Al-Hilal signal serious AFC Champions League intent with Ezequiel Cerutti signing

Argentine Ezequiel Cerutti has made the move from San Lorenzo to Riyadh giants Al-Hilal
Updated 31 January 2018

Al-Hilal signal serious AFC Champions League intent with Ezequiel Cerutti signing

LONDON: Al-Hilal have signalled their intention to have another serious crack at the AFC Champions League by signing Argentine forward Ezequiel Cerutti.
Cerutti, 26, has joined from San Lorenzo where he has scored six goals in 48 games. No fee was mentioned in the official announcement by the Saudi Arabian giants but transferMarkt.com estimate his current value as £3.5 million ($4.9 million). 
Cerutti can play as a striker but he is likely to be deployed out wide after Salem Al-Dawsari moved to Villarreal as part of the recent deal between the General Sports Authority and the Liga du Futbol that saw Saudi Arabia players loaned out to Spanish clubs. Cerutti was expected to make his debut for Al-Hilal in Tuesday night’s Saudi Professional League clash over bottom club Al-Raed. But the new signing did not take part in the 2-1 win, a result that ended a three-match winless streak and eased the pressure on under-fire coach Ramon Diaz. 
The victory means Al-Hilal are still top of the table, two points clear of Al-Ahli, but their attention will soon turn to the AFC Champions League (ACL), a competition they reached the final of last season before being agonizingly downed over two legs by Japan’s Urawa Reds.
They kick off their ACL campaign on Feb. 13 at home against Al-Ain but Diaz has plenty to ponder before then, not least which of his seven foreign players to select for the competition.
Al-Hilal have the Brazilian Carlos Eduardo, Morocco’s Achraf Bencharki, Gelmin Rivas, of Venezuela, Uruguay’s Nicolás Milesi, Oman’s Ali Al-Habsi, Syria’s Omar Khribin and now Cerutti on their books, but they are only allowed to name four foreign players, including one Asian player. 
Diaz’s job is made slightly easier by the fact that Eduardo is ruled out with a long-term injury while Khribin is certain to be named after scoring ten goals in last season’s competition. It is also hard to imagine Cerutti not being named having only just signed. However, that still leaves Bencharki, Rivas, Milesi and Al-Habsi jostling for the two remaining spots.
Al-Hilal are in Group D along with Al-Rayyan, Esteghlal and Al-Ain. 
The signing also signals the desire of the club to look to foreign stars to bolster their squad as they look to tackle title-tilts on multiple fronts.


Man City’s court triumph set to intensify race for top 4 places in Premier League

Updated 14 July 2020

Man City’s court triumph set to intensify race for top 4 places in Premier League

  • The fight for a top-five finish has reverted back to needing to be in the top four to join champion Liverpool and City, already secured in second place

LONDON: Manchester City’s success in overturning its Champions League ban on Monday has huge ramifications on the Premier League and the remaining two teams that will qualify for Europe’s top club competition.

Chelsea, Manchester United and Leicester — and maybe Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United, too — are now fighting for two qualifying spots instead of three with two weeks of the season remaining.

The fight for a top-five finish has reverted back to needing to be in the top four to join champion Liverpool and City, already secured in second place, in earning tens of millions of dollars in UEFA prize money next season.

The most concerned team is likely to be Leicester.

In the top four since September — and, in December, even looking like the most realistic title challenger to Liverpool — Leicester have imploded, collecting only two wins from their last 11 league games stretching back to the end of January.

After losing to relegation-threatened Bournemouth 4-1 on Sunday, Leicester will find themselves  in fifth place if Man United beat  Southampton on Monday.

United appears much more likely to secure a top-four finish and return to the Champions League after a season’s absence.

With four straight wins ahead of the Southampton game, United are the form team in the league and also has the most benign remaining schedule with upcoming matches against Crystal Palace and West Ham before what could be a winner-takes-all game game at Leicester on the final weekend of the season.

Making it all the more intriguing is the fact that another final-day match is between Chelsea and Wolves.

Chelsea is currently in third place, one point ahead of Leicester, but will drop into fourth if United beat  Southampton.

A victory over already-relegated Norwich on Tuesday appears pivotal for Chelsea, considering its last two games are at Liverpool — a team chasing records to cap its title-winning season — and then Wolves, who have gained a reputation for beating the top teams over the last two years.

Wolves are in sixth place, four points off the top four, so the ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport has come as a blow to their Champions League ambitions.

Indeed, Wolves’ best chance of qualifying for the competition is now to win the Europa League, which earns entry to the Champions League. The team coached by Nuno Espirito Santo has reached the last 16 of the Europa League and will play the second leg of its match against Olympiakos next month, with the score at 1-1 after the first leg.

Likewise, seventh-place Sheffield United needed City to lose its appeal at sport’s highest court to stand a realistic chance of a finish in the Champions League positions, a prospect that would have seemed fanciful for a team that was widely tipped for relegation at the start of the season.

Europa League qualification will be Sheffield United’s target now, with seventh place possibly earning that reward if Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea win the FA Cup.