After three weeks of action in the AFC Champions League, Al-Hilal’s attention returns to home affairs this week, starting with an away game against Al-Feiha on Tuesday. It’s a game to be won and it remains to be seen whether a busy schedule in April against continental opposition will serve them well in terms of domestic aspirations.
The defending champions, Asia and Saudi Arabia, finished top of Group A of the continental competition with some degree of comfort. After securing a place in the second round with two games to play, picking up 12 points in their first four games, the Riyadh club were able to get their foot on the accelerator in the final group games, in which they drew with Sharjah then lost to Qatari side Al-Rayyan. However, we shouldn’t interpret these results too much as their thoughts were already on trying to nab Al-Ittihad at the top of the Saudi Pro League.
There can be no more slippages in the title race. The Jeddah giants are 11 points clear at the top of the table thanks to a run in which they have won 14 of the last 16 league matches. There are, however, a few reasons why second-placed Al-Hilal still has hope.
The first is that they have seven games left, compared to five for the Tigers. If they can win the current two games, the gap will be reduced to five points. Moreover, there is one more meeting to come between the two teams this month and if Al-Hilal can also win this clash, the two teams will indeed be very close – and Al-Ittihad’s only loss in their recent winning run came against the defender. champions.
If any team can do it then it’s Al-Hilal and they should be fit and strong after their recent efforts in Asia; we just have to hope that they are not too tired.
Those four Champions League wins took the club’s winning streak to 12 under Argentina manager Ramon Diaz, who was appointed in February, which tied the club’s second-longest winning streak.
“We have to make sure we take the opportunities that come up in the game,” Diaz said ahead of Tuesday’s game. “We know they are strong defensively and it will be a tough game.”
Indeed, Al-Feiha have the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 19 goals in 24 games. Their problem was at the other end, as they only managed to score the same amount.
Al-Hilal will rely on star striker Odion Ighalo, who has scored twice in Asia, to continue the goalscoring form that has seen the Nigerian hit the net 19 times in the league this season, four more than anyone else.
Moussa Marega and Matheus Pereira, meanwhile, haven’t shown their best form in the Champions League and if Al-Hilal are to catch up with their Jeddah rivals, the Malian and Brazilian will need to step up as games go by this season. this month.
This became even more important after striker Saleh Al-Shehri suffered a serious injury during the Champions League group stage which will rule him out for several months. Additionally, midfielder Mohammed Kanno is suspended.
There are a few other things Coach Diaz needs to think about aside from catching Al-Ittihad at the top of the table. Despite the 12-game winning streak, he was criticized by some fans for the last two Champions League results last month. If he wants to win a new contract when the current one ends in June, he needs to end the season strong. The club have the option of renewing the deal with the boss for another season but, as of now, no decision has been made.
Al-Feiha, meanwhile, has his own worries. Striker Malek Al-Abdalmoneim is injured, as is defender Mukhair Al-Rashidi. Coach Vuk Rasovic will also be without Ghanaian midfielder Samuel Owusu.
They sit in eighth place but are not completely safe from relegation as they are just five points from the drop zone. A victory on Tuesday would pretty much eliminate their worries, however.
The league clash is not only important at both ends of the table but it is also a dress rehearsal for the Copa del Rey final, which will take place at the end of the season. Last month, Al-Hilal beat Al-Shabab in the semi-finals, while Al-Feiha overtook Al-Ittihad. Whichever team wins the final will earn them a place in next year’s Asian Champions League, but for now Al-Hilal will be hoping their efforts in this year’s continental competition will do them well. prepared for national success in the month ahead.