The Saudi Pro League is back after the first international break of the season, and as the table starts to take shape, the weekend brings a top-of-the-table clash, a few potential high-profile debuts, and plenty of intriguing encounters. Here are our predictions.
Al Okhdood v Al Ittihad
If there was one club for whom the international break came at the wrong time, it would be Al Okhdood. The newcomers started their debut campaign in the top division with one point from four matches, but things started to turn brighter, with new signing Leandre Tawamba earning their first-ever win in the Saudi Pro League, against Al Riyadh.
After a perfect start of four wins, Al Ittihad watched their 3-1 half-time lead turn into a 4-3 defeat at the hands of their archrivals Al Hilal last time out. A failed late pursuit of Mohamed Salah, and uncertainty over the future of big-money signing Jota and other foreign players, cast a shadow on the international break. Ittihad are a club in a massive need for a morale-boosting victory.
Prediction: Al Okhdood 1-2 Al Ittihad
Al Wehda v Damac
After back-to-back wins, Al Wehda fell to consecutive defeats to high-flying pair Al Ittihad and Al Taawoun. Greek manager Giorgos Donis will want to see his side bounce back at home, with newly joined striker Odion Ighalo set to start, having begun life at his new club on the bench after missing the pre-season.
For Damac, a first win of the season is overdue. Three points from five games see them sit in the drop zone, but there is reason for optimism, with coach Cosmin Contra having bolstered his side with quality signings such as Kevin Georges-Nkoudou, Tarek Hamed and Assan Ceesay.
Prediction: Al Wehda 2-3 Damac
Al Fayha v Al Shabab
A strong start to the season saw Al Fayha lose just one of their opening six matches, including an impressive away draw at Al Hilal. But ahead of a tricky Asian Champions League debut away in Turkmenistan against FC Ahal on Tuesday, coach Vuk Rasovic will want to avoid injuries and keep key players fresh.
A frustrating transfer window ended on a high for Al Shabab who have landed Belgian winger Yannick Carrasco and Morocco captain Romain Saiss. Dutch manager Marcel Keizer has been sacked and Juan Brown installed as interim coach; in his in-tray is shoring up the leakiest defence in the division, delivering the first win of the season, and lifting the team out of the relegation zone.
Prediction: Al Fayha 1-2 Al Shabab
Al Khaleej v Al Fateh
The two teams from the Eastern Province come into the match off the back of important wins against Al Shabab and Al Ahli respectively, but Al Fateh’s 5-1 triumph over the star-studded Al Ahli was soon followed by the shock exit of talisman Feras Al Buraikan who saw his SAR40 million ($10.66 million) release clause activated by Al Ahli. Cape Verdean forward Djaniny was signed as a replacement and could make his debut on Friday.
Al Khaleej’s efforts to avoid another relegation battle were boosted by a recent run of three unbeaten matches as coach Pedro Emanuel starts to get his influx of new signings to gel. Egyptian striker Mohammed Sherif opened his account in the 3-1 win over Al Shabab and will be looking to build on his encouraging start.
Prediction: Al Khaleej 1-3 Al Fateh
Al Hilal v Al Riyadh
All eyes this weekend will be on the potential debut of Neymar for Al Hilal. The summer signing became Brazil’s leading goalscorer this week, scoring his 78th and 79th international goals in the 5-1 win over Bolivia to overtake Pele. He returns to a club currently top of the table, unbeaten and flying high following the 4-3 Saudi Clasico win over Al Ittihad.
Al Riyadh started their first season in the top division since 2004-05 with four points from their first two matches, but their form soon faltered and they fell to three consecutive defeats, most recently to fellow newcomers Al Okhdood. They find themselves floating just above the drop zone and in dire need of a bounce back.
Predictions: Al Hilal 4-0 Al Riyadh
Abha v Al Ettifaq
Abha’s form this season has been consistently inconsistent; the team from the south lost their opening match, then went on a win-lose-win-lose run that sees them sit mid-table with six points. If form is anything to go by, a win against Al Ettifaq is on the cards.
Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq started brightly, and find themselves in fifth place, three points behind leaders Al Hilal. Their supporters have even more reason for excitement as late signings Gini Wijnaldum and Demarai Gray prepare to make their debut.
Prediction: Abha 1-3 Al Ettifaq
Al Hazem v Al Tai
One of three teams yet to get their first win of the campaign, Al Hazem’s poor start was not helped by the fact they had to face powerhouses Al Ahli and Al Nassr within their first five matches, but the newly promoted side have the chance for a fresh start when they take on Al Tai at home.
The team from Ha’il bounced from a three-match losing streak to defeat Abha, but goals remain hard to come by for the division’s lowest-scoring side. Al Tai have only scored two goals this season, but each has delivered three points; coach Kresimir Rezic would not mind more of the same.
Prediction: Al Hazem 1-0 Al Tai
Al Raed v Al Nassr
Al Raed were able to arrest their poor form, ending a string of three defeats to collect four points from their last two matches. They are two points afloat of the drop zone, but are facing a difficult task against Cristiano Ronaldo and company.
After an early-season stutter, Luis Castro’s well-oiled Nassr are marching on full steam. Three wins in their last three games, 14 goals scored by seven different scorers and only one conceded. Can they be stopped at all?
Prediction: Al Raed 1-5 Al Nassr
Al Ahli v Al Taawoun
When the 2023-24 Saudi Pro League fixtures were announced back in July, few would have expected Al Ahli v Al Taawoun to be an early top-of-the-table clash. But both teams have recruited exceptionally well, with different approaches, and have started the campaign playing some of the best football in the league.
A surprise 5-1 reversal against Al Fateh ended Al Ahli’s perfect run of four wins, but coach Mathias Jassle will be eager to guide his team back to winning ways, backed by a large and enthusiastic crowd in Jeddah. They will, however, have to do it against unbeaten Al Taawoun who have won four in a row including against Al Nassr.
Both sides brace for exciting new strikers making their debuts; Al Buraikan arriving at Al Ahli from Al Fateh, and Joao Pedro joining Al Taawoun from UAE side Al Wahda.
Prediction: Al Ahli 3-3 Al Taawoun