UAE Pro League: Crespo’s Al-Ain suffer damaging derby defeat to Al-Wahda

Russian winger Zelimkhan Bakaev scored his first goal for Al-Wahda in the 2-0 win over Al-Ain. (X/@AlWahdaFCC)
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Updated 17 December 2023

UAE Pro League: Crespo’s Al-Ain suffer damaging derby defeat to Al-Wahda

  • 10-man Al-Wasl maintain lead after a hard-fought victory over Ittihad Kalba

A damaging Abu Dhabi Clasico continued Hernan Crespo’s mixed start at Al-Ain, leaders Al-Wasl weathered a stringent title test and spiralling Emirates Club’s misery extended in ADNOC Pro League’s matchweek 11.

Saturday’s finale pitted “the Boss” against bitter-rivals Al-Wahda, who prevailed 2-0 on enemy territory despite gaining just 26-per-cent possession courtesy of ruthless strikes by on-song Syria forward Omar Khrbin and Russia winger Zelimkhan Bakaev.

A sublime free-kick and selfless assist earlier in the evening from outstanding summer recruit Nicolas Gimenez edged 10-man Wasl past dogged Ittihad Kalba 2-1, in a fiery contest.

Al-Jazira, meanwhile, began life minus the dismissed Frank de Boer with a 1-0 win at Emirates, who slumped to bottom after a seventh-successive defeat and fellow-promoted outfit Hatta’s goalless stalemate against Al-Bataeh.

Former Flamengo teenager Mateusao got both goals when reigning champions Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club rebounded from ADIB Cup quarter-final elimination with a 2-1 triumph at Baniyas and ex-Porto attacker Moussa Marega also doubled up during rejuvenated Sharjah’s 4-1 thrashing of lowly Khor Fakkan.

A breakthrough week for Alfred Schreuder at Al-Nasr culminated in a dominant 3-0 victory at Ajman, highlighted by goals from Morocco maverick Adel Taarabt and ex-Italy forward Manolo Gabbiadini (two).

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Zelimkhan Bakaev (Al-Wahda)

A fan favorite is emerging.

Eyebrows were raised this summer when Wahda secured Bakaev’s loan. The senior international had netted twice from 33 appearances at Zenit St. Petersburg in a successful debut campaign, containing Russian Premier League and Super Cup successes.

This acumen, however, was clear for all to see at a febrile Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

The 27-year-old wide man’s first ADNOC Pro League goal in nine run-outs was netted with a flourish, controlling a 40-yard pass at pace and serenely slotting low past UAE No1 Khalid Essa to double Wahda’s lead.

Such quality is no surprise. It is, however, the incessant attacker’s all-round game and application that stands out.

Questions are always asked about commitment levels from big-name loanees. Bakaev has long since answered them.

A tally of three tackles, according to SofaScore, equalled tigerish team-mate Allan, plus bettered combined totals for center-backs Lucas Pimenta and Alaeddine Zouhir (one each). Bakaev also won five of seven ground duels.

Such competitiveness, allied with decisive ability, was essential for Arno Buitenweg’s cagey game plan to succeed.

Wahda are now unbeaten in seven fixtures, sit fourth and are into ADIB Cup’s last four. Bakaev has played a big role in their turnaround.

Goal of the week: Luan Pereira (Sharjah)

Sharjah wasted no time conjuring some magic against Khor Fakkan.

Within 33 seconds of kick-off, their naturalized winger Luan Pereira applied the decisive touch to a flowing move.

His left-footed half-volley at the edge of the penalty box followed from an imaginative, volleyed back-heel assist by prodigious Guinean starlet Ousmane Camara.

Smiles are returning to third-placed Sharjah faces. Pinched thoughts of ADIB Cup and AFC Champions League exits have dissipated amid consecutive 4-1 top-flight triumphs.

They now head into Wednesday’s rescheduled heavyweight clash with Shabab Al-Ahli.

