Al-Shabab top, Hamdallah returns: 5 things we learned from third round of ROSHN Saudi League

Al-Shabab top, Hamdallah returns: 5 things we learned from third round of ROSHN Saudi League
Egyptian star Ahmed Hegazi celebrates scoring Al-Ittihad's winner against Al-Raed. (AN Photo: Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 11 September 2022

Al-Shabab top, Hamdallah returns: 5 things we learned from third round of ROSHN Saudi League

Al-Shabab top, Hamdallah returns: 5 things we learned from third round of ROSHN Saudi League
  • Champions Al-Hilal in second as they match leaders’ tally of 9 points

The third round of the ROSHN Saudi League is now over with Al-Shabab continuing to top the table, and Al-Hilal keeping pace.

Here are five things that we learned from the latest action.

1. Al-Shabab keep roaring

Al-Shabab thrashed Al-Tai 4-0 and continue to make the running this season. Their start to the season has been emphatic, with a 3-0 victory and then two 4-0 wins. It literally could not have gone any better for the leaders. Well perhaps the only way it could have improved had the opponents been Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad instead of Al-Batin, Abha and Al-Tai.

The opening goal was a thing of beauty. Al-Shabab worked hard to win back the ball high up the pitch before Cristian Guanca fired home a rocket. Then there were two penalties given to the leaders and Al-Tai were never going to come back from that.

What has been noticeable is that the goals have been spread around the team and they are not reliant on a star striker, yet, for goals. The likes of Aaron Boupendza and Santi Mina have adapted to Saudi Arabian football very quickly indeed. New coach Vicente Moreno is enjoying himself too and there is self-belief coursing through the team.

The next three games are winnable ahead of the big clash with Al-Hilal. If Al-Shabab can keep improving, by the time they meet their Riyadh rivals they really could be flying.

2. Hamdallah returns and the goals will surely follow

Perhaps the biggest story of the week was not Al-Ittihad defeating Al-Raed 1-0 on Friday but the lifting of Abderrazak Hamdallah’s suspension. The Moroccan was supposed to be on the sidelines until December but, in the end, only missed the first two matches of the season. Given Ittihad’s 0-0 draw the previous week, it was clear that the team needed a little bit more penetration.

Hamdallah did seem to lack a little sharpness. The two-time SPL Golden Boot winner got in the right places at the right time but the ball just would not bounce for him or the pass never quite arrived, though it was clear that he was desperate to get on the scoresheet.

In the end, the headlines went to Ahmed Hegazi. The Egyptian central defender has impressed at the back, as have the entire defense which has still to be breached this season, and grabbed the only goal of this game after 66 minutes with a fine diving header from close range as Al-Raed momentarily switched off. It means seven points from the first three games for the Jeddah giants.

Al-Ittihad have yet to really get going so far this season but, if nothing else, they are going to be hard to beat especially when their star striker starts scoring.

3. Al-Najei special gets Al-Nassr back to winning ways

Al-Nassr are the only one of the big four to lose a game this season but bounced back to defeat Damac 2-1 on Saturday. There is more to the story than that, however, as this tightly fought clash was lit up by a top-class solo goal from Sami Al-Najei.

Eight minutes before the break, the midfielder picked up possession just inside the Damac half, beat Ibrahim Al-Nakhli twice and then slotted the ball home from a tight angle. Talisca extending the lead with a thunderous header on the hour was another welcome sight for Al-Nassr fans.

Damac, fifth last season and winners of the first two games, made chances of their own but thanks to good goalkeeping from David Ospina, an offside flag and the final ball lacking in quality at times, were not able to earn a point, though they did pull a goal back with 10 minutes remaining to make it very interesting indeed. Both teams can take heart from the game.

4. Promoted teams open their accounts but it could be a long season

The three promoted teams collected zero points from the first two rounds of league action but that all changed in the third round

Okay, that was inevitable as two of them played each other. Al-Khaleej and Al-Adalah played out a goalless draw but it was Al-Wehda who became the first of the new boys to win a game. The 1-0 victory over Abha at home has lifted the club up to 11th in the table.

There are still worries, however. The three have scored just two goals between them. It is not just about the new strikers but there also needs to be more creativity in the final third. These are still early days this season and it does take time to adapt but we have seen around the world that if newly promoted teams start badly then there is likely to be a season-long struggle ahead.

It may get worse before it gets better as the opponents to come are Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad and Al-Shabab, but such is life in the big leagues.

5. Al-Hilal march on

The champions were in action last weekend, defeating Al-Fateh 1-0 away from home. This was so they could play in the Lusail Super Cup on Friday against Zamalek of Egypt, a game they won in a penalty shootout.

So far this season, Al-Hilal have won all four games with the three victories in the league coming with clean sheets. There is such strength in depth in Riyadh that many had forgotten the presence of Luciano Vietto, the Argentine who was loaned out to Al-Shabab earlier this year.

With the club unable to sign new players in the summer, the former Atletico Madrid and Sporting Lisbon star was recalled and against Al-Fateh, his first start of the season, the 28-year-old looked like he had a point to prove and scored the only goal of a hard-fought game.

That’s the thing with Al-Hilal. You can stop Odion Ighalo, Moussa Marega, Salem Al-Dawsari and any of their talented stars but there is always another. Nine points from three games and they haven’t even got going yet. Al-Shabab are banging in the goals but Al-Hilal are just going about their business quietly and ruthlessly.