Superstar summer additions Miralem Pjanic and Andriy Yarmolenko opened their ADNOC Pro League accounts, while four-goal Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba reinforced his elite striking credentials in an electric Matchweek 2.
All eyes were on runners-up Sharjah and their aforementioned fresh recruit from Barcelona, who did not disappoint in a 3-0 win over Baniyas.
Laba and Yarmolenko proved pivotal in the division’s widest victory margin since March 2018, meanwhile, helping champions Al Ain dismantle 10-man Al Dhafra 7-0.
Ali Mabkhout notched a 15th top-fight hat-trick — and missed a penalty — in Al Jazira’s eventful 4-2 victory at Khor Fakkan. Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club’s youngsters helped them fight back to prevail 2-1 at Dibba Al Fujairah, and Leandro Spadacio’s sharp finish saw dark horses Al-Ittihad Kalba stun Carlos Carvalhal’s Al Wahda 1-0.
Gilberto converted either side of the interval in Al Wasl’s 2-1 win at promoted Al Bataeh, and former Bayern Munich midfielder Thorsten Fink opened his Al Nasr account with a 2-0 victory against Ajman.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the weekend action:
Player of the Week: Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba (Al Ain)
A reminder about football’s Magpie syndrome was emphatically delivered this weekend at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
Understandable excitement has surrounded Pjanic, teammate Paco Alcacer and Ukraine maestro Yarmolenko. This could magnify further ahead of the transfer deadline on Oct. 4, with weekend gossip centring on ex-Brazil and Chelsea star Oscar’s potential hire by Sharjah.
Laba’s quartet of strikes in the Garden City, however, came as a counterpunch to this unremitting focus on the new.
The Togo striker signed as an unheralded free transfer from Morocco’s RS Berhane in July 2019. His achievements since have defied expectation and confirmed a big name is no sole guarantor of success in Middle East football.
Court intrigue did, though, follow muted celebrations.
The 30-year-old’s third “super hat-trick” in the ADNOC Pro League moved him onto 62 goals in 65 run-outs. It also proved last season’s leading marksman and Golden Ball winner — for best foreigner — has not been impacted by last week’s late missed penalty in the opening 1-1 stalemate at Ajman.
Pjanic, Alcacer and Yarmolenko, for all their prestige, still have plenty to do if they are to match Laba’s seismic impact.
Goal of the Week: Miralem Pjanic (Sharjah)
A spot-kick loaded with symbolism provided this matchweek’s enduring legacy.
Goals of superior quality were conjured across the UAE’s stadia than Pjanic’s penalty: Kalba’s spritely breakaway at Al Wahda, stunning interplay between Ahmed Barman, Yarmolenko and Soufiane Rahimi for Laba’s third plus Yuri Cesar’s rocket at Dibba for Shabab Al-Ahli.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina international’s effort against Baniyas from 12 yards was more prosaic. Yet it showcased a searing direction of travel by the 2018-19 title winners, who appear determined to attain domestic domination and AFC Champions League glory.
Pjanic fired past the fingertips of Fahad Al-Dhanhani approximately 72 hours after his free transfer from Barca garnered global attention. This was the 32-year-old’s first club goal since 2019.
Sharjah put on a show in the opening stanza of the game, and Pjanic was central to a dominant display where UAE prospect Majed Rashid and Brazilian youngster Luanzinho looked unstoppable.
The elder statesman, meanwhile, registered a pass accuracy of 91 percent and prevailed in four duels.
Foundations are being built for future glory.
Coach of the Week: Leonardo Jardim (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)
Jardim looked an unlikely contender for this accolade after a pained first hour of Friday’s debut contest at Dibba’s 100 million dirham ($27.2 million) new home.
Montenegro defensive midfielder Aleksandar Scekic’s imposing header on the stroke of half-time was just reward for Zoran Popovic’s counter-punching troops, who had got the best of their visitors’ galaxy of stars.
Ample doubts were, at that point, being cast on the ex-Monaco and Al Hilal tactician, amplified by Shabab Al-Ahli’s preceding 2-0 loss to Sharjah.
Jardim’s young substitutes’ would, however, ignite the Portuguese’s reign.
Former Flamengo youngster Cesar required 10 second-half minutes to thump home the equaliser from 30 yards. A deft no-look pass for fellow rookie Cheickna Doumbia sealed a resolute victory late on.
Jardim can be criticized for a conservative starting side, but his interventions were excellent and effective. This was crisis management at its best.
Amoory’s flickers of life are fuel for football romantics
Certain sights will turn even the most seasoned ADNOC Pro League followers misty-eyed.
An Omar Abdulrahman in full flow will do just that.
Al Wasl’s faithful were treated to the 30-year-old turning back the clock in Friday’s 2-1 triumph at Bataeh. Quick feet and a sharp brain was key, from centre midfield in Juan Antonio Pizzi’s exuberant 4-3-3 formation, to Gilberto’s clincher.
In this mood, there is no one like him.
UAE football romantics — and, especially, national team coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena — pine for his permanent return to form. But will we actually witness a late-career resurgence?
Al-Wasl are Amoory’s fourth club since a pained exit from Al Ain in 2018. Serious injury and treatment off the pitch, rather than magical exploits on it, have defined the lost years since.
Stellar cameos throughout Shabab Al-Ahli’s AFC Champions League group stage exploits this April stand as glorious exceptions to the dispiriting norm.
But suitable foils have been discovered at Zabeel Stadium in Brazilian striker Gilberto, fit-again UAE colleague Fabio De Lima, bountiful talent Ali Saleh and ex-Argentina Under-20 wide man Tomas Chancalay.
An acid test of Amoory’s comeback will be the Bur Dubai derby on Oct 1.