Coach of the week: Alfred Schreuder (Al-Nasr)

Schreuder had appeared an awkward fit at the Middle East football’s sleeping giant.

A winless opening two outings contained curious substitutions and frustrating results for the coach who’d suffered high-profile 2023 sackings at Ajax and Al-Ain. Gratifying ADIB Cup progress against the latter has been, however, further bolstered by emphatic victory at Ajman.

It featured a brace for Gabbiadini, plus goal and assist from Taarabt.

Order has been long absent at Nasr, the UAE’s oldest club who boast one of Asia’s grandest arenas in the heart of Dubai.

An expected victory versus Emirates Club next weekend would build momentum ahead of the winter transfer market and belief his philosophy can be inculcated during a lengthy Asian Cup break.

Crespo already feeling Al-Ain’s inherent pressure

The buck stops with you, when you’re “the Boss.”

An iconic playing career has been no shield to strident early criticism for Crespo in the Garden City. Dissenting voices only grew louder after a pained defeat to Wahda, the side “Ainawi” were least like to be beaten by.

The ex-River Plate, Parma, Inter Milan and Chelsea center forward must swiftly show last month’s merciless call to dismiss Schreuder was justified. He’s at the helm of a club who, clearly, will not hang about waiting for results to turn.

But, what judgments can be made at this stage?

Saturday’s was a peculiar reversal. Al-Ain boasted 74-per-cent possession, won the attempts count 14-8, endured a rash moment by naturalized center-back Kouame Auton for Khrbin’s opener and were hit on the counter via Iran midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi’s visionary pass from deep for Bakaev’s superb second.

Under Crespo, Al-Ain have thrashed champions Shabab Al-Ahli then dropped points in a draw at Kalba and a loss versus Wahda, sliding from third to fifth. In the cups, three points were accrued in two AFC Champions League dead rubbers and his predecessor inflicted undoubtedly satisfying ADIB Cup last-eight elimination.

The previous regime won 12 of 14 matches in all competitions, prior to a shock removal.

Crespo has been in management since 2014. The highs of leading Defensa y Justicia to their opening international trophy by winning the 2020 Copa Sudamericana and Al-Duhail’s 2022-23 treble are matched by lows, such as 7-0 humiliation by Al-Hilal in the AFC Champions League semifinals and exiting Sao Paulo when 13th in Brazil’s Serie A.

Imposing consistency is key. Al-Ain have demonstrated their patience can be in short supply.

Bellingham scores late and Madrid moves closer to league title after ‘clasico’ win over Barcelona

Updated 28 sec ago

Bellingham scores late and Madrid moves closer to league title after ‘clasico’ win over Barcelona

  • Madrid are unbeaten in 26 league games, since losing at Atletico Madrid in September
  • Atletico Madrid followed up their Champions League elimination with a 2-0 loss at Alaves in the Spanish league

MADRID: Real Madrid took a huge step toward winning the Spanish league title after beating Barcelona 3-2 with a stoppage-time goal by Jude Bellingham in the final “clasico” of the season on Sunday.

Barcelona twice took the lead at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium but Madrid came back to win for a comfortable 11-point cushion over their second-place rival entering the final six rounds.

Bellingham scored the winning goal from a difficult angle one minute into stoppage time with a left-footed strike into the top of the net after a cross toward the far post by Lucas Vazquez, who also scored and set up a goal by Vinícius Júnior.

It was the third straight win for Madrid over Barcelona this season. Madrid are unbeaten in 26 league games, since losing at Atletico Madrid in September.

The clasico came four days after Madrid eliminated Manchester City on penalties in England to advance to the Champions League semifinals. Barcelona had been eliminated a day earlier by Paris Saint-Germain after a loss at home, leaving the league as the Catalan team’s only title opportunity for the season.

Goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, the hero for Madrid in the shootout against City, miscalculated a cross into the area in Barcelona’s first goal and failed to fully clear a ball in front of the goal in the second.

