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Luis Jimenez ends early Al Ittihad optimism, Aberrazak Hamdallah goes AWOL for Al Nassr and other key 2019/20 SPL moments

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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