Midseason review of Roshn Saudi Pro League 2023-2024 part 2

Al-Shabab have bolstered their squad with the signing of Ivan Rakitic during the winter break. (X/@AlShabab_EN)
Short Url
Updated 14 February 2024
Follow

Midseason review of Roshn Saudi Pro League 2023-2024 part 2

  • Arab News looks at the state of play for the SPL clubs in positions 10-18 as they return from the AFC Asian Cup break

Anticipation abounds ahead of this week’s intriguing full restart of the 2023/2024 Roshn Saudi Pro League.

The six-week interlude for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup contained managerial changes, eye-catching player acquisitions and noteworthy exits as competitors strove to finish campaigns on a high.

Arab News provides an essential guide for the 16 clubs as they head into Thursday’s resumption, including their key winter business and outlook for the 15 remaining matchweeks.

In part two, we look at the clubs occupying positions 10 to 18.

10. Al-Khaleej

Points 22

Goals scored/conceded 23-28

Season so far: A club in the same situation as Wehda. Al-Khaleej were threatened by instant demotion until the final matchweek last season, but have breathing space in 2023/2024. Magical Portuguese winger Fabio Martins is a class apart, being their top scorer on seven goals and joint-top assist maker with two. Experienced South Korea anchorman Jung Woo-young and Argentina center-back Lisandro Lopez have made all the difference to their defense.

Major winter changes: Former Inter Miami midfielder Mo Adams adds ballast after an invisible time at Al-Shabab.

Outlook: It is time to push on and look ahead to the King’s Cup semifinals. An upturn from disappointing Egypt striker Mohamed Sherif would help.

 

11. Al-Shabab

Points 21

Goals scored/conceded 19-25

Season so far: A season to forget for Shabab. Jose Mourinho will not be there to salvage this campaign, after winter rumors came to nothing. Well-travelled compatriot Vitor Pereira is at the helm instead, making him this season’s third permanent boss following swift exits from former Ajax supremo Marcel Keizer and Igor Biscan. Serious injury to South Korea No. 1 Kim Seung-gyu has added to their worries. But remedies have been sought to quell lingering relegation worries.

Major winter changes: Iconic Argentine midfielder Ever Banega has been allowed to return home to Newell’s Old Boys after almost four years of stellar service. An eye-catching, like-for-like replacement was secured in Croatia superstar Ivan Rakitic. He is joined by Ettifaq loanee Vitinho and promising Hilal youngster Musab Al-Juwayr.

Outlook: Pereira and Rakitic boast the experience to drag Shabab away from the mire. Belgium winger Yannick Carrasco and Morocco center-back Romain Saiss should build on decent individual starts. They need Senegal striker Habib Diallo to ignite.

 

12. Al-Okhdood

Points 20

Goals scored/conceded 13-25

Season so far: Their top-flight debut has contained a vital ability to edge results, with six victories coming via one-goal margins. An encouraging December under new boss Martin Sevela shifted the mood, with 10 points coming from 15 available. Prolific Romania defender Andrei Burca (four goals) is one of the signings of the season. The fact that he has outscored three-goal attackers Leandre Tawamba and Saviour Godwin is concerning.

Major winter changes: Not applicable

Outlook: For Sevela to avoid a second-successive relegation after Al-Adalah, he must get his misfiring attack in motion.

 

13. Al-Raed

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 24-31

Season so far: It has been an uncomfortable season for the side from Buraidah. Shakhtar Donetsk title winner Igor Jovicevic has failed to find consistency. This is despite boasting the bottom half of the table’s best attack in which Algerian schemer Amir Sayoud has joined resident Moroccans Karim El-Berkaoui and Mohamed Fouzair. Last month’s stunning 3-1 raid of champions Ittihad points to untapped potential.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: The collective strength of the squad eases relegation doubts but they must start exhibiting this on a regular basis.

 

14. Al-Fayha

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 19-31

Season so far: This has been a season of strife for the 2021/2022 King’s Cup victors. Zambia forward Fashion Sakala and Nigeria winger Henry Onyekuru have shone after summer moves. But lengthy injuries to fellow Super Eagle Anthony Nwakaeme and Morocco’s World Cup 2022 performer Abdelhamid Sabiri have stung. Belief remains in Serbian supremo Vuk Rasovic to correct their course, like last season.

