AGL talking points: Al Nasr and Al Shabab hope to turn the tide in their Dubai derby

Another test awaits Al Jazira defence in their visit to Al Ain while Sharjah get past Al Shaab 2-0 in their derby to finally get off the mark, writes John McAuley.

Al Nasr coach Ivan Giovanovits, right, during their Arabian Gulf League first round match against Al Wahda at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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Al Nasr host neighbours Al Shabab on Thursday night, with more than local bragging rights at stake.

Much rides on this Dubai derby: Nasr have begun the season brilliantly and sit second, while Shabab have title aspirations, too.

Traditionally, these two teams typically sit in the next group of championship hopefuls, after the traditional big three of Al Ain, Al Ahli and Al Jazira, but they can deliver a real statement of intent this week. Nasr’s recent record against Shabab is not that hot, though, with the Maktoum Stadium side winning one of their past five league encounters.

However, Shabab come into the match having just tasted defeat for the first time this season, and will seek to rebound from their 4-1 loss to Al Ain. Nasr are arguably better equipped than any time in the past three seasons, so now is the time to turn the tide.

Jazira need to prove their mettle

If it sounds like a broken record, then it is because the record speaks for itself.

Al Jazira have not been anywhere near their best thus far this season, winning two matches from eight.

In that time, they have scored 13 goals, while conceding 15; that old Achilles heel continues to plague them.

Their defence will get little respite tomorrow, though, when Jazira travel to Al Ain, the champions who currently lead the table.

Furthermore, Al Ain just hit the usually obdurate Al Shabab for four. Jazira, meanwhile, let slip a two-goal lead to draw at Baniyas.

However, there were signs of improvement, so Abel Braga’s boys can at least take that to the Garden City. Returning with a point will be difficult, but Jazira have tools to hurt Al Ain. It could also spark their season.

Asian focus will not derail Ahli

Poor Dibba Al Fujairah. They probably watched Al Ahli’s Asian Champions League semi-final victory last week and thought it could inadvertently help their fight against relegation.

The theory went that Ahli would be so focused on the first leg of the final, taking place on November 7, that they would maybe take their foot off the pedal domestically.

However, five days after that semi-final win against Al Hilal, Ahli travelled to Al Wahda and promptly put them to the sword, too.

So, presumably, there will be no let-up against Dibba on Saturday, either. Which seems a tad unfair, given the East Coast club even helped with Ahli’s final preparations by moving this fixture forward two days.

Any goodwill will probably be left for the post-match commiserations, since Ahli should maintain the league’s only 100 per cent winning record.

Sharjah must build momentum

Such has been Sharjah’s recent malaise, it is easy to forget they have been crowned UAE champions five times – bettered only by Al Ain, Al Wasl and Al Ahli.

In 2009, they even contested the Asian Champions League. The past few seasons, though, have been barren.

Sharjah finished the 2014/15 campaign as the division’s third worst side and spent most of the time looking anxiously over their shoulder.

This season had not begun well either, but on Friday they defeated Al Shaab 2-0 in the derby to finally get off the mark. They will hope it represents a prolonged turnaround in fortune.

On Saturday, Sharjah travel to a Fujairah side still smarting from the weekend’s 5-1 reverse at Wasl, so Paulo Bonamigo’s men should sense an opportunity to deepen wounds.

The Brazilian is too wise, too wily to be putting out fires at Sharjah. The former UAE heavyweights need to come up a class.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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