UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl maintain 8-point lead over Al-Ain at top of table

Al-Wasl have an 8-point lead over Al-Ain at the top of the ADNOC Pro League. (@AlWaslSC)
Al-Wasl have an 8-point lead over Al-Ain at the top of the ADNOC Pro League. (@AlWaslSC)
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Updated 03 March 2024
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl maintain 8-point lead over Al-Ain at top of table

Al-Wasl have an 8-point lead over Al-Ain at the top of the ADNOC Pro League. (@AlWaslSC)
  • Walter Zenga’s Emirates endure another defeat, look set for drop

DUBAI: Relentless leaders Al-Wasl heaped pressure on Cosmin Olaroiu’s underperforming Sharjah, Spain icon Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club looked doomed, and Farhad Majidi’s inconsistent Ittihad Kalba-reign was brought to an ignominious end during ADNOC Pro League’s matchweek 15.

Friday’s grandstand clash in Dubai witnessed goals from Abdulrahman Saleh and outstanding UAE attacker Ali Saleh to maintain Al-Wasl’s grip on their first title since 2006-07 with a 2-0 triumph, while pushing star-studded Sharjah 13 points off the pace.

On the same evening, Tunisia playmaker Haykeul Chikhaoui’s ferocious opener sent improving Ajman on their way to a 2-0 win which moved them nine points away from danger and pushed Walter Zenga’s bottom-placed Emirates – enduring a 10-match losing streak – eight points from safety.

Fellow promoted outfit Hatta showed fight in a 5-3 reversal at AFC Champions League quarter-finalists Al-Ain and third-placed holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club required an instant brace by substitute Yuri Cesar in an eventual 3-0 victory at 10-man Khor Fakkan.

Shambolic defending caused 13th-placed Kalba’s 2-1 loss to Al-Bataeh and was followed by the exit of former Iran under-23 and Esteghlal boss Majidi after almost two years at the helm. Ex-Brazil and Napoli defensive midfielder Allan netted an unlikely pair to hand Al-Wahda the Abu Dhabi Derby spoils in a pulsating 3-2 defeat for Mirel Radoi’s unconvincing Al-Jazira, while Alfred Schreuder’s flourishing Al-Nasr rose to sixth with a 1-0 triumph versus Baniyas – their fourth in five top-flight fixtures.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Allan (Al-Wahda)

Al-Wahda supporters could have been tricked into thinking they had landed Kaka, instead of Allan.

Their skipper’s granite reputation was earned via winning countless midfield battles in Serie A and the Premier League, rather than through artfully dispatched doubles.

Saturday’s unexpected turn, however, made all the difference on home soil when they welcomed floundering near-neighbors Al-Jazira to Al-Nahyan Stadium.

It was quite the way to open his ADNOC Pro League account, after being recruited back in September 2022.

A deft dummied shot and incisive strike through numerous flailing Pride of Abu Dhabi-defenders made it 2-0 on 41 minutes. The 33-year-old had also clipped in the 17th-minute free-kick from which on-form Iran midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi eventually back-heel half-volleyed the opener.

Even better was to come past the hour mark. By that point, a frantic derby had swung back toward the Pride of Abu Dhabi after ex-Fulham player Neeskens Kebano struck twice to make it 2-2.

Allan’s stepover at pace on the edge of the penalty box sent retreating Moroccan youngster Mohammed Rabii off balance, prior to lashing into the roof of stranded UAE goalkeeper Ali Khaseif’s net. It was a fitting winner for a high-quality and high-drama clash.

For fourth-placed Al-Wahda, January’s call to draft in former Ajman miracle-worker Goran Tufegdzic has been rewarded with seven points from nine. Al-Jazira, meanwhile, are yet to ignite since snaffling ex-Romania boss Radoi from Bataeh and slipped to seventh.

Goal of the week: Ali Saleh (Al-Wasl)

Whatever challenge is put in front of Al-Wasl, they have got the firepower to overcome it.

Their ninth win from their last 10 top-flight outings was sealed by homegrown hero Saleh.

The 24-year-old collected UAE colleague Caio Canedo’s flicked header, composed himself and then curled past helpless Sharjah goalkeeper Adel Al-Hosani from 20 yards. It was a beautiful way to produce a seventh goal contribution in 14 matches.

Al-Wasl remain in control of their title destiny, eight-points ahead of Al-Ain with a game extra played. It also feels increasingly perplexing why Saleh was handed just 210 minutes on the way to the UAE’s dispiriting round-of-16 exit at 2023 Asian Cup.

Coach of the week: Daniel Isaila (Ajman)

A fine rescue job is being performed by Daniel Isaila at 11th-placed Ajman.

