FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Pulsating Premier League and boring Bundesliga

Mohamed Salah's Liverpool made it four wins from four at the weekend when they beat Leicester, and remain at the top of the Premier League table with Manchester City and Chelsea. (AFP)
Updated 04 September 2018

FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Pulsating Premier League and boring Bundesliga

LONDON: After an action-packed weekend of football across Europe, here is what we learned from the top divisions of the football-mad continent.

THREE WAY BATTLE FOR THE PREMIER LEAGUE?
With all due respect to Watford, whose blistering start to this season has taken even the most ardent of their fans by surprise, it is highly unlikely the Hornets will be lifting the Premier League trophy come May next year. But three clubs that might be — Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool — showed again this weekend why they are most people’s favorites to be battling it out all year at the summit. Aside from an Allison blunder, the Reds once again looked extremely solid in defense during their comfortable victory at Leicester. And while City labored to three points at Newcastle, it was the sort of gritty performance they will need from time to time in this league. Chelsea, meanwhile, under Maurizio Sarri have gone under the radar in the opening weeks, but showed themselves to be a classy outfit with the Italian at the helm in a win against Bournemouth. Expect these three to take the top spots at the end of the season.


HAND BAYERN MUNICH THE TROPHY NOW...
It was another depressing display of monotony and predictability in the Bundesliga, as the six-in-a-row champions Bayern comfortably dispatched VfB Stuttgart away from home. Even after two games, it looks highly unlikely anyone will stop the Bavarian juggernauts from claiming a seventh straight title. To make matters worse, the only team truly capable of challenging them — Borussia Dortmund — slipped up to draw with Hannover. Two dropped points when Bayern will probably not drop more than 10 throughout the season means Dortmund are playing catch-up after just two games. What can be done to break Munich’s stranglehold? Suggestions of a complete revamp of the league, to allowing foreign ownership of clubs, to introducing an American style “draft system” have all been proffered. Whatever happens in the future, it will not stop Niko Kovac’s charges from storming the league once again.


RETURN TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS FOR SERIE A?

Bear with us on this one. Yes, Juventus have walked the Italian league for years now, but the other big guns of Italian football — the Milan duo, the Rome pair, Napoli — have usually been nipping at their heels. This year, the so-called “predictable” Serie A has been anything but. Inter and Lazio have had a shocking start to the season while Napoli were beaten this weekend by Sampdoria. Perhaps the biggest story in European football, however, is the unbeaten start by Sassuolo. After their famous opening day win over Luciano Spalletti’s Inter, the minnows from Modena sit second in the table behind the mighty Juve. It has been a long time since smaller clubs have made an impact in Italy’s top flight. And even if they do fade away, seeing a smaller provincial club mixing it up with the big boys reminds us of a better time in Serie A. Long may it continue.


THE RETURN OF THE “ETERNAL STRUGGLE” IN SPAIN

While football fans across the world hailed Diego Simeone and his Atletico Madrid mavericks for breaking the Real-Barca La Liga party back in 2014, millions of people tune in to watch the Spanish league because of the hard-fought, down-to-the-wire battle at the top of La Liga between bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. Which is exactly why, after last season’s damp squib when Real finished third and 17 points behind Barca, this season is already shaping up to be one of the best. Can a Barcelona side led by the mercurial, evergreen Lionel Messi claim an eighth title since 2009? Or will a Real Madrid side without Cristiano Ronaldo wrest back the Spanish crown from Barca’s grasp? Normal service resumed, and we cannot wait.


Top Saudi duo leads staggering entry for Rally Qassim 2019

Updated 15 October 2019

Top Saudi duo leads staggering entry for Rally Qassim 2019

  • Several drivers are keen to test their skills ahead of Dakar Rally next year

BURAIDAH: A staggering entry of 63 cars, 1 truck, 18 motorcycles and 8 quads will tackle this weekend’s Rally Qassim 2019, the second round of the exciting new Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship.

There is strength in depth throughout the entire car field and the three T1, T2 and T3 categories, with Saudi Arabia’s leading cross-country star Yazeed Al-Rajhi topping the entry after finishing fifth overall at last week’s Rally of Morocco.

Fellow Saudi Yasir Seaidan wheels out his MINI All4 Racing, as the two leading Saudi stars go head-to-head across home terrain. Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi is also on hand to challenge for overall honors in a Peugeot 3008 DXR.

There is a strong Saudi influence in the upper reaches of the top 10 with the likes of Essa Al-Dossari, Ahmed Al-Shegawi and Mutair Al-Shammeri, but there is an international flavor to the entry as well, with several drivers keen to test before the Dakar Rally crosses the country for the first time in January 2020.

Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal wheels out his Ford F-150 Evo, Egyptian Yara Shalaby has entered a Nissan and there are entries for Kuwait’s Mohammed Al-Dhafiri and Emirati Abdullah Al-Heraiz.

Saleh Al-Saif tops a strong lineup in the T3 category at the helm of his Can-Am Maverick X3 and faces 12 Saudi rivals – three in Yamahas, one in a Polaris and eight in Can-Ams.

Ibrahim Al-Muhanna won the Hail International Rally back in 2014 with Emirati navigator Ali Hassan Obaid and he drives the sole T4 Mercedes truck, with Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abo Theeb alongside.

 Using the event as a perfect opportunity to shake down his KTM 450 Rally after the recent Jordan Baja win is the Emirati racer Mohammed Al-Balooshi. 

He leads  an 18-strong motorcycle field that includes other riders from the host country, New Zealand and the UK.

Philip Wilson represents New Zealand, Anthony King is the sole UK entrant, while Emirati Abdullah bin Dakhan rides a Yamaha against a field that includes 14 Saudi riders.

Multiple Hail International Rally winner Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi tops the quad category on his Yamaha. 

The Saudi has won the Kingdom’s premier off-road rally’s quad section for the last six successive seasons — three times on a Kawasaki and three times on a Yamaha - but faces some of his strongest ever competition in Buraidah.

He lines up against the likes of the experienced Sultan Al-Masoud, Abdulsalam Hamam and Yousef Al-Namasi.

The event is  organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, under the chairmanship of   Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, and takes place from Thursday  to Saturday.

It is the second of five rounds of the Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship with three further rallies still to run this year on Nov.  4-9, Nov. 27-30 and Dec. 12-14 . 

Action at Rally Qassim 2019 gets underway with a short super special stage of 3.55km from 16:10hrs at Wahtan in Buraidah on Thursday afternoon. There will be 347.80km timed against the clock in a compact route of 548.80km.

The event runs with the support of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, the General Sports Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group and Al-Arabia.