Which sides have what it takes to win the Saudi Pro League this season?

Al-Hilal won the title on the last day, pipping Al-Ahli to the post. (Al-Hilal)
Updated 30 August 2018
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Which sides have what it takes to win the Saudi Pro League this season?

LONDON: With the new Saudi Pro League season neraly upon us, here is how we think the Saudi Pro League season will unfold...

AL-HILAL

Last Season: 1st
Coach: Jorge Jesus
Major Signings: Omar Abdulrahman, Andre Carrillo, Alberto Botia.
Strengths: The defending champions have strengthened and not being in the AFC Champions League could prove a blessing in disguise. They have plenty of star power and goals in the team with a coach full of big-game experience.
Weaknesses: Not many — the coach may take a little time to get used to the league, the team is there to be shot at and the loss of Osama Hawsawi may take some getting used to. 
Key player: Abdullah Otayf — the holding midfielder does not make the headlines that others do but he makes the team tick. When he plays well Al-Hilal play well; he needs to stay fit.
Prediction: 1st The Champions have grown stronger and will be the team to beat.


 

AL-NASSR

Last Season: 3rd
Coach: Jose Daniel Carreno
Major signings: Ahmed Musa, Christian Ramos, Nordin Amrabat, Guiliano, Brad Jones.
Strengths: The coach has won the title before, the club has signed plenty of talent, especially going forward, to give options and has strength in depth.
Weaknesses: Had some defensive issues last season, may take time for new players to gel and there is increased pressure after big signings.
Key player: Christian Ramos — Peru’s World Cup central defender is a commanding presence and could be the perfect signing.
Prediction: 2nd have improved but probably still a little short on what is needed to become 
champions.


 

AL-AHLI

Last season: 2nd
Coach: Pablo Guese
Major signings: Alexis, Josef De Souza, Jose Manuel Jurado
Strengths: They have plenty of motivation after coming so close last season and there is not much to fix. Added experience and class in defense and midfield especially.
Weaknesses: They have lost a couple of influential players, such as Claudemir and Leonardo, and the coach has no experience outside of South America. 
Key player: Omar Somah — the Syrian star needs to keep banging in the goals.
Prediction: 3rd — have lost some players, may take a little time to gel.


 

AL-ITTIHAD

Last season: 9th
Coach: Ramon Diaz
Major signings: Matt 
Jurman, Aleksandar Pesic, Valdivia
Strengths: Despite a poor season last time, quality has been added. There is also a desire to improve. Coach Diaz did well at Al-Hilal and has strong knowledge of the league and huge desire to prove his former club wrong.
Weaknesses: They have lost much of their firepower from last season and may struggle to get the goals.
Key player: Fahad Al-Muwallad — The Saudi Arabia winger has returned from Spain and is ready to terrorize defenders again.
Prediction: 4th have been busy in the transfer market but that may not be enough to get them in the top three.


 

AL-FAISALY

Last Season: 6th
Coach: Mircea Rednik
Major signings: Andre Micael, Diego Calderon, Joseph Akpala.
Strengths: They are well-organized and hard-to-beat, Al-Faisaly got to the final of the King’s Cup and that experience will serve them well.
Weaknesses: They lack firepower and creativity and while coach Rednik has experience, it is all in Europe.  
Key player: Omar Abdulaziz — the midfielder brings experience and control to the team and will be crucial to the new coach. 
Prediction: 5th — they will need to turn some of those draws into wins in order to prosper.


 

ETTIFAQ

Last Season: 5th 
Coach: Leonardo Ramos
Major signings: Ramon Arias, Brahian Aleman,
Strengths: They should be a little more solid than last time with some quality additions from South America.
Weaknesses: The defense struggled last season and while Ramos is seen as a strong organizer of teams, it may not be enough.
Key player: Mohammed Al-Kwikbi — the wide midfielder just missed out on the World Cup, but at 23 still has time to show what he can do.
Prediction: 6th Not quite got the quality to challenge for the top three.


Simona Halep positive despite Dubai defeat by Belinda Bencic

Updated 21 February 2019
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Simona Halep positive despite Dubai defeat by Belinda Bencic

  • Former world No.1 blames three-set loss on tiredness after nine matches in 13 days.
  • Halep has high hopes for the rest of 2019, saying her game is in good shape.

LONDON: Simona Halep is still certain a good year lies in store for her despite losing to Belinda Bencic in the Dubai quarterfinals.
The Romanian former world No. 1 was the favorite to win her second title in the emirate but ran out of steam as her Swiss opponent ran out 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 winner.
It was Halep’s ninth match in just 13 days and she admitted tiredness had caught up with her.
“It was really difficult physically. I was tired,” the world No. 2 said.

Bencic came from a set down to beat the favorite in the last-eight encounter in Dubai. (AFP) 


“After the second set, I felt like I’m getting cramping a little bit. It’s normal. I was sweating a lot.”
While, her fatigue was clear for all to see, Halep was not using it as an excuse, admitting Bencic, who has now beaten her in two of their three matches, was the deserved winner.
“Yeah, she played well. She played very well. In the end, she was a little bit stronger,” the Romanian said.
Having lost in the Qatar final last weekend and failed to make the last-four in Dubai you might think Halep would be disappointed with her Middle East stint. She was, however, far from glum and revealed she is looking forward to landing more titles to add to her collection during the rest of the year.

Cheerio from Halep after her defeat to the Swiss. (AFP) 


“I think were three good weeks. Tough weeks. A lot of tension, a lot of pressure. Also the Fed Cup,” she said.
“I take only positive things. I had great matches. My level is good. Physically also I’m good. But day by day I had to play, so is not easy.
“I’m confident for the next tournaments.”