Last season’s dark horses in sixth spot had rapidly declined to relegation certainties under Caio Zanardi. Friday’s consummate win against Emirates featured 13 attempts on target to the visitors’ three, even with Iniesta starting in the league for the first time since Dec. 1.

Isaila has transformed horizons since October’s hire. The acumen which evolved outsiders Baniyas into shock 2020/21 runners-up has been transplanted at Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Stadium.

What to do with Olaroiu?

It is not unfair, or unkind, to expect far more from fifth-placed Sharjah.

Their third league loss of a befuddling campaign has kept The King far away from the crown. A points deficit counted in double digits with 11 matches still to play was not expected when the 2023-24 season kicked off.

It is an unbalanced team which is performing below the sum of their parts. Worryingly, serial trophy hoarder Olaroiu’s once-golden touch appears to be waning.

“I am not the one who makes the decisions regarding contracts with players,” was the Romanian’s pointed comment post-match, according to Dubai Sports.

What happens next is the glaring question.

Sharjah’s 11 at Zabeel Stadium contained ex-Barcelona and Juventus superstar Miralem Pjanic, ex-Porto and Al-Hilal attacker Moussa Marega, 184-goal UAE veteran Sebastian Tagliabue, and South Korea’s World Cup 2022 performer Cho Yu-min. They boasted more possession (55 percent/45 percent) and attempts (14/12), yet Al-Wasl’s greater desire proved crucial.

Last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish was forgiven, amid an unprecedented sweep of four domestic trophies. This term, however, has been stained by group-stage collapse in the AFC Champions League, quarter-final elimination in the ADIB Cup, a 6-2 humiliation to Shabab Al-Ahli in the UAE Super Cup, and failure to threaten in the ADNOC Pro League.

Schreuder’s ascendant Al-Nasr and Al-Ain await, either side of the international break. This could be a situation careering toward breaking point.


Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona

Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona
Updated 14 April 2024
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Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona

Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona
  • The victory on the Mediterranean island increased Madrid’s commanding lead of the league to 11 points before second-placed Barcelona played at Cadiz
  • Ancelotti equaled Zinedine Zidane with 183 league games coached for Madrid, second only to Miguel Muñoz’s record 424 league games

BARCELONA, Spain: Real Madrid ground out a 1-0 win at Mallorca in the Spanish league on Saturday while resting top players ahead of their decisive Champions League game at Manchester City.

Midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni scored the only goal three minutes after halftime.

The victory on the Mediterranean island increased Madrid’s commanding lead of the league to 11 points before second-placed Barcelona played at Cadiz later.

Madrid visit Manchester City on Wednesday with their quarterfinal poised after a 3-3 draw in Spain’s capital this week.

“We have a very important game Wednesday,” Tchouameni said. “We played a very difficult game against City and we are tired, but we know that when we play for Madrid we have to give it our all until the end.”

Vinicius Junior and Eduardo Camavinga played the final half hour as substitutes. Dani Carvajal went on for the final minutes, while Rodrygo and Toni Kroos never left the bench. Jude Bellingham started and was replaced by Camavinga.

A long strike by Tchouameni that deflected off a defender before finding the net was the only way Madrid got past the defense of Javier Aguirre’s Mallorca.

Tchouameni will miss the game in England to serve a suspension. A holding midfielder, he was used as a central defender by manager Carlo Ancelotti in the first leg against City while Madrid dealt with injuries.

After facing City, Madrid will then host Barcelona in La Liga next weekend.

Ancelotti equaled Zinedine Zidane with 183 league games coached for Madrid, second only to Miguel Muñoz’s record 424 league games.

Mallorca were playing their first game since losing the Copa del Rey final on penalties to Athletic Bilbao last weekend. They remained in 15th place.

ATLETICO BEAT GIRONA

Antoine Griezmann scored twice as Atletico Madrid beat Girona 3-1 to boost their chances of finishing in the top four.

Griezmann got his first league goal since December by converting a penalty after a handball by Girona. His leveler in the 34th canceled Artem Dovbyk’s early opener.

Alvaro Morata’s hustle proved key to putting the hosts ahead in first-half stoppage time when he chased down a ball before it could cross the end-line and whipped it into the area for Ángel Correo to head into the top corner.

Griezmann, Atletico’s all-time top scorer, then blasted in a loose ball in the 50th for his 13th league goal of the campaign.

Dovbyk moved ahead of Bellingham as the leading league scorer with his 17th to give Girona the fourth-minute lead. The Ukraine striker tapped in a low cross from Yan Couto after a quick team passing move disrupted Atletico’s coverage.

Girona remained in third place at four points clear of Atletico in fourth. Atletico moved five points ahead of Athletic Bilbao in fifth. The top four finishers in Spain earn Champions League berths for next season.

