Al-Ittihad seek to salvage their season in King's Cup final against Al-Faisaly

The fans of Al-Ittihad hope to be celebrating a ninth King's Cup success. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2018
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Al-Ittihad seek to salvage their season in King's Cup final against Al-Faisaly

  • Jeddah giants finished a disappointing ninth in the league
  • Al-Faisaly finished three places higher and boast the coach of the year

Al-Ittihad coach Jose Luis Sierra is hoping to finish a disappointing season on a high by defeating Al-Faisaly in the King’s Cup on Saturday.
The Jeddah giants finished ninth in the 2017-18 Saudi Pro League that ended last month, but they can qualify for next year’s AFC Champions League by lifting the King’s Cup trophy for the ninth time.
Sierra knows it will not be easy against an Al-Faisaly team that finished three places higher in the league, a performance that saw opposite number Vuk Rasovic named coach of the season.
“We haven’t beaten them this season and so we will have to play with all our strength and determination,” Sierra told Saudi Arabian television. “They have a great coach in Rasovic who deserved his award.
“We have prepared well for the final and had a successful training camp in the UAE to give the players the right environment away from the pressure of the final.”
These are troubled times for the two-time champions of Asia. Unmet financial obligations to players and coaches were a major factor in the team not being granted an AFC club license needed to participate in this year’s AFC Champions League. With help from the General Sports Authority, the club is attempting to return to an even financial keel.
“We fought against tough circumstances,” said Sierra, who will welcome goalkeeper Fawaz Al-Qarni back from a national team training camp in Spain.
“We have not been able to sign players and we also lost one of the best players in the country in Fahad Al-Muwallad,” added the coach in reference to the star winger being loaned to La Liga club Levante in January. “We challenged for third place for a long time which is better than many clubs could have managed in our situation.”
Sierra refused to confirm whether he will stay for next season, adding his decision will rest on whether he will be able to strengthen the squad. “We need to end the problems that we have had this year, both on and off the pitch, and according to that I will decide whether to go or stay but if the issues continue, it will be difficult to stay.”
It is definitely the final game in charge of Faisaly for coach Rasovic, according to reports in Serbia.
The former Partizan Belgrade boss arrived in Saudi Arabia in May last year and took the club to within a point of the top four. A move to the UAE club Al-Dhafra beckons.
“We had a tough route to get to the final and we expect another tough game,” said Rasovic. “It has not been easy to prepare because the league ended in April and we have been without competitive games but we are ready.”
Despite the difference in league positions, Al-Ittihad are seen as favorites, but Rasovic has other ideas.
“We have faced Al-Ittihad three times this season, twice in the league and once in a friendly, and we have not lost, so it will not be an easy task for them to win,” he said.
“We are not afraid of Al-Ittihad. If we play to our level then we don’t need to worry about them. I am concerned only about how our players perform.”


Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City ease past Huddersfield to cut Liverpool’s Premier League lead

Updated 20 January 2019
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Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City ease past Huddersfield to cut Liverpool’s Premier League lead

HUDDERSFIELD: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was far from satisfied despite a 3-0 win away to Huddersfield Town on Sunday that saw his side cut Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League table to four points.
Liverpool’s compelling 4-3 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday heaped huge pressure back onto reigning champions City but they were rarely troubled by a Town side that look a certain bet for relegation this season.
City’s first goal, a deflected strike for Danilo in the 18th minute, brought up their 100th goal of the season in all competitions before Raheem Sterling scored a diving header from Leroy Sane’s cross in the 54th minute and Sane himself made it 3-0 with a calm finish just two minutes later.
For Guardiola, it should have been an afternoon of enjoyment as his side again proved their willingness to push Liverpool all the way this season.
The City manager, however, has forged a footballing reputation based on sublime performances as well as ruthless goalscoring and, on that basis, his team’s showing in West Yorkshire was not a success as the visitors never really clicked into gear on a day against a Huddersfield side who had parted company with manager David Wagner on Monday.
“During the season you have these kind of games,” Guardiola said. “It is important to win. We have scored many goals in all competitions.
“(But) the way we played, we didn’t deserve more than three goals. We will improve in the future.
“We have to demand more from ourselves in every game and do our best, but sometimes it’s difficult.
“Today we are happy we have won but after immediately we have to analyze. During the season you have games when maybe you are not in the top level and it is important to win these games.”
Although City’s fans were happier than their manager following this result, Guardiola could at least take some heart from the fact his side again refused to blink first in the race for the title.
For the second consecutive week, City kicked off knowing Liverpool had already won their weekend fixture and that, consequently, the onus was back on his players to secure three points as well.
Once again, Guardiola’s side managed to do that following up the 3-0 victory over Wolves with this showing and the City manager was more than happy to remind everybody that silverware is not handed out for another four months.
“One team has been better but we’re in January and there’s many more games to play,” he added.
“You don’t win or lose the Premier League in January. We have to focus on what we have to do. If Liverpool win, we have to win. And if Liverpool lose then we also have to win.”
This match was a baptism of fire for Huddersfield’s caretaker boss Mark Hudson and while the Terriers showed impressive fight to inspire some hope this season, this defeat still left them 10 points adrift of safety.
If, as expected, the Borussia Dortmund Under-23 coach Jan Siewert is appointed as Wagner’s permanent replacement, nobody would blame him if he spent his first day in the job preparing for a return to the second-tier Championship next season.
“It’s been a long week,” admitted Hudson.