Barcelona, the defending league champions, came to the Spanish capital looking to revive their title chances and took an early lead with a header by Andreas Christensen six minutes into the match.

The hosts equalized with Vinicius converting an 18th-minute penalty kick before Barcelona went ahead again with Fermín Lopez’s goal from close range in the 69th. Vazquez, who was fouled after a run inside the area to prompt the penalty converted by Vinícius, evened the match again after a cross by the Brazil forward in the 73rd.

Vazquez was one of the changes made to the squad by Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti after the match against City. He also used Luka Modric alongside Toni Kroos in midfield, and Aurélien Tchouaméni in the defense.

Barcelona loudly complained about the penalty awarded to Madrid and wanted one for themselves after a challenge on López in the second half. They also complained over a potential goal in the first half when it wasn’t clear if the ball crossed the goal line before Lunin batted it away. It took several moments before video review determined that it was not a goal.

It was likely the last clasico for Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez, who earlier this season said he will leave the club at the end of the season.

Barcelona midfielder Frenkie De Jong left the field on a stretcher late in the first half after hurting his right leg in a clash with Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde.

The match marked the debut of the new state-of-the-art video screens at the renovated Bernabeu.


Atletico Madrid followed up their Champions League elimination with a 2-0 loss at Alaves in the Spanish league, missing a chance to strengthen its hold on fourth place.

The defeat against 13th-place Alaves kept Atletico only three points ahead of fifth-place Athletic Bilbao in the fight for a Champions League spot next season. Athletic had been held to a 1-1 draw against relegation-threatened Granada at home on Friday.

Atletico failed to advance in the Champions League after losing to Borussia Dortmund 5-4 on aggregate following a 4-2 loss in Germany on Tuesday.

Alaves, which had lost three league matches in a row, won with goals by Carlos Benavídez in the 15th minute and Luis Rioja in second-half stoppage time.

In other results, sixth-place Real Sociedad were held 1-1 at midtable Getafe, while ninth-place Villarreal won 2-1 at last-place Almeria.

Man Utd beat Coventry on penalties to set up Man City FA Cup final

Updated 21 April 2024

Man Utd beat Coventry on penalties to set up Man City FA Cup final

  • Red Devils win shootout at Wembley 4-2, with Rasmus Hojlund scoring the decisive spot kick

LONDON: Manchester United overcame an astonishing collapse to beat Coventry on penalties in an FA Cup classic on Sunday, setting up a second straight FA Cup final against Manchester City.

Erik ten Hag’s men won the shootout at Wembley 4-2, with Rasmus Hojlund scoring the decisive spot kick after the teams were level at 3-3 after extra time.

The game perfectly encapsulated a chaotic season for Ten Hag’s men, who are well off the pace in the Premier League and had a Champions League campaign to forget.

There was no hint of what was to come when United coasted into a 3-0 lead against their second-tier opponents in the London sunshine, with goals from Scott McTominay, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes.

But they have made a habit of tossing away leads in recent weeks and the match against Coventry proved no different.

Second half strikes from Ellis Simms and Callum O’Hare gave the 1987 FA Cup winners hope and Hajji Wright leveled from the penalty spot in the 95th minute, capping a scarcely credible comeback.

Coventry fans taunted Ten Hag with chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” as belief infused the massed ranks of supporters clad in blue.

Coventry manager Mark Robins famously played a key part in United’s FA Cup final win in 1990, a victory that launched two decades of success under Alex Ferguson.

But his team’s push to reach the Championship playoffs has faded in recent weeks and they traveled to Wembley as underdogs despite United’s stuttering season.

United, 12-time winners of the competition, settled early and took the lead in the 23rd minute after a fine move down the right.

Alejandro Garnacho fed the overlapping Diogo Dalot, whose cross went under the hands of the diving Bradley Collins and was tapped in by McTominay from close range.

