veteran Portuguese winger Fabio Martins leading by example, scoring three goals.
Despite draws against Al Hilal, Al Shabab and Al Fateh, Damac are still searching for their first win of the campaign under Romanian coach Cosmin Contra. They remain one of two teams yet to win a game, alongside bottom side Al Hazem.
Predictions: Al Khaleej 3-1 Damac
Updated: September 28, 2023, 6:02 AM