Major winter changes: Saudi Arabia’s breakout 2023 Asian Cup performer, goalkeeper Ahmed Al-Kassar, has departed for ambitious First Division League-pacesetters Al-Qadsiah.

Outlook: Their AFC Champions League form must be showcased domestically, or relegation looms.

 

15. Al-Riyadh

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 17-37

Season so far: It has been tough going upon their top-flight return after almost two decades away. Their defense is the leakiest outside the bottom three and attack is the second worst. These problems conflated during a December which featured three defeats and one win. Attacker Saleh Al-Abbas has carried them at times, with Jamaica striker Andre Gray and Zimbabwe forward Knowledge Musona failing to match his impact.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: October hire Odair Hellmann must sharply correct course. The ex-Santos and Al-Wasl tactician has a huge job on his plate.

 

16. Al-Tai

Points 17

Goals scored/conceded 20-39

Season so far: Comfortable mid-table finishes since 2021/2022’s top-flight comeback are a distant memory. An opening matchweek victory against Damac was an illusion, with four points being taken from the next nine matches. Little uptick followed September’s call to dispense with Kresimir Resic, then hire ex-Hilal and Ahli manager Laurentiu Reghecampf. If it was not for the brilliance of nine-goal Ghana attacking midfielder Bernard Mensah, signed from Kayserispor, they would be even further adrift.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: It is going to be a slog to survive, from this point. A date with Abha looms large on March 1.

 

17. Abha

Points 14

Goals scored/conceded 22-52

Season so far: Abha started slowly and got worse from there. They have lost their last seven league matches to a combined score of 29-9. The services of Czeslaw Michniewicz and Yousef Al-Mannai have already been dispensed with. Winter tweaks, however, must point toward better times, or a five-season top-flight stint will end.

Major winter changes: Changes have been sought across the club. Ahli’s promotion winner, Pitso Mosimane, has been set a distinctly different task. Ettifaq loanee Marcel Tisserand must tighten up a defense which has conceded five more than any other. Five-goal Cameroon forward Karl Toko Ekambi has moved in the opposite direction, with Montenegro and Sochi attacker Luka Djordevic his replacement.

Outlook: Much rests on the prowess of Djordevic and Mosimane’s ability to rebound from a mixed spell at the UAE’s Wahda. Alarm bells are still ringing.

 

18. Al-Hazem

Points 13

Goals scored/conceded 19-47

Season so far: It has been tough going for last season’s First Division League runners-up. Every matchweek has been spent within the drop zone, including 11 in last place. A call was made in October to release promotion winner Filipe Gouveia and draft in Nassr’s 2013/2014 double winner, Jose Daniel Carreno. After the pain of their landmark Hilal thumping, they now sit on an encouraging run of one defeat from the subsequent five matches.

Major winter changes: Hazem looked to Major League Soccer and recruited Venezuela defensive midfielder Junior Moreno.

Outlook: Carreno has provided hope that an instant demotion is not inevitable. To do this, will require impressive Portuguese midfielder Toze’s 10-goal contributions to be matched elsewhere.


Jofra Archer stars as England beat Pakistan in second T20

Updated 25 May 2024
Follow

Jofra Archer stars as England beat Pakistan in second T20

  • Skipper Jos Buttler, who smashed 84 off 51 balls, was the star of the England batting
  • Babar Azam praises Pakistani bowlers but says that the team could not finish well

BIRMINGHAM: Jofra Archer claimed two wickets on his long-awaited return to international cricket as England beat Pakistan by 23 runs at Edgbaston to move 1-0 up in the four-match T20 series.
England captain Jos Buttler won man-of-the-match after he smashed 84 off 51 balls to set the hosts a target of 184.
But it was Archer’s return that caught the eye as he made a case for selection in next month’s T20 World Cup in the United States and West Indies no harm.
The fast bowler has been beset by elbow injuries since his starring role in helping England win the 50-over World Cup in 2019.
On his first international appearance for 14 months, and first on home soil since 2020, Archer bounced back from an expensive first over, which went for 15 runs, to finish with two for 28.
“I thought Jofra Archer was brilliant,” said Buttler. “You could see his emotion taking wickets for England again but we need to temper those expectations because he’s not going to be the same straight away.
“I’m really pleased with the whole bowling group.”
Muhammad Rizwan was removed in the first over by Moeen Ali and Reece Topley took three wickets for 41.
Buttler was the star of the England batting with three sixes and eight fours.
He was ably supported by 37 from Will Jacks and Jonny Bairstow’s 21 but England failed to build on the platform given to them by their skipper.
Five wickets fell for just 25 runs as Pakistan battled back with Shaheen Shah Afridi the pick of the bowlers, taking 3-36.
“We got them to a par score, our bowlers bowled very well and we had our moments when we were batting,” said Pakistan captain Babar Azam.
Fakhar Zaman’s 45 from 21 balls gave the Pakistan chase some impetus, but after he departed the pace of Archer, Topley and Chris Jordan ripped through the tourists’ tail with four balls to spare.
“We didn’t finish well. We had a small partnership, myself and Fakhar but we didn’t get any other 40 or 50 partnerships that England did,” added Azam.
England lead the four-match series 1-0 after the first match was washed out on Wednesday.


