There was plenty of action to talk about in the sixth round of the Roshn Saudi League, as leaders Al-Shabab maintained a perfect start to the season.
Below are five things we learned from this week’s matches.
Hamdallah and Ittihad are back
After the 0-0 draw last week, and a somewhat disappointing performance, the Tigers and star striker Abderrazak Hamdallah had to bounce back. They did just that as Al-Ittihad defeated Al-Fateh 3-1 to move into second.
Last week it was all about the defense in a gritty Classico stalemate and this time, once more, the Jeddah giants were happy to let the opposition have the ball, but the difference was that there were clinical counter-attacks and well-worked set pieces.
The return of Romarinho made a difference, and the Brazilian scored the opener, but it was Hamdallah’s goal that made it 2-1 with 21 minutes remaining that was really beautiful. A fine chipped pass from Igor Coronado found the thigh of Abdulrahman Al-Obud, which cushioned the ball into the path of the Moroccan marksman who made no mistake with a first-time shot.
Coronado was also impressive, assisting the first and then firing home the third from the edge of the area. When the two Brazilian attacking players are on song, then last year’s runners-up can beat anyone and will be perfectly happy to be sitting in second after six games.
Goals drying up for Al-Hilal
Al-Hilal drew 0-0 with Al-Ettifaq, a result that means that the champions now have dropped five points from the last two games. It is nothing to worry about in a season of 30 matches, but scoring just once in the last two games against Al-Wehda and Ettifaq despite a huge amount of possession and more than enough scoring opportunities will be frustrating for coach Ramon Diaz.
The Riyadh giants were dominant from the get-go in Dammam on Thursday but just could not find a way to score against a determined and hard-working opponent. In the absence of the injured Salem Al-Dawsari and Salman Al-Faraj, the chances were higher in quantity than quality, and it was noticeable that there were plenty of shots from outside the area and most of the best attempts came from set pieces. When Saleh Al-Shehri did score with 20 minutes remaining (to scenes of great delight after his lengthy injury lay-off), VAR intervened.
A point at Al-Ettifaq is not a bad result, but such are the high standards Al-Hilal have set themselves that it feels like one. The Riyadh giants have not really got going this season despite their four wins from four in the beginning.
Pole helping Al-Shabab into pole position
Al-Shabab stay top with a 1-0 win over Al-Raed to take the team on to a maximum of 18 points from six games, with 15 goals scored and just one conceded. It could barely be going better for new coach Vicente Moreno even if this was not the best of the six performances.
Grzegorz Krychowiak is not the biggest-name foreign player in the Saudi Professional League, but the Polish international midfielder has played all but four minutes of the season so far, coming off late in a 4-0 win over Al-Tai. If the Spanish coach has taken to Saudi football smoothly, the 32-year-old Krychowiak has played with authority from the beginning.
He scored both goals in the previous 2-1 win over Al-Feiha. The first was a stunning long-range effort that flew into the top corner, and the second was not quite as spectacular but did win the game. His presence gives Al-Shabab more composure in midfield than last season.
The latest victory came courtesy of an own goal but when you have the tightest defense in Asia, it was enough. Six out of six, but the first really big test comes next against Al-Hilal.
Win for Radif, Al-Taawoun and Saudi Arabia
Whatever happens in the coming weeks and months, Al-Taawoun surely do not have to worry about relegation this season as they have already collected 14 points from the first six games and are not far short of amassing half of the 34 points they managed all season last time around.
The club have been up and down in recent years, but there is no doubt that they are heading in the right direction, defeating Al-Hilal last week and then downing Al-Wehda 2-0. The latest win should be cheered by most as it featured a fine goal from Abdullah Radif. The 19-year-old striker has impressed at youth level for Saudi Arabia, an encouraging development for a country that does not produce many goal-getters.
He was never going to get much playing time at Al-Hilal and so moved on loan to Al-Taawoun. On his debut, he scored an impressive goal on the stroke of half-time, breaking free of the defense and firing a fine low shot from outside the area into the bottom corner. It will be good for everyone — Al-Taawoun, Al-Hilal and Saudi Arabia — if he keeps it up.
Al-Nassr back on track
After the frustrating goalless draw against Al-Ittihad last week, a game that all at Al-Nassr felt they should have won, the Yellows were clinical as they won 3-0 at Abha. It was always expected that the nine-time champions would take the points against the struggling hosts, but it was a smooth and professional performance.
In some ways, it was encouraging that the big-name foreign attackers did not get on the scoresheet. Vincent Aboubakar and Talisca have contributed just three goals combined this season and when they move into top gear, then the rest of the league really should have something to worry about.
Luiz Gustavo gave Rudi Garcia’s men the perfect start after just five minutes, taking advantage of a goalkeeping error, and Al-Nassr proceeded to control the game. Sami Al-Najei continued his impressive form this season and was busy probing the Abha defense and, in the end, it was a comfortable win.
There are three very winnable games coming next for last year’s third-place team, and they could be in a good position by the time they face Al-Hilal in December.