RIYADH: When the current Saudi Pro League (SPL) campaign kicked off on Aug. 22 last year with Al-Nassr taking on newly promoted Damac, not many would have predicted that 365 days later the season would still have four rounds left in store.
Round 27 kicks off on Monday evening in Dammam as Al-Ettifaq take on in-form Al-Raed at the Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium. The previous round witnessed the gap at the top of the table between Al-Hilal and Riyadh neighbors Al-Nassr decrease from nine to six points following Al-Ahli’s 2-1 win over the league leaders. Will we witness another twist in the title race? Who is in the lead for the Golden Glove award? These are some of the questions we will be shining a light on in this week’s five things to know ahead of the SPL’s round 27.
1. The season’s 600-goal mark is set to be broken this round
The 19/20 campaign got off the mark when Al-Nassr’s Brazilian playmaker Giuliano scored in his team’s 2-1 victory over Damac. Since that day one year ago, a further 591 goals hit the back of the net this season. An average of 2.8 goals were scored in each of the 208 encounters so far. 51.7 percent (306) of them came from players’ right-feet. Meanwhile, 151 left-footed strikes landed at the back of the net, representing 25 percent of all goals. Headers led to 118 goals and the remaining 12 came from other body parts, such as the chest, shoulder or thigh. Al-Hilal lead with the strongest attacking force, with 63 goals scored so far, meanwhile Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli follow with 48 and 44 goals, respectively.
2. Fierce head-to-head encounters at the bottom of the table
The fight for survival was reignited during the last round as Al-Ittihad, Al-Fateh, Damac and Al-Fayha all recorded draws, meanwhile Al-Hazm earned a much-needed three points against Abha, while Al-Adalah surrendered to a 4-2 loss against Al-Wehda. Round 27 will witness head-to-head encounters between some of the teams battling for survival as Al-Ittihad (12th) take on Al-Fayha (11th) at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium tonight, and Al-Hazm (13th) host Al-Fateh (14th) at Al-Hazm Club Stadium 90 minutes beforehand. Both matches are not to be missed and will undoubtedly play a big part in the ever-changing positions at the bottom of the SPL table.
3. Will Brad Jones cement his position at the top of the clean sheet standings?
The most sought-after award for any goalkeeper is the Golden Glove, and one man has led since the start of the season – Al-Nassr’s Brad Jones. The 38-year-old Australian veteran sits comfortably at the top position with 12 clean sheets to his name in his last 26 games, all the while conceding the least amount of goals (21) in the competition. He has been followed closely all season by Tunisian international Farouk Bin Mustapha (Al Shabab), the reigning winner of the award, with 10 clean sheets and 33 goals conceded so far. Saudi duo Al-Maiouf (Al-Hilal) and Mustapha Malaika (Al-Faisaly), alongside Algeria’s Mustapha Zeghba (Damac) follow closely with eight clean sheets to their names.
4. Al-Hilal looking to cement their lead at the top of the table
Al-Ahli’s 2-1 victory over Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr’s convincing 4-1 win over Al-Taawoun signaled a change at the top of the table, much to the delight of the Al-Nassr faithful. The gap between the two Riyadh giants stood at nine points since manager Razvan Lucescu’s 4-1 victory in the Riyadh derby on Aug. 5. However, following the results of the last round, a mere six points separate both teams, meaning the league’s champion may not be decided until the last kick of the ball on Sept. 9
Al-Hilal face in-form Al Faisaly tomorrow evening at the King Saud University Stadium, meanwhile Al-Nassr welcome Al-Adalah to the King Fahd International Stadium. Will we see a further shift in the title race, or will Al-Hilal protect their existing six-point lead?
5. Al-Raed remain the only unbeaten team since the restart
The 144-day break did not affect the Buradya-based team as they continued their outstanding run of form since the start of the year. They currently sit at sixth with just one point separating them from the Champions League qualification spots. So far, Besnik Hasi’s men recorded a convincing 3-0 victory over Damac, a 0-0 draw against Al-Wehda, a 3-1 win over Al-Hazm and a thrilling 2-1 victory over Riyadh-based Al-Shabab. Al-Raed remain the only team yet to record a loss since the restart in the remaining four rounds and will look to protect their record as they visit Dammam to face Al-Ettifaq at 6:45 p.m. tonight.