Marcus Rashford forced a fine save from Collins late in the first half but United doubled their lead from the resulting corner, with Maguire heading home from Fernandes’ cross.

Coventry, who scored twice in stoppage time to beat Premier League Wolves in the quarter-finals, struggled to make inroads against an organized United team.

They looked brighter in the early stages of the second half.

But the wind was taken out of their sails when Fernandes’s shot found its way past Collins in the 58th minute, courtesy of a deflection off defender Bobby Thomas.

O’Hare headed over from an angle as Coventry continued to probe but they pulled a goal back when top scorer Ellis Simms connected with a cross from substitute Fabio Tavares in the 71st minute after United’s defense switched off.

They made it 3-2 in the 79th minute when O’Hare’s shot from just outside the box looped off Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s back and over Onana.

Coventry’s fans were now in full voice as their team mounted waves of attacks.

Substitute Victor Torp hit a stinging shot from the edge of the area with five minutes of normal time to go, forcing Onana into a sharp save.

But Coventry still were not finished. Wan-Bissaka was adjudged to have handled in the penalty area and Wright scored from the spot to take the match into extra time.

Coventry looked the more likely winners in 10 long minutes of stoppage time but could not find a winner.

United captain Fernandes rattled the crossbar in the fourth minute of extra time when set up by substitute Amad Diallo.

Simms then smashed a shot off the underside of the crossbar as time ran out.

Coventry thought they had won it in the dying moments when Torp poked the ball past Andre Onana but a VAR check ruled that Wright was marginally offside.

The Championship side drew first blood in the shootout when Casemiro’s weak penalty was saved by Collins.

But O’Hare and captain Ben Sheaf failed to convert, leaving Hojlund with the job of sending United through and he made no mistake.

Manchester City beat Chelsea 1-0 in the other semifinal on Saturday.

Silva strikes late as Man City sink Chelsea to reach FA Cup final

Updated 20 April 2024

Silva strikes late as Man City sink Chelsea to reach FA Cup final

  • Pep Guardiola’s side were second best for long periods of the semifinal
  • Chelsea wasted a string of chances before Silva delivered the knockout blow six minutes from full-time

LONDON: Bernardo Silva fired Manchester City back into the FA Cup final as the Portugal midfielder’s late strike sealed the holders’ 1-0 win against Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday.
Pep Guardiola’s side were second best for long periods of the semifinal, but Chelsea wasted a string of chances before Silva delivered the knockout blow six minutes from full-time.
Shaken by their Champions League quarter-final loss against Real Madrid on penalties in midweek, City took a while to shake off the gloom from the end of their treble bid.
They were hampered by the absence of Norway striker Erling Haaland after he suffered a knock against Real, with Julian Alvarez unable to make an impact as his replacement.
City were bailed out by Chelsea striker Nicolas Jackson’s profligacy and Guardiola will hope the hard-fought success provides a timely lift as they chase a Premier League and FA Cup double.
City face Manchester United or Coventry, who meet on Sunday, in the final on May 25 and will retain the Premier League title if they win their last six games.
It will be City’s 13th final in the competition and potentially a repeat of last year’s 2-1 win over United in the Wembley Manchester derby.
Beaten by Liverpool in the League Cup final in February, Chelsea’s wait to win their first domestic trophy since the 2018 FA Cup goes on for another season.
It was a bitter blow for Blues boss Mauricio Pochettino, who has endured a difficult first season in charge and remains without silverware in England.
The semifinal was billed as in-form Chelsea forward Cole Palmer’s chance to punish his old club for selling him to the Blues in September.
Guardiola said Palmer was asking to leave City for two years before he eventually joined Chelsea, where he has scored 23 goals in all competitions this, including 11 in his last six games.
Palmer, who scored four times in Monday’s 6-0 rout of Everton, was a constant threat for Chelsea, but ultimately it was his team’s lack of killer instinct that proved decisive.
Palmer’s pin-point pass sent Jackson racing into the City area early on, but his strike lacked the accuracy to beat Stefan Ortega in a miss that foreshadowed Chelsea’s fate.
Jackson wasted a golden opportunity to give Chelsea the goal their dominance deserved.
Enzo Fernandez’s pass split the City defense, but Jackson opted to go around Ortega rather than shoot and the chance was gone as Nathan Ake scurried back to clear.
Playing with more purpose and quality than City, Pochettino’s team threatened again as Palmer cleverly shimmied past Rodri for a low drive from 12 yards that was well saved by Ortega.
It was the first time lethargic City had failed to muster a first half shot on target since a game against Everton in February.
Jackson, in the midst of a terrible debut season, was put clean through on goal by Conor Gallagher immediately after the interval.
But the much-maligned striker’s shot was palmed away by Ortega, who clawed away a close-range header from Jackson seconds later.
City finally tested Djordje Petrovic through Phil Foden’s snap-shot, but the Serbian was equal to his powerful strike.
Chelsea appealed in vain for a penalty when Jack Grealish’s arm blocked Palmer’s free-kick, while Moises Caicedo was fortunate to escape a second booking for a crunching tackle that forced Grealish to limp off.
Grealish’s replacement Jeremy Doku drew an immediate save from Petrovic with a near-post blast.
Doku’s presence lifted City and the Belgian played a part as they stole the victory in the 84th minute.
Advancing with intent toward the Chelsea area, Doku slipped a pass to Kevin de Bruyne, whose low cross was pushed out by Petrovic to Silva for a close-range finish that deflected home as Guardiola punched the air in relief.

