The last matchweek before the international break sees former continental champions Al Ittihad and Al Hilal lock horns in the Saudi Clasico. The pair are among four unbeaten teams, while at the other end of the table, five teams are still waiting for their first win.
Al Tai v Abha
After starting their season with a 1-0 home win at Damac, Al Tai’s season unravelled with three consecutive defeats during which they conceded seven goals and responded with none. Coach Kresimir Rezic did a commendable job in charge of Damac last season, but it will take a tremendous effort to turn things around and find a way to beat Abha.
Under former Poland manager Czeslaw Michniewicz, Abha have been solid. Home wins against Al Raed and Al Fayha were only interrupted by a late defeat to Al Taawoun. Captain Saad Bguir remains sidelined with injury but the side from Asir will have reasons for optimism after new signings Karl Toko Ekambi and Ahmed Abdu both found the net in the previous game.
Prediction: Al Tai 0-2 Abha
Al Fayha v Al Raed
Three of Al Fayha’s last four goals were scored by new signing Fashion Sakala, and when the former Rangers forward failed to score against Al Hazem, so did his team. Four points from as many games represent a good tally for coach Vuk Rasovic’s men, but they need to bounce back from Matchweek 4’s defeat to Abha.
Al Raed fans had every reason to worry about losing their team’s status as one of the teams to have never tasted relegation after they lost their first three games, failing to score in any. But the Buraidah based side turned on the style, brushing aside Al Riyad 3-0 thanks to the North African duo of Amir Sayoud and Mohamed Fouzair.
Prediction: Al Fayha 3-2 Al Raed
Al Ittihad v Al Hilal
The pick of the weekend’s games and one of the highlights of the Saudi Pro League season. The last two champions go into their fifth game of the campaign unbeaten. Al Ittihad will sweat over the availability of captain Karim Benzema who hobbled off the pitch in their previous match, but will be encouraged by the performance of his replacement Jota. In Abderrazak Hamdallah, they have last season’s top scorer who is already on four goals this term.
The match dubbed the 'Saudi clasico’ comes too soon for Neymar, who continues to nurture an injury, but Al Hilal will welcome back Sergei Milinkovic-Savic who served a one-match suspension after being sent off against Al Raed. Malcom got his fourth goal of the campaign in the previous game and looks his side’s biggest attacking threat alongside Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Prediction: Al Ittihad 1-2 Al Hilal
Al Riyadh v Al Okhdood
In the clash of two newly promoted sides, it will be Al Riyadh who have the momentum on their side. Coach Yannick Ferreira’s team started their season with a win over Al Wehda and picked up a point against Damac. Back-to-back defeats against star-studded Al Ittihad and a resurgent Al Raed threw a spanner in the works, but in Zimbabwe captain Knowledge Musona they have a man with the experience and attacking prowess to help them bounce back.
Al Okhdood are yet to get their first win, and are rooted to the bottom of the table with just one point, but they remain fairly solid in the back, their defence ranks tenth in the league, but with only two goals scored, there is room for improvement in attack.
Prediction: Al Riyadh 1-0 Al Okhdood
Al Ettifaq v Damac
A run of three games unbeaten for Steven Gerrard’s side came to an end with a 2-0 defeat at Al Hilal in a game which saw winger Vitinho stretched off. With striker Moussa Dembele and defender Marcel Tisserand in a race against time to recover from injury, Al Ettifaq have several concerns to overcome if they are to get back to winning ways.
Damac are on a run of three consecutive draws, but that first win doesn’t look far away. Former Tottenham midfielder Georges Kevin Nkoudou has provided a creative spark since joining and Gambian forward Assan Ceesay started his reign in Khamis Mushait with a brace against Al Fateh.
Prediction: Al Ettifaq 1-2 Damac
Al Taawoun v Al Wehda
The hosts are flying high, having followed up their opening day draw against Al Fateh with three consecutive wins to take them into fourth place. One of four sides yet to taste defeat, coach Pericles Chamusca side excel in finding the right balance between defending deep and mesmerising their opponents with quick attacking moves. Mateus Castro has been in stellar form since joining from Japan’s Nagoya Grampus.
Unpredictable is the best word to describe Georgios Donis’ Al Wehda side. They put three past Al Shabab and repeated the trick against Al Tai, but the two wins were sandwiched between defeats against Al Riyadh and Al Ittihad. Striker Odion Ighalo is still finding his feet, making two substitute appearances as he builds his fitness having missed out on the pre-season.
Prediction: Al Taawoun 2-1 Al Wehda
Al Hazem v Al Nassr
One of five teams without a win yet, newly promoted Al Hazem have drawn their last two games. Both their goals this term have come from Brazilian forward Vina, but they were not enough to help them get any wins. It will not get any easier against Al Nassr.
After a difficult start with two consecutive defeats, the arrival of Portuguese midfielder Otavio seems to have provided Al Nassr with the balance they needed. Ronaldo has been in hot form with five goals and two assists in his last two outings and his combination with Sadio Mane is too good for opposition defences.
Prediction: Al Hazem 0-3 Al Nassr
Al Shabab v Al Khaleej
The team that finished fourth last season look a shadow of themselves. Al Shabab lost key players like Carlos Junior, Cristian Guanca, Aaaron Boupendza and Hassan Tambakti over the summer and did very little to replace them, and it shows. They find themselves in the relegation zone with two points and Ever Banega’s sending off in the 4-0 defeat to Al Nassr means they will be deprived of their main creative outlet.
On paper, Al Khaleej are in an identical situation to their upcoming hosts, with two points to their names, but coach Pedro Emanuel has many reasons for optimism. Fabio Martins continues to be one of the most reliable attacking players in the league, and the new arrivals have started to adapt well to their surroundings.
Predictions: Al Shabab 0-2 Al Khaleej
Al Fateh v Al Ahli
Can anyone stop Al Ahli? That is the question Al Fateh coach Slaven Bilic will be asking himself ahead of their upcoming clash. His side are without a win in their last two games and have conceded seven goals in the last 180 minutes of action. Stats that will give the Croatian boss reasons to worry as he prepares his side to face the triple threat of Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez and Allan Saint-Maximin.
The side from Jeddah have a perfect record and are second behind Al Ittihad on goal difference. They have been in hot form, propelled by the most impressive fan base in the league so far. Coach Matthias Jassle is gradually building an invincible team, and the addition of Spanish midfielder Gabri Veiga, who could make his debut against Al Fateh, will only make them stronger.
Prediction: Al Fateh 0-3 Al Ahli