Two down and lots to go. The second round of matches of the 2021-22 Saudi Pro League season was a chance for clubs to bounce back from a disappointing opener, or an opportunity to really make fans excited.
Here are five things that we learned from all the action on the second matchday.
1. Al-Hilal looking ominous
Al-Hilal is looking dangerous, precisely because it is not looking that dangerous but is still top of the table with two wins out of two. The champs have not found their rhythm yet this season but fans won’t care too much if the victories keep coming.
A defensive mix-up let in Al-Taawoun to take the lead and the visitors were on course for a famous victory with 10 minutes left, but then twice left opponents unmarked in the area to get on the end of crosses from Yasser Al-Shahrani.
First Moussa Marega headed home in fine style to open his account for the club and then Jang Hyun-soo, who doesn’t get on the scoresheet often, side-footed coolly into the bottom corner to give Leonardo Jardmin’s men a second successive last-minute win. The Portuguese boss won’t mind the timing and won’t mind that it was harsh on Al-Taawoun. Al-Hilal are in a familiar position and have not yet started firing on all cylinders.
2. Al-Ettifaq’s fightback one for the ages
It was a game that had everything and was a fantastic, entertaining advert for Saudi Arabian football. With 13 minutes remaining on Saturday, Al-Shabab was 3-0 up against Al-Ettifaq and preparing for its first three-point haul of the season. With Odion Ighalo looking sharp with two goals, last season’s runner-up didn’t even need to rue the chances its forward had missed, but then it all changed.
Two goals in the space of three minutes had the visitors right back in the game and then there was nothing that Al-Shabab could do about the third. A defensive clearance from close range hit the knee of Ibrahim Mahnashi and went in. The young midfielder knew little about it but it won what should become a famous point. Al-Taawoun let a 3-1 lead slip late in the opening game at Al-Hazm, but this was something else.
3. Bad and good news for Al-Ahli
After the opening-day draw, Al-Ahli were looking to pick up a win at Al-Hazem but endured a disastrous first half on Thursday night. Star striker Omar Al-Somah was injured after just a few minutes and was subbed out with a muscular injury. It remains to be seen how long he is out for. To make matters worse, the home team scored twice in quick succession before the break.
Al-Ahli were heading for defeat. More than most coaches, new coach Besnik Hasi needed a good start to the season to show that he is the man to return the Jeddah giants to the top of the table. That is why two goals in the last 15 minutes were very welcome.
It showed that there is fight in the team and it was especially encouraging to see two big signings getting on the scoresheet. Ezgjan Alioski, recently arrived from Leeds United, scored from the spot. Then, with seven minutes remaining, Paulinho, also making his debut, grabbed the point, poking the ball home at the far post. It wasn’t the most spectacular goal in his career but he celebrated with genuine gusto and delight.
4. Even Talisca magic not enough for predictable Al-Nassr
You won’t see a better free-kick anywhere in the world this week than the 30-yarder that Talisca curled perfectly into the top corner of Faisaly’s goal after just eight minutes. It was a stunning goal and more evidence that Al-Nassr have signed a very talented player.
Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for the Riyadh team. The Brazilian gave away a penalty at the end of the first half, though the foul may well have come just outside the area. It was converted by Julio Tavares. The Cape Verde striker also headed home the winner early in the second half.
Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes pointed the finger at the referee although his team was guilty of giving the ball away too easily, especially in midfield, and too often launched the ball long. Talisca’s goal was worthy of winning any game but Al-Nassr will have to be more creative in possession.
5. Settled Al-Faisaly suggesting a higher finish
If Al-Faisaly had not won the King’s Cup in May then last season would have been seen as a major disappointment as the team finished just one point above the relegation zone.
The start to this season has been encouraging with four points taken off two Saudi Arabian titans, Al-Ahli and Al-Nassr. Al-Faisaly may have lost coach Pericles Chamusca in the summer and replaced him with Italian tactician Paolo Tramezzani, but there is a sense of stability in the team. Most of the foreign players have been there for at least a season and this makes a big difference. With Junior Tavares already among the goals once again, if the defense can stay solid, then a better season is in store and the signs so far are good.