Mueller bags brace, Kane hits goal 33 as Bayern thump Union

Updated 20 April 2024

Mueller bags brace, Kane hits goal 33 as Bayern thump Union

  • Just a week after Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen broke Bayern’s 11-year title run, the visitors were dominant and clinical in the German capital
  • Mueller, playing his 470th Bundesliga game for Bayern, scored both of his goals in the second half, either side of a strike from Tel

BERLIN: Harry Kane claimed his 33rd league goal of the season and Thomas Mueller scored twice as Bayern Munich hammered Union Berlin 5-1 away in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
Just a week after Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen broke Bayern’s 11-year title run, the visitors were dominant and clinical in the German capital.
Kane blasted in an excellent free-kick and laid on a second-half goal for Mathys Tel and has now 51 goal involvements in all competitions this season, his best-ever mark.
In the Bundesliga, the England captain is eight shy of Robert Lewandowski’s single season record with four games remaining.
Bayern rested star attacking midfielder Jamal Musiala after Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Arsenal sent them through to the final four of the Champions League but they had no difficulty creating chances against the Union defense.
Handed a rare start, French teenager Tel set up Leon Goretzka’s 29th-minute opener, with Kane scoring a superb free-kick in first-half stoppage time.
Mueller, playing his 470th Bundesliga game for Bayern, scored both of his goals in the second half, either side of a strike from Tel.
Union, who faced Real Madrid and Napoli in the Champions League this season, pulled one back late through Yorbe Vertessen, have now won just one of their past eight and sit three points clear of the relegation places.
Earlier , RB Leipzig tightened their grip on fourth place, the final guaranteed Champions League spot, with a 2-1 win at Heidenheim as Lois Openda scored his 23rd goal of the season.
Leipzig striker Benjamin Sesko opened the scoring shortly before half-time, pouncing on some disorganized defending from the home side for his 10th league goal this term.
Heidenheim, who have beaten Bayern Munich and drawn with Dortmund twice in their first season in the top division, struck back with 20 minutes remaining, Nikola Dovedan heading in following a free-kick.
Leipzig, who are in a battle with Champions League semifinalists Dortmund for fourth place and host them next week, grabbed the winner with five minutes remaining when Openda tapped in a Mohamed Simakan pass.
Leipzig sit three points clear of Dortmund who host champions Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday. Fourth place is guaranteed to play Champions League but fifth could also qualify due to the strong performances of German sides in the competition this season.
RB captain Willi Orban was pleased his side made it through an “incredibly difficult match,” telling Sky “plenty of top sides have dropped points here, but we’ve taken all three — it was deserved.”
Elsewhere, a hat-trick from Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Robin Hack was not enough as his side lost 4-3 at Hoffenheim.
Hoffenheim led 3-1 midway through the second half before Hack scored twice in 11 minutes to level the score with just a minute remaining, but Anton Stach scored in stoppage time for the home side to snatch victory.
Bottom side Darmstadt won their first league match since October, beating second-last Cologne 2-0 thanks to goals from Oscar Vilhelmsson and Cristoph Klarer.
Despite the win, Darmstadt remain 10 points from safety with four games remaining.
Cologne’s chances of beating the drop are falling fast. They are five points away from 15th-placed Bochum, the final safe spot.
Bochum lost 1-0 at Wolfsburg, with Ralph Hasenhuettl’s side winning thanks to a goal from Jonas Wind.
Wind’s goal deepened Bochum’s woes a week after sacking coach Thomas Letsch, with the side just one point clear of the relegation spots.

