With four Saudi Pro League teams returning from midweek Asian Champions League duties with a mixed bag of results, domestic matches resume on Thursday and Friday as the kingdom observes the Saudi National Day celebrations on Saturday. Here are our predictions for the next round of fixtures.
Al Ettifaq v Al Tai
The two in-form sides lock horns in Dammam with both having bounced back from earlier defeats to build some momentum. Steven Gerrard’s side won two games in a row to stay within touching distance of the top of the table, while their visitors from Hail are in mid-table, but have picked up four points from their last two games to distance themselves from the relegation battle. Al Ettifaq saw Gini Wijnaldum and Demarai Gray make their debuts in the previous game with the latter contributing two assists off the bench.
Prediction: Al Ettifaq 3-1 Al Tai
Damac v Al Hilal
In Neymar’s full debut, Al Hilal needed an added-time header from defender Ali Al Bulayhi to spare their blushes in a 1-1 home draw against Ahal in the Asian Champions League on Monday, but in the league, they have been unstoppable. Jorge Jesus’ side are the only team yet to lose a match and are sitting at the top of the table.
In turn, the arrival of Gambian forward Assan Ceesay from Serie A side Lecce has helped Damac find some goals, but Cosmin Contra’s side are yet to get their first win of the season, finding themselves second-bottom with three points from as many draws.
Prediction: Damac 0-5 Al Hilal
Al Taawoun v Al Raed
A local rivalry that has picked up steam in recent years. The first Qassim derby of the season arrives with its two parties in contrasting situations. Despite losing their most recent match to Al Ahli, Al Taawoun sit in fourth place with three points separating them from leaders Al Hilal. With nine different players having found the back of the net for them, Al Taawoun have goals all over their team.
Meanwhile, Al Raed have lost four of their six matches so far and find themselves languishing in 15th place, with just goal difference keeping them above the drop zone. Only two teams in the league have scored fewer goals than Al Raed’s four this term.
Prediction: Al Taawoun 4-0 Al Raed
Al Ittihad v Al Fateh
Last time out, Al Ittihad bounced back from their Saudi Clasico defeat to Al Hilal, beating Al Okhdood to keep second place and a one-point margin with the leaders. They continued their hot form in the Asian Champions League, brushing aside Uzbek side AGMK 3-0 despite the absences of Karim Benzema, Igor Coronado and Jota.
Slaven Bilic’s Al Fateh are finding their rhythm with a run of three unbeaten matches, including a famous 5-1 win over Al Ahli and a derby victory against Al Khaleej last week. Striker Feras Al Buraikan will be missed, having joined Al Ahli, but his replacement Djaniny will be eager to get off the mark in his old stomping grounds at Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium where he represented Al Ahli a few seasons ago.
Prediction: Al Ittihad 2-2 Al Fateh
Al Shabab v Al Hazem
Al Shabab finally got their first win of the season, beating Al Fayha 1-0 to move out of the relegation zone. The two new arrivals, Romain Saiss and Yannick Carrasco, combined to score the winner, with the Belgian winger setting up the Morocco captain.
In turn, Al Hazem have not looked like they belong in the top flight following their promotion. They are yet to win a match and have the second-leakiest defence in the division, which amounts to them sitting rock bottom. Unluckily for them, a resurgent Al Shabab will be a difficult place to get that much needed win.
Predictions: Al Shabab 3-0 Al Hazem
Al Okhdood v Al Khaleej
A win against fellow newly promoted side Al Riyadh marked Al Okhdood's first three points in the top division, but they fell back into losing habits when they faced Al Ittihad last week. It will be a long and difficult season for coach Jorge Mendonca’s men, but a win against Al Khaleej this weekend could prove a valuable six-pointer come May.
The visitors from Saihat have been inconsistent so far, with a win against Al Shabab and a draw with Al Eittifaq particular high points, but three defeats in their first six matches leave them just a point afloat of the relegation zone.
Prediction: Al Okhdood 2-1 Al Khaleej
Al Riyadh v Al Fayha
Al Riyadh remain without a win since their opening-day victory against Al Wehda, casting doubts over the future of head coach Yannick Ferrera. A run of four defeats in a row does not help their situation as they find themselves teetering in the relegation zone.
A first-ever Asian Champions League appearance saw Al Fayha suffer defeat in Turkmenistan against Ahal on Tuesday. A flight home and an away match could prove a difficult combination for coach Vuk Rasovic’s men, and could offer their opponents an opportunity for a rare win.
Predictions: Al Riyadh 2-1 Al Fayha
Al Nassr v Al Ahli
The biggest game of the National Day weekend, and one of the most exciting fixtures in the Saudi Pro League season calendar. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr take on Al Ahli fresh off securing an important 2-0 victory against Persepolis in Tehran on Tuesday evening. Luis Castro’s men have been on a four-match winning run in which they scored a massive tally of 17 goals.
The two sides are separated by just three points in the early title race, with Al Ahli sitting third on 15 points and Al Nassr sixth on 12. A particular struggle for coach Matthias Jassle will be the poor form of striker Roberto Firmino since his opening day hat-trick, but the arrival of Al Buraikan could provide a solution.
Prediction: Al Nassr 3-2 Al Ahli
Al Wehda v Abha
Rounding off the weekend’s action is a mid-table clash between Al Wehda and Abha. The hosts beat the other Asir-based team Damac in their most recent outing, with Odion Ighalo hitting top form with a hat-trick.
For Abha, it has been two consecutive defeats after two wins in their first four games, meaning they have dropped to the bottom half of the table. An injury to captain and talisman Saad Bguir has been detrimental to their fortunes in past weeks and the impact of his absence will continue to be felt.
Prediction: Al Wehda 2-0 Abha