“It was very important to win today. We want to be in the Champions League next season,” Griezmann said. “We didn’t start well but when we took it to them we could turn it around.”

Atletico visit Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday leading their Champions League quarterfinal after a 2-1 first-leg win in Spain.

Rayo Vallecano also drew with Getafe 0-0 at home.


Fernandes double not enough for Man Utd win at Bournemouth

Fernandes double not enough for Man Utd win at Bournemouth
Updated 13 April 2024
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Fernandes double not enough for Man Utd win at Bournemouth

Fernandes double not enough for Man Utd win at Bournemouth
  • A point leaves United still 10 adrift of Aston Villa and Tottenham in the race for a top-four finish with six games to go
  • The Red Devils have now won just once in their last seven Premier League games to leave Erik ten Hag’s future as United boss next season in doubt

BOURNEMOUTH, United Kingdom: Manchester United’s chances of Champions League football next season took another battering as Bruno Fernandes’ double could only salvage a 2-2 draw at Bournemouth on Saturday.
Twice the Cherries led through Dominic Solanke and Justin Kluivert and Bournemouth were denied the opportunity to win the game at the death after a controversial VAR review overturned the decision to award the home side a penalty.
A point leaves United still 10 adrift of Aston Villa and Tottenham in the race for a top-four finish with six games to go.
The Red Devils have now won just once in their last seven Premier League games to leave Erik ten Hag’s future as United boss next season in doubt.
Once again it was United’s defensive deficiencies that were exploited as Bournemouth just missed out on a famous double after winning 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the season.
French teenager Willy Kambwala kept his place at center-back with Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez and Victor Lindelof among those absent due to injury.
But Kambwala had a moment to forget for the opening goal as his slip allowed Solanke to pick his spot and fire home his 19th goal of the season.
United had barely threatened as an attacking force before they levelled against the run of play on 31 minutes.
Alejandro Garnacho’s deflected cross fell perfectly into the path of Fernandes to volley into the roof of the net.
Bournemouth were back in front within five minutes as this time Kluivert took advantage of the acres of space offered by the United defense inside the box to drill low past Andre Onana.
Ten Hag’s future as United boss becomes more unsure with every passing week and poor performance.
However, the Dutchman was rewarded for a daring change at half-time as he replaced Garnacho with Amad Diallo.
The Ivorian winger shot to fame with an extra-time winner against Liverpool in a thrilling FA Cup quarter-final last month.
And he helped earn the visitors a point as his deflected shot was handled by Adam Smith inside the area.
Fernandes stepped up to slot the resulting penalty past Neto.
Bournemouth thought they had a spot-kick of their own deep into stoppage time when Kambwala blocked Ryan Christie’s charge into the box.
After a penalty was initially awarded, VAR intervened to say the foul had taken place just outside the box.
A point leaves Bournemouth still in 12th, eight points adrift of United in the European places.


Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League

Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League
Updated 13 April 2024
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Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League

Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League
  • Arsenal host Aston Villa on Sunday, when Liverpool take on Crystal Palace
  • With City still in contention for a second straight treble of major trophies, manager Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to rotate his squad

MANCHESTER, England: Manchester City kept up the pressure on Arsenal and Liverpool with an emphatic 5-1 victory over relegation-threatened Luton on Saturday that put the defending champion back atop the English Premier League.
An early own goal from Daiki Hashioka gave City the lead at Etihad Stadium before a fierce shot by Mateo Kovacic and a penalty by Erling Haaland put the game beyond doubt after the break.
Luton earned a consolation goal through Ross Barkley in the 81st but Jeremy Doku and Josko Gvardiol added late goals to wrap up the win, which lifted City two points above Arsenal and Liverpool.
Arsenal host Aston Villa on Sunday, when Liverpool take on Crystal Palace.
With City still in contention for a second straight treble of major trophies, manager Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to rotate his squad and left key midfielder Rodri on the bench after the Spaniard said publicly he needed a rest.
Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and John Stones also were rested ahead of Real Madrid’s visit on Wednesday in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal. But goalkeeper Ederson returned to replace Stefan Ortega and Kevin De Bruyne was back after an illness.
It was a bit of luck, though, that gave City the opener inside two minutes.
Haaland attempted an acrobatic volley after his initial shot was saved, but the ball was heading well wide until it took a huge deflection off Hashioka’s head and ended up in the net.
But Luton defended with great determination and the second goal didn’t come until just after the hour when Kovavic unleashed an unstoppable effort from the edge of the area following a corner.
Doku then won a penalty after being brought down in the area and Haaland calmly sent Thomas Kaminski the wrong way to register his 31st goal of the season in all competitions, but only his second in six games.
Barkley robbed Nunes to pull one back but City finished with a flourish.
Doku claimed the fourth after weaving through the area in the 87th and Gvardiol followed up his fine strike against Madrid with another stunner in stoppage time.


