With the Saudi Professional League put on pause because of coronavirus, the time has come to look back at the events to date in 2019/20.
Here is a selection of the key moments that defined the campaign:
JIMENEZ AND VECCHIO SIGNINGS SPELL DISASTER
The dark days appeared over for Al Ittihad.
Jose Luis Sierra’s welcome return at the back end of a dismal 2018/19 saved them from a disastrous first relegation in the club’s 92-year history, and provided hope of a brighter future. This positive picture, however, swiftly evaporated in one dampening double deal.
July’s surprise transfers for veteran ex-Chile playmaker Luis Jimenez and Sierra favourite Emiliano Vecchio were met with widespread dismay.
A fading Jimenez, 35, was swiftly released in the wake of September’s bitter 2019 AFC Champions League round-of-16 exit to – eventual champions and bitter traditional rivals – Al Hilal. Sierra would depart a month later amid growing mistrust directed at the 2018 King’s Cup winner and a fourth loss in seven SPL fixtures.
Loyal foot soldier Vecchio – who’d linked up with Sierra at a fourth outfit – only made it until late November. He headed back to South America and alleged a failure to pay various dues, allegations Itti strenuously deny.
This chaotic start to 2019/20 consumed Sierra’s short-lived replacement Henk ten Cate, while the toothless Tigers, still, sit only one place above the drop zone despite the appointment of coveted ex-Corinthians tactician Fabio Carille.
HILAL HAMMER AL ADALAH AND PROVE TITLE CREDENTIALS
Al Hilal’s sharp focus on domestic supremacy had, understandably, been dulled by wider ambitions.
A cherished pursuit of a first AFC Champions League crown since 2000 – when it was known as the Asian Club Championship – and strong debut performance at the Club World Cup was bookended by derby defeat to SPL holders Al Nassr, plus draws against Al Fateh and Al Hazem.
This ensured a surprising level of apprehension ahead of December 30’s welcoming of promoted Al Adalah. The Hilal faithful needn’t have worried.
Ex-France centre forward Bafetimbi Gomis’ hat-trick inspired a 7-0 rout. Hilal – minus a blip in late January – have barely stopped for breath, racing towards a six-point lead by match-week 22’s stoppage.
AL WEHDA UNLEASH ANSELMO
It took a special coach to notice Anselmo’s special hidden qualities.
The Brazilian had carved out a reputation as one of the SPL’s finest defensive midfielders since his procurement from Internacional for €3 million in July 2018.
📸 ⚽ | ⚪🔴
انسيلمو ضد الاتحاد
• لعب 90 دقيقة
• سجل هدف
• 36 تمريرة (69.4%)
• صنع فرصة للتسجيل
• 2 كي باس
• 7 مراوغات (86%)
• 12 التحام (50%)
يا له من أداء رائع أمام
— نادي الوحدة السعودي ( من 🏠 ) (@alwehdaclub1) March 12, 2020
Fast forward to November 1 and boss Jose Daniel Carreno had concocted a plan.
A redeployment as playmaker ended in a 3-2 loss to Al Raed, yet he’s now produced seven goals and one assist in 11 matches and helped cement his club’s footing in the top three.
HAMDALLAH’S ILLDISCIPLINE PROVES COSTLY
Al Nassr predator extraordinaire Abderrazak Hamdallah is a livewire – both on and off the pitch.
Last year’s global leading marksman with 57 goals and the record scorer in a single SPL campaign (34 strikes in 26 matches during 2018/19’s remarkable debut) comes with an edge. This was exhibited in a tumultuous summer with Morocco, November’s row with an airport security guard and then this month’s consequential disciplinary incident.
Coach Rui Vitoria’s insistence on a fine for his star man’s late training return and subsequent intransigence about the punishment caused him to miss this month’s damaging 3-2 reversal at Al Faisaly.
Hamdallah would later apologise for his actions. Nassr, though, may come to rue this moment when the season is completed – whenever that is…
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