Two down, 28 to go. Arab News takes a look at five things learned from the second round of action this season in the ROSHN Saudi League.
1. Sweet revenge for Al-Hilal
May’s loss to Al-Feiha in the final of the King’s Cup prevented Al-Hilal from completing a historic treble last season and while there was the Asian and domestic title to celebrate, it was a loss that still rankled. A 2-0 win on Thursday helped give some measure of revenge for the champions.
It was a deserved victory as the Riyadh giants had much more possession and created many more chances. They have yet to really get going this season but there is enough individual talent to make a difference at key moments.
Al-Feiha are not an easy nut to crack and enjoy frustrating Al-Hilal. Once again, goalkeeper Vladamir Stojkovic was in fine form but the Serbian stopper was finally beaten midway through the second half.
Just like in the opening game against Al-Khaleej, the two goals came from Moussa Marega and Odion Ighalo and the two showed their striking instincts once more with simple finishes. It was notable that Al-Hilal stayed patient, kept playing football in the belief that the goals would come. It was not a vintage performance but it was a good win and another clean sheet.
2. No Banega, no problem for Al-Shabab
Al-Shabab defeated Abha 4-0 on Thursday. Two games on, two wins, seven goals scored and none conceded, it has been a perfect start for the team that finished fourth last season. What has been even more impressive is that the wins have come without the suspended Ever Banega. The Argentine is the team’s creative fulcrum but so far they are more than managing without him.
New coach Vicente Moreno had the team working hard off the ball to deny their opponents time or space and the Spaniard was rewarded with a three-goal lead at the break. Abha just could not hurt the visitors, who were clinical for the second week running.
When Banega returns, Al-Shabab should be able to move to the next level and they will need to as there are much tougher tests ahead. So far, however, the Riyadh club has had a perfect start and Moreno looks to have taken to Saudi Arabian football very nicely indeed.
3. Al-Nassr ignore warning signs
It was all looking so good for Al-Nassr following a strong summer of signings, but they lost 1-0 to Al-Taawoun, a team that was in a relegation fight last season. And so the first of the top four from the previous campaign have tasted defeat.
The nine-time champions had plenty of possession and made the most of the running in the game but failed to create enough clear chances against a committed opponent that got bodies behind the ball and squeezed the space.
As time passed, Al-Taawoun grew in confidence and had already warned Al-Nassr what was coming. In the 95th minute, Leandre Tawamba headed home a goal that was ruled out for a foul. Al-Taawoun fans have a right to feel hard done by over that harsh decision as the Cameroonian didn’t seem to do much wrong. Then, with over 100 minutes on the clock, Al-Nassr’s defense was casual in possession and that was that. Al-Nassr lacked a little penetration and unpredictability in the final third, showing just how much the team needs Talisca back as soon as possible.
4. Frustration for Al-Ittihad
The Jeddah club were frustrated by a goalless draw against an improving Ettifaq side in a match they should have won. It was a tough 90 minutes for the home fans who were in fine voice and really got behind their team. Al-Ittihad dominated proceedings but just could not get the goal against a determined opponent.
It doesn’t need to be said that the Tigers miss Abderrazak Hamdallah, who is suspended until December, but there is more than enough attacking talent in the team. At times last season, Igor Coronado and Romarinho were too much for opponents to handle.
They have yet to click this time. There is a lot of frustration after the result but there are positives. The defense looked very solid and Al-Ittihad were well-organized and rarely gave the men from Dammam a chance. Ettifaq will frustrate more opponents this season and four points from the first two games is not something to worry about at this stage.
5. Plenty of talking points so far
After two rounds of league action, there has been just one draw, which came in the final clash of the second lot of games: the goalless stalemate between Al-Ittihad and Ettifaq. That means all 15 of the other fixtures have seen one winner. Yet in all but in only three of the games, both teams have scored.
So far this season, three-quarters of the games have ended in a win for one team with the loser not getting on the scoresheet. It remains to be seen how long this lasts but one suspects these clean sheets won’t keep up. In contrast, in 58 English Premier League games so far this season, there have been just 20 wins without conceding.
And there is another interesting stat. The three promoted teams have yet to collect a point in a total of six games. In fact, Al-Khaleej, Al-Wehda and Al-Adalah have only managed one goal between them. It is still early days and they have faced the toughest opposition.The six clashes have come against the teams that finished first, second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh last season. If there are no points in the next week or two however, fans, coaches and presidents will start to worry.