Bayern beat Cologne to delay Leverkusen title party

Bayern beat Cologne to delay Leverkusen title party
Updated 13 April 2024
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Bayern beat Cologne to delay Leverkusen title party

Bayern beat Cologne to delay Leverkusen title party
  • Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel made seven changes to his side ahead of Wednesday’s quarter-final second leg against Arsenal
  • Mueller added a second to seal the result in the third minute of stoppage time

MUNICH: Bayern Munich defender Raphael Guerreiro struck a brilliant second-half goal and Thomas Mueller scored late to beat Cologne 2-0 on Saturday, delaying Bayer Leverkusen’s Bundesliga title party to Sunday at the earliest.
Bayern’s win means Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen, who are 13 points clear of the Bavarians, need to beat Werder Bremen at home on Sunday to lift the Bundesliga trophy for the first time.
Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel made seven changes to his side ahead of Wednesday’s quarter-final second leg against Arsenal, with Harry Kane and Mathys Tel hitting the woodwork in the first half.
Former Borussia Dortmund player Guerreiro, starting at left-back ahead of Alphonso Davies, unleashed a curling shot from outside the box which broke the deadlock after 65 minutes.
Mueller added a second to seal the result in the third minute of stoppage time.
Dortmund and RB Leipzig continued their battle for fourth place — the final guaranteed Champions League spot — with both winning to stay level on points ahead of their clash in Saxony in late April.
Dortmund were reduced to 10 men and made to hold on to a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach after Karim Adeyemi was sent off after picking up a second yellow with 35 minutes remaining.
Dortmund were in control after a first-half brace from Marcel Sabitzer, the second from the penalty spot, gave them a two-goal lead after 28 minutes.
Gladbach pulled one back late in the first half when Maximilian Woeber took advantage of some sleepy Dortmund defending from a corner.
Adeyemi, who won a penalty on 48 minutes but had it overturned by VAR, was dismissed seven minutes later after tripping Stefan Lainer.
Leipzig, who sit ahead of Dortmund on goal difference, won 3-0 at home over Wolfsburg thanks to goals from Dani Olmo, Benjamin Sesko and Lois Openda.
The victory came just days after surprisingly poaching Wolfsburg’s sporting director Marcel Schaefer, who won the title with the Wolves as a player in 2009.
Mainz boosted their chances of beating the drop, coming from behind to beat Hoffenheim 4-1 with four second-half goals to pull one point behind Bochum, who drew 1-1 at home with Heidenheim.
Bochum sit in 15th, the final safe spot, after Keven Schlotterbeck scored an own goal but then headed in the equalizer for the hosts in the final minute.
Later on Saturday, Stuttgart can draw level on points with second-placed Bayern with a win when they host Eintracht Frankfurt.


Griezmann strikes twice as Atletico sink Girona

Griezmann strikes twice as Atletico sink Girona
Updated 13 April 2024
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Griezmann strikes twice as Atletico sink Girona

Griezmann strikes twice as Atletico sink Girona
  • Girona took the lead in Madrid with a fourth-minute goal from close range by Artem Dovbyk that took him on to a league-leading 17 goals.
  • Griezmann responded by converting a 34th-minute penalty

MADRID: Atletico Madrid on Saturday completed a good four days as they followed their Champions League quarter-final first-leg victory over Borussia Dortmund with a 3-1 Spanish La Liga victory over third-placed Girona.
Antoine Griezmann scored twice as Diego Simeone’s men moved to within four points of their opponents and pulled five clear of fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao in the race for Champions League qualification.
The Basques play Villarreal on Sunday.
Atletico won the home leg of their European tie 2-1 on Wednesday and visit Dortmund for the second leg on Tuesday.
Girona took the lead in Madrid with a fourth-minute goal from close range by Artem Dovbyk that took him on to a league-leading 17 goals.
Griezmann responded by converting a 34th-minute penalty.
Angel Correa then gave the home side the lead six minutes into added time at the end of the first half.
Griezmann extended his lead five minutes into the second half, taking advantage of a defensive error to fire home his 13th league goal of the season.
With an eye on the game in Germany, the France attacker was then replaced shortly after the hour mark by Marcos Llorente.
Girona’s fifth defeat away from home, gives Barcelona, buoyed by their midweek 3-2 Champions League win at Paris Saint-Germain, the chance to tighten their grip on second when they visit struggling Cadiz in the last game of the day.
Real Madrid, eight points clear at the top, play at Mallorca later on Saturday.