Crespo’s Al Ain beat Yokohama 5-1 to win Asian Champions League

Updated 45 min 23 sec ago
Follow

Crespo’s Al Ain beat Yokohama 5-1 to win Asian Champions League

  • Al Ain won the inaugural Champions League final in 2003 and were runners-up in 2005 and 2016
  • Crespo had promised “hell” for Yokohama and thousands of fans in white robes and headdresses let off flares and chanted outside before packing out Hazza bin Zayed Stadium

AL-AIN, UAE: Hernan Crespo’s Al Ain steamrollered 10-man Yokohama F-Marinos 5-1 in the Asian Champions League final return leg to lift the trophy for the second time in their history on Saturday.
The hosts trailed 2-1 from the away fixture but two goals from Soufiane Rahimi, a Kaku penalty and Kodjo Laba’s late double ensured a 6-3 aggregate victory after Yokohama goalkeeper William Popp saw red just before half-time.
Al Ain, the United Arab Emirates’ most successful club, won the inaugural Champions League final in 2003 and were runners-up in 2005 and 2016.
Harry Kewell’s Yokohama were attempting to become the fourth Japanese winners after Gamba Osaka, Kashima Antlers and three-time winners Urawa Red Diamonds.
The win will be all the sweeter for Crespo after the 2005 European Champions League final, when the ex-Argentina international scored twice for AC Milan before Kewell’s Liverpool came back to win on penalties.
Crespo had promised “hell” for Yokohama and thousands of fans in white robes and headdresses let off flares and chanted outside before packing out Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
With temperatures still hovering above 30 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) at the 8:00 p.m. kick-off, Al Ain were ahead after just nine minutes.
Yahia Nader’s sweet backheel wrong-footed the defense and tournament top-scorer Rahimi rifled a low shot into the net for his 12th of the competition.
Ken Matsubara had a fizzing shot tipped wide but Al Ain doubled their advantage in the 34th minute after Shinnosuke Hatanaka brought down Rahimi in the box.
After a VAR review, Uzbek referee Ilgiz Tantashev pointed to the spot and Paraguay international Kaku smashed it into the bottom right, sparking delirium in the stands.
Al Ain’s joy was doused as Yokohama’s Yan Matheus stole a bouncing ball from Kouame Kouadio, then turned the defender inside-out and finished left-footed to make it 2-1 and 3-3 on aggregate.
But the half — which stretched to an extraordinary 62 minutes — finished badly for Yokohama when goalkeeper William Popp felled the on-rushing Rahimi and was sent off deep into injury time.
After the restart, a depleted Yokohama lived dangerously when Hatanaka, under pressure from Rahimi, parried a deep cross onto his own crossbar.
The visitors were creaking and on 67 minutes, Rahimi picked up a rebound, rounded a defender and lashed it past substitute ‘keeper Fuma Shirasaka at his near post.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Yokohama, who also had Hatanaka stretchered off, and Togolese substitute Laba pierced their porous defense twice in another long spell of injury time.
Al Ain had already won bragging rights over neighboring Saudi Arabia, whose teams spent more than a billion dollars on players including Cristiano Ronaldo last year, with their Asian campaign.
Crespo’s side ousted Ronaldo’s Al Nassr in the quarter-finals before halting Al Hilal’s top-flight-record streak of 34 consecutive wins when they met in the semis.
With their victory, Al Ain also reach the new-look, 32-team Club World Cup, whose inaugural staging is scheduled for June and July next year in the United States.


