Steven Gerrard has challenged his Al Ettifaq players to fill the goalscoring breach this weekend in the absence of some of the team’s key forwards, as they seek to rebound from this week’s King’s Cup exit.
The Dammam side, seventh in the Saudi Pro League, were eliminated from the last-16 stage of Saudi football’s lead cup competition on Tuesday, when they lost 1-0 in extra-time to Al Nassr.
Ettifaq return to Saudi Pro League duty on Saturday night, where they will play for the first time at the new Ettifaq Club Stadium. They host bottom club Al Raed.
However, Gerrard is without star striker Moussa Dembele, with the former Liverpool captain confirming the Frenchman would be missing “for a few weeks” after undergoing minor surgery on his knee.
Dembele, signed this summer having been released by Lyon, is Ettifaq’s top scorer this season having found the net seven times in eight league matches.
Also, Sweden international Robin Quison continues to be unavailable after missing the Nassr defeat, while Brazilian Vitinho last featured for the club in August.
Demarai Gray, the former Leicester City and Everton winger signed on transfer deadline day, may once again act as the team’s spearhead.
In the build-up to the clash with Raed, who have a solitary victory from 11 league matches, Gerrard said: “Without key players in the final third, it’s challenging at the moment – there’s no Moussa, no Robin Quaison, no Vitinho.
“We asked young [midfielder] Hamed Al Ghamdi to jump up a line on Tuesday. We played Demarai Gray out of position to give us some speed in attack.
“We need other players to step up. When we get players back, we will be more aggressive. We will be more dangerous. Until then, other players need to step up. That starts against Al Raed.”
Ettifaq have stumbled in the league in recent weeks, failing to win in three matches – they suffered successive defeats in that spell – before rallying last week to triumph 3-2 away at Al Wehda.
The mini revival, though, was halted against Nassr, in particularly fiery encounter in Riyadh, but Gerrard said: “I’m very proud of the players. There was effort, commitment, desire.
"Al Nassr showed us big respect on Tuesday night by playing their full team and we knew it was going to be a big challenge for the players. But everyone stood up and was brave.
“They really played for the fans and gave everything they’ve got. We know why we’re not as good as we should be in the front line right now. But in terms of what the players have given me, I’m ever so proud.
"We now need to continue that.”