Leicester go top of Championship as Southampton stumble

Updated 20 April 2024

Leicester go top of Championship as Southampton stumble

  • Leicester had lost three of their previous five league games to put their return to the Premier League in jeopardy
  • Leicester move two points ahead of Ipswich and four clear of third-placed Leeds

LONDON: Jamie Vardy scored and missed a penalty as Leicester beat West Brom 2-1 to return to the top of the Championship on Saturday.
However, Southampton’s automatic promotion push may be over after conceding in the 95th minute to lose 2-1 at Cardiff.
Leicester had lost three of their previous five league games to put their return to the Premier League in jeopardy.
However, they could now seal promotion as early as Tuesday when Southampton visit the King Power if Leeds lose at Middlesbrough on Monday.
Leicester’s wobble could have continued had West Brom made the most of their early chances.
Hamza Choudhury made three clearances off his own line, but defeat for the Baggies makes them wait to seal a playoff place.
“It was a crazy game. We need still two wins,” said Leicester boss Enzo Maresca.
“Every time you win, you see yourself closer and you celebrate. But it’s not over, we have to finish the job. It was only 12 months ago that we were relegated, it’s not easy to come back.”
Wilfred Ndidi calmed the home side’s nerves midway through the first half, but Vardy missed the chance to give his side a 2-0 half-time lead when his spot-kick came back off the post.
Vardy made amends when he headed in Abdul Fatawu’s cross 25 minutes from time.
Jed Wallace pulled a goal back but West Brom could not find an equalizer.
Leicester move two points ahead of Ipswich and four clear of third-placed Leeds.
Southampton had taken advantage of a sudden loss of form by all the top three to reignite their chances of finishing in the top two.
However, Saints remain five points behind Ipswich with three games to play after blowing an early lead at Cardiff.
Joe Aribo fired the visitors in front after 12 minutes.
Southampton were left to rue not building on that lead as Cardiff goalkeeper Ethan Horvath’s heroics kept his side in the game.
Cardiff levelled against the run of play when Famara Diedhiou slotted home Raheem Conte’s cross.
Cian Ashford’s deflected strike then snatched all three points for the home side deep into stoppage time.
Norwich edged toward securing their place in the playoffs despite being held 1-1 at home by Bristol City.
Hull remain six points behind both West Brom and Norwich with just nine left to play for after a 0-0 draw at Watford.
At the bottom, Huddersfield’s 4-0 thrashing at home to Swansea left them rooted in the bottom three.
Birmingham missed the chance to pull clear of the drop zone after a 0-0 draw at already-relegated Rotherham.
Stoke secured survival with a 3-0 win over Plymouth.
Millwall also ensured their second-tier status with a 1-0 victory at Sunderland.