Man United win the FA Cup after stunning Man City 2-1 in the final

Updated 25 May 2024
Follow

Man United win the FA Cup after stunning Man City 2-1 in the final

  • United’s first silverware of the season deprived crosstown rival City of the first back-to-back English league-cup doubles
  • United also qualified for the Europa League next season

LONDON: Manchester United won the FA Cup after stunning defending champion Manchester City 2-1 in the final at Wembley on Saturday.
United’s first silverware of the season deprived crosstown rival City of the first back-to-back English league-cup doubles. United also qualified for the Europa League next season.
The final was a repeat of last year’s which City won 2-1, and Pep Guardiola’s team did not give up their trophy without a fight.
Alejandro Garnacho opened the scoring in the 30th minute after mistakes from City defender Josko Gvardiol and goalkeeper Stefan Ortega.
Kobbie Mainoo then added a second goal in the 39th to spark passionate celebrations from manager Erik ten Hag, whose job was under intense scrutiny going into the final.
United were in control at halftime but City piled the pressure on in the second half and eventually got back into the game through substitute Jeremy Doku’s long range shot into the bottom corner in the 87th.
By that point Erling Haaland had hit the bar, Kyle Walker had forced goalkeeper Andre Onana into two outstretched saves, and substitute Julian Alvarez missed the target from close range with only the keeper to beat.
It is United’s 13th FA Cup, one behind Arsenal’s record of 14. And it is Ten Hag’s second trophy in as many years at the club after winning the League Cup last year.
Players and staff embraced him on the field after the final whistle as the Dutchman managed to end a troubled campaign on a high.
Watching on were the United co-owners, Americans Joel and Avram Glazer and British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe.
Speculation about Ten Hag’s future dominated the buildup, and it was widely anticipated he would lose his job regardless of the result after overseeing United’s worst league season in 34 years.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the team and winning the cup,” he said before kickoff.
It was a very different story for City. After becoming the first English team to win four titles in a row, they were aiming to set a new benchmark by completing back-to-back doubles. City’s parade in Manchester on Monday to celebrate the historic league success will not include the FA Cup.
City dominated possession in the first half but United posed the more threatening attacks and took the lead through Garnacho.
The Argentine winger sparked panic in City’s defense when chasing onto a hopeful punt from Diogo Dalot deep in his half. Gvardiol was quicker to the ball, but his headed back pass went over the onrushing City goalkeeper Ortega to leave Garnacho with an open net to tap home.
If that goal benefited from luck, United’s second came from a slick attack, with Garnacho at the heart of it again when cutting in from the right wing and playing in Bruno Fernandes.
The United captain hit a first-time no-look pass to Mainoo, who coolly slotted past Ortega.
“It’s been a tough season with ups and downs. This is the only thing we’ve had to look forward to,” Mainoo said. “We knew we had to come together. The preparation for this game has been amazing. We’ve shown we can compete and win games.”


Leclerc claims Monaco pole to end Verstappen’s record sequence

Updated 25 May 2024
Follow

Leclerc claims Monaco pole to end Verstappen’s record sequence

  • It brought Leclerc his third Monaco pole position and ended Verstappen’s run of seven straight poles this year
  • Three-time world champion Verstappen struggled for Red Bull after hitting the barriers on his final fast lap

