Al-Hilal’s latest Champions League defeat lays bare problems at Riyadh giants

Al-Hilal’s 2-1 defeat at Al-Rayyan on Monday left them bottom of Group D in the AFC Champions League. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Al-Hilal’s latest Champions League defeat lays bare problems at Riyadh giants

LONDON: Al-Hilal’s 2-1 defeat at Al-Rayyan on Monday left them bottom of Group D in the AFC Champions League with just two points from four games. More than that, it left the Riyadh giants with huge questions to ask.
It is just three months since they reached the final of Asia’s premier club competition, unlucky in losing to Urawa Reds. Since the referee blew the final whistle in Japan, however, Al-Hilal have seemingly gone from good to bad to worse.
As if to illustrate the problems they face, Yasser Al-Qahtani’s last-minute consolation was only Al-Hilal’s second goal in the tournament so far.
One of the favorites for this year’s title are heading for an early exit and few of the club’s passionate fans could argue that it would be undeserved.
The performance in Doha on Monday was a microcosm of what has gone wrong over the past three months and laid bare the problems the side face.
Al-Hilal’s interim coach Juan Brown is 40, just three years older than the man he turned to against Al-Rayyan. Midfielder Mohammed Al-Shalhoub did not offer much of the expected composure and intelligence. The veteran slowed down the play too much and was wasteful in possession, a problem for the visitors all night.
That they have been forced to turn to a player whose best days are long gone would have been unthinkable three months ago. But it is the result of events beyond their control. Eduardo picked up a serious injury in November and has yet to return — that he remained the club’s joint-leading scorer in the league until earlier this month said a lot.
As if that loss was not enough, Al-Hilal then lost last year’s Asian Player of the Year, Omar Khribin. No team in Asia would not miss such a pair and it does not help that Nawaf Al-Abed, one of the best playmakers east of Europe, has also struggled with injuries.
As if to compound those unfortunate loses, the signings made earlier this year, such as Moroccan striker Achraf Bencharki and Ezequiel Cerutti of Argentina, have failed to shine. The lack of service has been an issue but Cerutti especially has yet to really click.
Ramon Diaz’s sacking as head coach in February after a 1-0 loss at Esteghlal has failed to have the desired effect. Caretaker boss Brown’s lack of experience and authority was always going to be a potential problem, but his appointment has not even produced the kind of short-term galvanizing effect associated with a change of coach. Al-Hilal have won one out of four under the Argentine and their lead at the top of the Saudi Premier League has been cut to a single point. They were already looking enviously at the impressive Al-Ahli in continental competition, now they are looking over their shoulders at the Jeddah club at home as well.
Brown could argue that this 2018 group is tougher than last year when Al-Hilal had six more points at this stage. But, while you could indeed find favor with that argument, the fact is he has bigger problems than simply trying to get out of the group — which while unlikely, is still possible.


Liverpool return to top of the table with 3-1 win over arch-rivals Manchester United

Updated 16 December 2018
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Liverpool return to top of the table with 3-1 win over arch-rivals Manchester United

  • Shaqiri braces gives Reds deserved win over United at Anfield.
  • Mourinho's men well beaten as Liverpool leapfrog Manchester City ti return to top of the table.

LIVERPOOL: Two deflected Xherdan Shaqiri strikes handed Liverpool victory over Manchester United in the Premier League for the first time in nine attempts as Jurgen Klopp’s men moved back to the top of the table with a 3-1 win at Anfield on Sunday.
United manager Jose Mourinho claimed ahead of the game that the league leaders have had luck on their side this season, but while there was fortune in substitute Shaqiri’s two goals in the final 17 minutes, the visitors did not deserve anything more than a fifth defeat of the season.
Liverpool leapfrogged Manchester City to finish the weekend where they started, a point clear at the top, and move a mammoth 19 clear of United, who remain in sixth and are now 11 points off the top four.
The contrasting form showed by both sides this season continued as United strained to keep a rampant Liverpool at bay and were only level for so long thanks to a huge error by home goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Sadio Mane had given Liverpool the lead before Jesse Lingard levelled when Alisson dropped a routine cross at the feet of the England international.
United had the ball in the net first on a rare foray forward but Romelu Lukaku was flagged offside despite not getting a touch to Ashley Young’s free-kick.
But Liverpool then laid siege to the visitors’ goal with David de Gea stretching to keep out a low drive from Roberto Firmino, Young clearing off the line and Fabinho firing wide from the edge of the box.
Only Manchester City have kept Klopp’s side from scoring in the Premier League this season and a United defense that has kept just one clean sheet in the league since September never looked capable of holding out like they had in their two previous visits to Anfield.
Mourinho’s men were finally breached when Mane controlled Fabinho’s chipped ball into the box on his chest and volleyed past the onrushing De Gea.
However, Liverpool’s momentum was punctured by an Alisson gift 12 minutes before the break.
The Brazilian was Liverpool’s hero with an injury-time save to secure the Reds’ place in the last 16 of the Champions League against Napoli on Tuesday.
But he spilled Lukaku’s simple cross into the path of the grateful Lingard to bundle the ball into an unguarded net.
The second half followed a similar pattern with one-way traffic toward the Kop as Liverpool sought the goal to take them back to the top of the table.
De Gea scrambled low to his left to palm Firmino’s prodded effort to safety, while Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk saw efforts deflected behind.
Jurgen Klopp turned to Shaqiri to unlock the United defense 20 minutes from time and the Swiss international needed just three to put Liverpool back in front.
De Gea did well to prevent Ander Herrera turning Mane’s cross into his own net, but the ball fell for Shaqiri and his effort cannoned off Young and in off the underside of the bar.
Seven minutes later, Shaqiri got lucky again when, this time on his favored left foot, his shot flicked off the diving Eric Bailly to leave De Gea helpless.