Al Hilal facing history as well as Urawa in Asian final

Al Hilal’s Andre Carrillo is faced by Al Sadd’s Tarek Salman in the semifinal of the Asian Champions League. (AFP)
Updated 03 February 2020

Al Hilal facing history as well as Urawa in Asian final

Al Hilal is not just facing Japan’s Urawa Reds in the first leg of Asian Champions League final on Saturday in Riyadh. The Saudi Arabian club also has to overcome the dominance of teams from east Asia.
Teams from South Korea, China, Japan and Australia have dominated the continental tournament since 2005, winning every title but one. West Asia — the tournament is split into east and west geographic zones until the final — only has the 2011 triumph of Qatar’s Al Sadd to celebrate.
Other top West Asian nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and United Arab Emirates have all sent their best to contest the final yet all have failed to win the tournament that was established in 2003.
In addition to the regional failure, the Riyadh powerhouse has fallen in two finals in the past five years: losing 1-0 over two legs to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014 and then, in 2017, to Saturday’s opponent Urawa 2-1 on aggregate.
It could be a case of third-time lucky for Al Hilal especially as it has the tournament’s top scorer in its ranks. Bafetimbi Gomis has already scored 10 goals.
“I know that we have been unlucky in the Asian Champions League final on two previous occasions but we are confident that we can win this time,” said Gomis, a former French international who signed for the club for a reported transfer fee of around $16 million in August 2018.
Al Hilal’s failure to win the home leg cost the team in 2014 and 2017 and the ex-Lyon and Swansea City striker knows that taking an advantage to Japan for the return match on Nov. 24 is vital.
 “We have to play to our best from the start of the first game and look to get on top,” Gomis said. “The game will not be decided here in our home stadium and will go all the way to the final whistle but we want to get a good start.”
Al Hilal starts as favorite despite Urawa’s 2017 success. The Japanese team has been struggling at home for most of the season.
While the two-time continental champion has been progressing toward another Asian final, there have been relegation worries in the J League.
Urawa sits just five points clear of the relegation zone after playing two games more than its rivals.
The Reds will put domestic worries aside and have a star striker of their own to shoot Urawa to a record third Champions League title.
“Of course I want to become a history-maker,” said forward Shinzo Koroki, who has scored eight goals on the road to the final. “This is the top club competition and the champions will go to the FIFA Club World Cup. It is a big honor for any team.”

Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

Updated 59 min 35 sec ago

Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

LONDON: Jose Mourinho had almost reached the end of his lament about the current situation facing his weary Tottenham players when he turned his attention to their next Premier League game against a team he knows so well.

“The Chelsea players were watching this game on TV,” Mourinho said after Tottenham’s 1-0 home loss to Leipzig in the Champions League, “with nice sparkling water, with lemons and biscuits, enjoying the game.”

If only the outlook at Chelsea were so rosy.

Indeed, recent results suggest the predicament of Mourinho’s old club is more concerning than Tottenham’s.

Chelsea, somehow, find themselves still holding onto fourth place in the league heading into Saturday’s London derby against their nearest rivals in the race for Champions League qualification. That’s despite collecting only 15 points from its last 14 games, a dire run stretching back to the end of November.

At that time, Chelsea were on a six-match winning streak — its best since the team’s title-winning season of 2016-17 — and wasn’t too far behind Liverpool, the current runaway leader. Youngsters like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori were regular starters, given their opportunity by an up-and-coming manager in Frank Lampard who is eager to promote youth. US winger Christian Pulisic was in his best form since his move from
Borussia Dortmund.

Fast forward three months and injuries are starting to bite, the kids are starting to feel the pace in a grueling season, and Lampard — a bright, eloquent and engaging manager — has been grumbling about the club’s failure to add numbers to the squad in January and his players’
wastefulness in front of goal.

“I must sound like a broken record,” a clearly frustrated Lampard said after seeing Chelsea get picked off in a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United on Monday.

Lampard’s main gripe is the team’s inability to finish off chances, which has become more pronounced with Abraham — a scorer of 13 league goals this season — currently out injured.

With Callum Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic also missing against United, Lampard played a front three of Willian, Michy Batshuayi and Pedro Rodriguez — a throwback to a few years ago and an era Chelsea fans probably thought they’d seen the back of.

Key midfielder N’Golo Kante joined Abraham on the injury list after going off early against United, while Lampard is still playing 38-year-old Willy Caballero in goal after dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga — signed in 2018 as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.

It’s an uncertain period for Lampard, who is still a rookie in managerial terms, and Chelsea’s recent slump has seen as many as seven teams move within seven points or closer in the standings.

In that three-month period, Tottenham have won 29 points — a haul second only to Liverpool. That coincided exactly with Mourinho taking over as manager from Mauricio Pochettino.

The issue, now, is whether Spurs can keep it up, and Mourinho clearly has his doubts. With attackers Son Heung-min and Harry Kane out potentially for the rest of the season, Mourinho likened his team to someone “going to fight with a gun without bullets.”

Amid a hectic schedule that has seen his team play two FA Cup replays since the turn of the year, Mourinho said he has been forced to start with the same group of players for matches every three of four days. Erik Lamela and Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench against Leipzig having barely trained.

“I try to manage the pieces that we had,” he said.

Throw in the fact that Tottenham has a tight turnaround after the Leipzig match — Wednesday night to Saturday lunchtime — and Mourinho will feel he has genuine cause for grievance.

Yet, he is managing to scramble together results and a win at Stamford Bridge, where he previously enjoyed two separate trophy-winning spells as coach and was once revered, would see Tottenham climb above Chelsea.

Outmanoeuvring Mourinho, his former coach, in a 2-0 win at Tottenham in December was one of the few bright spots for Lampard in recent months. 

Doing so again would give him and Chelsea some much-needed breathing space in what is suddenly a bunched chase for Champions League qualification.