It was another action-packed program in the Saudi Professional League with goals galore. Below are five things we learned from the fifth round of the 2021-22 season.
1. Moussa Marega and Bafetimbi Gomis look dangerous
The two strikers scored all Al-Hilal’s goals in their 3-2 win over Al-Ettifaq amid signs that the champions are starting to get into their domestic groove. There is more to it than that, however, as the pair are starting to link up well together.
In the league so far this season, the Riyadh giants have developed a habit of leaving it late, but not this time. In the 17th minute, Marega slipped Gomis through and the Frenchman’s shot came back off the post, but soon after Marega made no mistake from a similar position. Then it was the turn of Gomis, who added two more in the second half. If one doesn’t get you, the other will.
This week, instead of Al-Hilal in search of late goals, they were left hanging on as Al-Ettifaq scored twice against the tiring hosts. As coach Leonardo Jardim said, it was a wake-up call and a reminder that even with such striking talent, if you take your foot off the pedal in this league you run the risk of being punished.
2. Mano Menezes is on the brink
Fresh after reaching the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday, Al-Nassr were brought back down to earth with a bump, losing 3-1 at home to Al-Ittihad in this week’s big game.
It means that the pressure is well and truly back on coach Mano Menezes after a second league defeat this season, and the Brazilian cut a forlorn figure as he left the Marsool Park pitch.
He will point to the missed penalty by Abderrazzak Hamdallah, which would have brought back the scoreline to 2-2, as well as the chances missed by his team, but the former Brazil boss will know why his team lost. The problems were at the back. Three times the Tigers, roared on by their traveling supporters, cut through the Al-Nassr backline with relative ease.
If Menezes is still in a job next Thursday, the home game against Al-Batin is simply a must-win.
3. Al-Ahli coach under pressure after nightmare start
Al-Ahli’s 1-1 draw with Al-Fateh is not, on the face of it, a terrible result against a team going well, but for the Jeddah giants it was in reality a poor result. In fact, the fifth draw in five matches so far this season marks the second-worst start in the club’s history.
The team started brightly and took the lead, but have struggled with concentration in discipline in recent games and the same happened again just five minutes later. There were six white-shirted defenders in the area when Sofiane Bendebka’s shot bounced back off the bar and was headed in by Firas Al-Buraikan, but nobody was alert enough to either danger.
With expectations high going into the season, it is no surprise that there is pressure on coach Besnik Hasi. The former Anderlecht, Legia Warsaw and Olympiacos boss, now without the departed Paulinho, has to find solutions, and quickly. Al-Ahli have looked decent so far but obviously there is something missing, and if Hasi doesn’t find it soon he will be looking for a new job.
4. Al-Ittihad looking like title challengers
The game at Al-Nassr was always going to be a test of Al-Ittihad’s title credentials, and the 3-1 win meant they passed with flying colors. With Igor Coronado oozing class in attack and Abdulrahman Al-Obod having an excellent game on the left, the Tigers always carried a goal threat, especially on the counter.
After the opening-day defeat, there have been four successive wins with 14 goals scored and just three conceded in that time. Al-Ittihad are very much the form team at the moment and with no Asian commitments until next year, are looking to get plenty of points on the board to put the pressure on Al-Hilal, who are going to be desperate to win the Champions League with the quarterfinals and the semifinals both taking place within a few days of each other next month. Al-Ittihad will be hoping Al-Hilal reach the final and will be looking forward to their next game against the struggling Al-Taawoun.
5. We may have seen the game of the season…
Or at least the half of the season. Al-Taawoun have had huge problems this season in throwing away substantial leads, and did so to amazing effect at home to Al-Raed to lose 5-3.
Al-Taawoun scored three goals between the 52nd and 57th minute to come back from a goal down to lead 3-1 and, surely, even this team was not going to throw this lead away. The visitors, who have had a great start to the season, had other ideas, however, and soon scored three goals in seven minutes to make it 4-3. There was still time to add a fifth.
It was a roller-coaster second-half full of entertainment and twists and turns. Talking of roller-coasters, it left Al-Taawoun languishing at the bottom and put Al-Raed, for a day at least, at the top.