MONACO: Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc snatched pole position at his home Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday, as championship leader Max Verstappen could only finish sixth fastest.
The 26-year-old Monegasque driver, who has never managed a podium finish at his home race, clocked a best lap of one minute and 10.270 seconds to outpace Australian Oscar Piastri of McLaren by 0.154 seconds.
It brought Leclerc his third Monaco pole position and ended Verstappen’s run of seven straight poles this year and a record-equalling eight in succession, shared with three-time champion Ayrton Senna.
Three-time world champion Verstappen struggled for Red Bull after hitting the barriers on his final fast lap.
“It was so nice,” said a relieved Leclerc after a tense and thrilling qualifying.
“I’m really happy about my lap. The excitement was so high, but I know from the past that qualifying is not everything. The win is the target.”
Leclerc’s Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz was third ahead of Lando Norris in the second McLaren, Mercedes’ George Russell and Verstappen.
“It was close,” said Piastri. “If you took the second half of my first lap and the first half of my second one it would have been enough for pole!“
Sainz added: “I’ve struggled all weekend with confidence in the car so it’s an improvement. I just wish I was fighting for pole.”
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was seventh in the second Mercedes ahead of RB’s Yuki Tsunoda, Alex Albon of Williams and Pierre Gasly of Alpine.
In near-perfect Riviera conditions with sunshine and temperatures of 48 degrees celsius on the track and 21 in the air, Hamilton led Russell and the rest out of the pits.
As the Mercedes ran two preparatory laps, it was Tsunoda on top for RB before Hamilton took command only for the rapidly-tumbling times to deliver Verstappen, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg on top, the two Haas drivers retaining their positions until Russell took over.
Leclerc, disappointed by Ferrari’s decision to delay his entry, was 13th before he recorded a fast lap to go top in 1:11.653, a tenth clear of Magnussen and Hulkenberg.
In a fiercely-contested session, Hamilton jumped to second, but Perez was 14th and Norris 18th with only a minute remaining before, in a frantic finish to Q1, the Briton climbed to safety, but Perez was out along with Alonso.
The Mexican was 18th making an early exit for the second year running along with the two-time champion, in his Aston Martin, Williams’ Logan Sargeant, Valtteri Bottas and his Sauber team-mate Zhou Guanyu.
“We’ve struggled all the way through,” said Perez. “It is so tight, the margins I thought I could make the top five.”
Norris was first out for Q2, but Sainz swiftly went quickest ahead of Verstappen in another tight tussle with barely a second separating the top 14 and the Alpines suddenly flying, Gasly claiming a place in Q3 in fifth. “Let’s go, let’s go!” he cried.
Piastri, looking confident, then clocked a 1:10.756 only to be beaten by team-mate Norris as the McLarens took control ahead of Leclerc and Russell before another busy finale saw Esteban Ocon of Alpine, Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo of RB, Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin and Magnussen eliminated.
Sainz was first out for the top ten shootout, followed by Hamilton who clocked 1:10.975, an impressive lap that was blown away immediately by Leclerc in 1:10.418, a lap nine-tenths faster than Verstappen’s pole time last year.
The Dutchman’s first timed lap left him third after losing time in the final sector. “Still the same issues in Turns Five and Ten,” he reported.
As conditions continued to improve, Sainz and Verstappen chose to run again on a traffic-free lap, the rest following.
Hamilton improved to take fourth, but Russell beat him and then Verstappen glanced a barrier before Leclerc improved to 1:10.418 to take a dramatic pole ahead of Piastri, the Italian team’s 250th pole position in Formula One.


Skipper Jos Buttler the bedrock as England set Pakistan 184 to win T20

Updated 25 May 2024
Follow

Skipper Jos Buttler the bedrock as England set Pakistan 184 to win T20

  • Buttler smashed 84 off 51 balls, but his team failed to build on that and lost 5 wickets for 25 runs
  • Shaheen Shah Afridi took 3-36, as Pakistan try to build on their 2-1 win against Ireland this month

BIRMINGHAM: England captain Jos Buttler smashed 84 off 51 balls as the hosts set Pakistan a target of 184 to win the second T20 international at Edgbaston on Saturday.
Buttler was ably supported by 37 from Will Jacks and Jonny Bairstow’s 21 but England failed to build on the platform given to them by their skipper.
England were 144-2 with five overs to spare before Bairstow departed.
But five wickets fell for just 25 runs as Pakistan battled back to give the tourists a chance of chasing down the target.
Shaheen Shah Afridi was the pick of the bowlers, taking 3-36.
Jofra Archer will form part of the England bowling attack in his first home international appearance since 2020.
Fast bowler Archer has been beset by elbow injuries since his starring role in helping England win the 50-over World Cup in 2019.
However, the 29-year-old’s return could be a timely boost ahead of the T20 World Cup in the United States next month.
“Excited for Jofra, long road for him but looks great and looks fit,” Buttler said before the match.
Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan have been included for Pakistan, who are looking to build on a 2-1 series win over Ireland earlier this month.
The first T20 of the four-match series was washed out on Wednesday.
England: 1 Jos Buttler (capt/wk), 2 Phil Salt, 3 Will Jacks, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Liam Livingstone, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Reece Topley
Pakistan: 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Saim Ayub, 3 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 4 Fakhar Zaman, 5 Shadab Khan, 6 Azam Khan, 7 Iftikhar Ahmed, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Mohammad Amir