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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - A damaging Abu Dhabi Clasico continued Hernan Crespo’s mixed start at Al-Ain, leaders Al-Wasl weathered a stringent title test and spiralling Emirates Club’s misery extended in ADNOC Pro League’s matchweek 11.
Saturday’s finale pitted “the Boss” against bitter-rivals Al-Wahda, who prevailed 2-0 on enemy territory despite gaining just 26-per-cent possession courtesy of ruthless strikes by on-song Syria forward Omar Khrbin and Russia winger Zelimkhan Bakaev.
A sublime free-kick and selfless assist earlier in the evening from outstanding summer recruit Nicolas Gimenez edged 10-man Wasl past dogged Ittihad Kalba 2-1, in a fiery contest.
Al-Jazira, meanwhile, began life minus the dismissed Frank de Boer with a 1-0 win at Emirates, who slumped to bottom after a seventh-successive defeat and fellow-promoted outfit Hatta’s goalless stalemate against Al-Bataeh.
Former Flamengo teenager Mateusao got both goals when reigning champions Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club rebounded from ADIB Cup quarter-final elimination with a 2-1 triumph at Baniyas and ex-Porto attacker Moussa Marega also doubled up during rejuvenated Sharjah’s 4-1 thrashing of lowly Khor Fakkan.
A breakthrough week for Alfred Schreuder at Al-Nasr culminated in a dominant 3-0 victory at Ajman, highlighted by goals from Morocco maverick Adel Taarabt and ex-Italy forward Manolo Gabbiadini (two).
Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.
Player of the week: Zelimkhan Bakaev (Al-Wahda)
A fan favorite is emerging.
Eyebrows were raised this summer when Wahda secured Bakaev’s loan. The senior international had netted twice from 33 appearances at Zenit St. Petersburg in a successful debut campaign, containing Russian Premier League and Super Cup successes.
This acumen, however, was clear for all to see at a febrile Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
The 27-year-old wide man’s first ADNOC Pro League goal in nine run-outs was netted with a flourish, controlling a 40-yard pass at pace and serenely slotting low past UAE No1 Khalid Essa to double Wahda’s lead.
Such quality is no surprise. It is, however, the incessant attacker’s all-round game and application that stands out.
Questions are always asked about commitment levels from big-name loanees. Bakaev has long since answered them.
A tally of three tackles, according to SofaScore, equalled tigerish team-mate Allan, plus bettered combined totals for center-backs Lucas Pimenta and Alaeddine Zouhir (one each). Bakaev also won five of seven ground duels.
Such competitiveness, allied with decisive ability, was essential for Arno Buitenweg’s cagey game plan to succeed.
Wahda are now unbeaten in seven fixtures, sit fourth and are into ADIB Cup’s last four. Bakaev has played a big role in their turnaround.
Goal of the week: Luan Pereira (Sharjah)
Sharjah wasted no time conjuring some magic against Khor Fakkan.
Within 33 seconds of kick-off, their naturalized winger Luan Pereira applied the decisive touch to a flowing move.
His left-footed half-volley at the edge of the penalty box followed from an imaginative, volleyed back-heel assist by prodigious Guinean starlet Ousmane Camara.
Smiles are returning to third-placed Sharjah faces. Pinched thoughts of ADIB Cup and AFC Champions League exits have dissipated amid consecutive 4-1 top-flight triumphs.
They now head into Wednesday’s rescheduled heavyweight clash with Shabab Al-Ahli.
Coach of the week: Alfred Schreuder (Al-Nasr)
Schreuder had appeared an awkward fit at the Middle East football’s sleeping giant.
A winless opening two outings contained curious substitutions and frustrating results for the coach who’d suffered high-profile 2023 sackings at Ajax and Al-Ain. Gratifying ADIB Cup progress against the latter has been, however, further bolstered by emphatic victory at Ajman.
It featured a brace for Gabbiadini, plus goal and assist from Taarabt.
Order has been long absent at Nasr, the UAE’s oldest club who boast one of Asia’s grandest arenas in the heart of Dubai.
An expected victory versus Emirates Club next weekend would build momentum ahead of the winter transfer market and belief his philosophy can be inculcated during a lengthy Asian Cup break.
Crespo already feeling Al-Ain’s inherent pressure
The buck stops with you, when you’re “the Boss.”
An iconic playing career has been no shield to strident early criticism for Crespo in the Garden City. Dissenting voices only grew louder after a pained defeat to Wahda, the side “Ainawi” were least like to be beaten by.
The ex-River Plate, Parma, Inter Milan and Chelsea center forward must swiftly show last month’s merciless call to dismiss Schreuder was justified. He’s at the helm of a club who, clearly, will not hang about waiting for results to turn.
But, what judgments can be made at this stage?
Saturday’s was a peculiar reversal. Al-Ain boasted 74-per-cent possession, won the attempts count 14-8, endured a rash moment by naturalized center-back Kouame Auton for Khrbin’s opener and were hit on the counter via Iran midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi’s visionary pass from deep for Bakaev’s superb second.
Under Crespo, Al-Ain have thrashed champions Shabab Al-Ahli then dropped points in a draw at Kalba and a loss versus Wahda, sliding from third to fifth. In the cups, three points were accrued in two AFC Champions League dead rubbers and his predecessor inflicted undoubtedly satisfying ADIB Cup last-eight elimination.
The previous regime won 12 of 14 matches in all competitions, prior to a shock removal.
Crespo has been in management since 2014. The highs of leading Defensa y Justicia to their opening international trophy by winning the 2020 Copa Sudamericana and Al-Duhail’s 2022-23 treble are matched by lows, such as 7-0 humiliation by Al-Hilal in the AFC Champions League semifinals and exiting Sao Paulo when 13th in Brazil’s Serie A.
Imposing consistency is key. Al-Ain have demonstrated their patience can be in short supply.
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