Ivan Rakitic announces Saudi Pro League arrival in style

Ivan Rakitic announces Saudi Pro League arrival in style
Ivan Rakitic announces Saudi Pro League arrival in style

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Anticipation abounds ahead of this week’s intriguing full restart of the 2023/2024 Roshn Saudi Pro League.

The six-week interlude for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup contained managerial changes, eye-catching player acquisitions and noteworthy exits as competitors strove to finish campaigns on a high.

Arab News provides an essential guide for the 16 clubs as they head into Thursday’s resumption, including their key winter business and outlook for the 15 remaining matchweeks.

In part two, we look at the clubs occupying positions 10 to 18.

10. Al-Khaleej

Points 22

Goals scored/conceded 23-28

Season so far: A club in the same situation as Wehda. Al-Khaleej were threatened by instant demotion until the final matchweek last season, but have breathing space in 2023/2024. Magical Portuguese winger Fabio Martins is a class apart, being their top scorer on seven goals and joint-top assist maker with two. Experienced South Korea anchorman Jung Woo-young and Argentina center-back Lisandro Lopez have made all the difference to their defense.

Major winter changes: Former Inter Miami midfielder Mo Adams adds ballast after an invisible time at Al-Shabab.

Outlook: It is time to push on and look ahead to the King’s Cup semifinals. An upturn from disappointing Egypt striker Mohamed Sherif would help.

 

11. Al-Shabab

Points 21

Goals scored/conceded 19-25

Season so far: A season to forget for Shabab. Jose Mourinho will not be there to salvage this campaign, after winter rumors came to nothing. Well-travelled compatriot Vitor Pereira is at the helm instead, making him this season’s third permanent boss following swift exits from former Ajax supremo Marcel Keizer and Igor Biscan. Serious injury to South Korea No. 1 Kim Seung-gyu has added to their worries. But remedies have been sought to quell lingering relegation worries.

Major winter changes: Iconic Argentine midfielder Ever Banega has been allowed to return home to Newell’s Old Boys after almost four years of stellar service. An eye-catching, like-for-like replacement was secured in Croatia superstar Ivan Rakitic. He is joined by Ettifaq loanee Vitinho and promising Hilal youngster Musab Al-Juwayr.

Outlook: Pereira and Rakitic boast the experience to drag Shabab away from the mire. Belgium winger Yannick Carrasco and Morocco center-back Romain Saiss should build on decent individual starts. They need Senegal striker Habib Diallo to ignite.

 

12. Al-Okhdood

Points 20

Goals scored/conceded 13-25

Season so far: Their top-flight debut has contained a vital ability to edge results, with six victories coming via one-goal margins. An encouraging December under new boss Martin Sevela shifted the mood, with 10 points coming from 15 available. Prolific Romania defender Andrei Burca (four goals) is one of the signings of the season. The fact that he has outscored three-goal attackers Leandre Tawamba and Saviour Godwin is concerning.

Major winter changes: Not applicable

Outlook: For Sevela to avoid a second-successive relegation after Al-Adalah, he must get his misfiring attack in motion.

 

13. Al-Raed

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 24-31

Season so far: It has been an uncomfortable season for the side from Buraidah. Shakhtar Donetsk title winner Igor Jovicevic has failed to find consistency. This is despite boasting the bottom half of the table’s best attack in which Algerian schemer Amir Sayoud has joined resident Moroccans Karim El-Berkaoui and Mohamed Fouzair. Last month’s stunning 3-1 raid of champions Ittihad points to untapped potential.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: The collective strength of the squad eases relegation doubts but they must start exhibiting this on a regular basis.

 

14. Al-Fayha

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 19-31

Season so far: This has been a season of strife for the 2021/2022 King’s Cup victors. Zambia forward Fashion Sakala and Nigeria winger Henry Onyekuru have shone after summer moves. But lengthy injuries to fellow Super Eagle Anthony Nwakaeme and Morocco’s World Cup 2022 performer Abdelhamid Sabiri have stung. Belief remains in Serbian supremo Vuk Rasovic to correct their course, like last season.

Major winter changes: Saudi Arabia’s breakout 2023 Asian Cup performer, goalkeeper Ahmed Al-Kassar, has departed for ambitious First Division League-pacesetters Al-Qadsiah.

Outlook: Their AFC Champions League form must be showcased domestically, or relegation looms.

 

15. Al-Riyadh

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 17-37

Season so far: It has been tough going upon their top-flight return after almost two decades away. Their defense is the leakiest outside the bottom three and attack is the second worst. These problems conflated during a December which featured three defeats and one win. Attacker Saleh Al-Abbas has carried them at times, with Jamaica striker Andre Gray and Zimbabwe forward Knowledge Musona failing to match his impact.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: October hire Odair Hellmann must sharply correct course. The ex-Santos and Al-Wasl tactician has a huge job on his plate.

 

16. Al-Tai

Points 17

Goals scored/conceded 20-39

Season so far: Comfortable mid-table finishes since 2021/2022’s top-flight comeback are a distant memory. An opening matchweek victory against Damac was an illusion, with four points being taken from the next nine matches. Little uptick followed September’s call to dispense with Kresimir Resic, then hire ex-Hilal and Ahli manager Laurentiu Reghecampf. If it was not for the brilliance of nine-goal Ghana attacking midfielder Bernard Mensah, signed from Kayserispor, they would be even further adrift.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: It is going to be a slog to survive, from this point. A date with Abha looms large on March 1.

 

17. Abha

Points 14

Goals scored/conceded 22-52

Season so far: Abha started slowly and got worse from there. They have lost their last seven league matches to a combined score of 29-9. The services of Czeslaw Michniewicz and Yousef Al-Mannai have already been dispensed with. Winter tweaks, however, must point toward better times, or a five-season top-flight stint will end.

Major winter changes: Changes have been sought across the club. Ahli’s promotion winner, Pitso Mosimane, has been set a distinctly different task. Ettifaq loanee Marcel Tisserand must tighten up a defense which has conceded five more than any other. Five-goal Cameroon forward Karl Toko Ekambi has moved in the opposite direction, with Montenegro and Sochi attacker Luka Djordevic his replacement.

Outlook: Much rests on the prowess of Djordevic and Mosimane’s ability to rebound from a mixed spell at the UAE’s Wahda. Alarm bells are still ringing.

 

18. Al-Hazem

Points 13

Goals scored/conceded 19-47

Season so far: It has been tough going for last season’s First Division League runners-up. Every matchweek has been spent within the drop zone, including 11 in last place. A call was made in October to release promotion winner Filipe Gouveia and draft in Nassr’s 2013/2014 double winner, Jose Daniel Carreno. After the pain of their landmark Hilal thumping, they now sit on an encouraging run of one defeat from the subsequent five matches.

Major winter changes: Hazem looked to Major League Soccer and recruited Venezuela defensive midfielder Junior Moreno.

Outlook: Carreno has provided hope that an instant demotion is not inevitable. To do this, will require impressive Portuguese midfielder Toze’s 10-goal contributions to be matched elsewhere.

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