Dubai: Just 17 days short of an entire year since the campaign began, the 2019-20 Saudi Pro League season resumes on Tuesday with eight matchdays remaining and all to play for.
The Saudi Pro League was halted on March 14, a day after the conclusion of Matchday 22 as the country, just like the rest of the world, looked to curb the spread of COVID-19. Five months later, Saudi clubs are set for a five-week marathon which will see 64 matches played between August 4 and September 9.
With the race still wide open at both ends of the table, the-AFC.com looks at three stories that will shape the remaining rounds of the competition.
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With a gap of six points separating leaders Al Hilal from their nearest chasers Al Nassr, the iconic Riyadh derby between the two sides could not have come at a more crucial time than the league’s re-opening matchday.
On Wednesday, Al Nassr will need to replicate their victory in the corresponding fixture over arch-rivals Al Hilal if the former are to keep their title defence alive. The task for coach Rui Vitoria’s men will not be an easy one against the Asian champions who have only lost one game in the league this season, a 2-1 reversal at the hands of none other than Al Nassr back in October.
A win for Al Nassr puts them within touching distance of Al Hilal, and would mean Razvan Lucescu’s men could not afford to lose another game if they are to stay masters of their own destiny until the end of the campaign.
Battle within a battle
Abdurazzaq Hamdallah was the difference-maker when his second-half brace downed Al Hilal on Matchday Eight, but the Moroccan striker will aim to emerge superior in his personal battle against Al Hilal marksman Bafetimbi Gomis, his fiercest opponent in the goalscoring race.
The former El Jaish forward broke the league’s scoring record last campaign, netting 35 times in 26 rounds to end the season a whopping 14 goals clear Gomis and Al Taawoun’s Leandre Tawamba.
And while his numbers have not been as remarkable this season, Hamdallah is showing no intention of ceding his crown. The Al Nassr man currently sits atop the scoring charts with 18 goals, four ahead of Gomis. Al Ahli legend Omar Al Somah is still in the chase with 13 goals while Al Wehda’s Youssouf Niakate (12) and Al Ittihad’s Romarinho (11) make up the rest of the chasing pack.
The Great Escape
The bottom end of the Saudi Pro League table is awash with stories to be followed in the remainder of the season.
In their top-flight debut, Al Ahsa-based Al Adalah Club sit bottom of the table, having only won three matches all season. However, the newcomers have reasons for optimism; their final game before the stoppage brought an end to a 17-match winless run with a derby triumph against neighbours Al Fateh. Remarkably for Al Adalah, that poor run did not leave them miles adrift of survival. A stretch of six consecutive draws meant they are just six points off the last safety spot.
Paradoxically, the number 13 could spell lucky for the club that manages to escape the scramble at the bottom end of the table as 13th place is the lowest position to secure survival in the Saudi Pro League. The spot is currently occupied by none other than two-time AFC Champions League winners Al Ittihad.
The Jeddah-club’s woes continue for the second season running, but they are not the only former league winners facing the drop. In fact, four points behind them in 18th are 2012-13 Saudi Pro League champions Al Fateh.
Two-time league champions Ettifaq could also find themselves embroiled in the relegation battle if they let their form slip, they currently sit 10th with 29 points, just 10 afloat of the drop zone.
Tuesday: Al Fateh vs Al Feiha, Abha vs Al Ittihad, Al Raed vs Damac, Al Faisaly vs Al Taawoun, Al Ahli vs Al Hazm.
Wednesday: Al Adalah vs Ettifaq, Al Wehda vs Al Shabab, Al Nassr vs Al Hilal.
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