CR7 rolls back the years while record-breaking Al-Hilal hit nine!
Cristiano Ronaldo rolls back the years! Saudi Pro League winners & losers as Al-Nassr’s superstar steps up again while record-breaking Al-Hilal hit nine ahead of crunch title clash
The top two teams meet next week, and both warmed-up for the encounter in fine fashion as the chasing pack lost further ground on the title chasers
The Saudi Pro League returned with a bang after the final international break of 2023, with nine matches in Round 14 yielding 35 goals, including the league’s biggest-ever triumph.
That record now belongs to leaders Al-Hilal, who defeated Al-Hazm 9-0 to preserve their four-point advantage over Al-Nassr – who defeated Al-Akhdoud 3-0 themselves – ahead of the pair’s crucial game this Friday.
The title race appears to be a two-horse race, with Nassr already seven points ahead of the pursuing group after the five teams directly below them all failed to win on their return to action. Al-Ittihad, for example, drew 1-1 with Al-Ettifaq in their first game under new manager Marcelo Gallardo, keeping the defending champions in fourth place and 13 points behind the league leaders.
Georginio Wijnaldum/Al-Ettifaq is the winner.
Though Al-Ettifaq are currently seventh in the league, there is no doubt that the club’s summer arrivals have all made a significant impact for Steven Gerrard’s side and are not to blame for their poor league position.
One of the most impressive has been Georginio Wijnaldum, who has now scored six goals in all competitions after striking from close range against Al-Ittihad.
Wijnaldum’s career has been defined by injuries and lackluster performances since leaving Liverpool in 2021, but the Dutchman appears to be getting back to his best in the Middle East.
Karim Benzema, LOSER
as Nuno Espirito Santo was fired by Al-Ittihad, there was a strong expectation that Karim Benzema would finally explode in the Pro League, and the early signs were promising as he struck a hat-trick in the final game before the international break.
However, based on his performance against Al-Ettifaq on Friday, that may not be the case. Benzema looked off the pace during Marcelo Gallardo’s first game in command of the defending champions, and it was left to his striking partner, Abderrazak Hamdallah, to save a point.
However, Ittihad have a reasonably easy run of fixtures ahead of the Club World Cup, and Benzema will be aiming to score goals and get back into form against some of the Pro League’s lesser lights.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the winner.
Cristiano Ronaldo is of an age now when he rarely dominates for an entire 90-minute encounter, yet such is the Portuguese legend’s talent that he can still be the defining presence in a match where he is largely quiet.
That was certainly the case in Al-Nassr’s triumph over Al-Akhdoud on Friday, as Ronaldo was somewhat anonymous for the first hour before producing two magnificent moments of perfection to ensure everyone left the game talking about his talent.
His magnificent lob from nearly 40 yards won the 3-0 victory and increased his Pro League tally for the season to 15 from just 13 games, putting him four clear in the race for the Golden Boot.
Al-Hilal was the winner.
Al-Hilal may have felt some pressure despite Saturday’s opponents Al-Hazm being in the relegation zone, with Al-Nassr having already won and knowing they couldn’t afford to slip up ahead of next week’s top-of-the-table game with Ronaldo and co.
If they did, it wasn’t evident, as Jorge Jesus’ side won 9-0, the largest margin of victory in Pro League history.
Aleksandar Mitrovic scored for the sixth game in a row, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic returned from injury with a goal and an assist, and winger Michael provided two assists in a strong performance for the league leaders.
However, it was Brazilian striker Malcom who grabbed the limelight by scoring his second league hat-trick of the season, ensuring that Neymar’s injured former PSG star would not be missed.
Al-Taawoun have been one of the stories of the Pro League season, with the minnows threatening to challenge some of the richest clubs in the world for the title, but it appears their fairy-tale season is fading.
Things appeared to be going well early on against Al-Riyadh on Friday, as the hosts seized a 1-0 lead, but after Musa Barrow missed from the penalty spot early in the second half, things started to fall apart.
Abdulfattah Adam was sent off in the 62nd minute before the visitors scored twice, including a penalty in the 10th minute of stoppage time, to condemn Taawoun to their second consecutive defeat and extend their winless run to five games as they continue to fall out of contention for the title.
Al-Tai was declared the winner.
Al-Riyadh’s penalty wasn’t the only one in the round, as Al-Tai also scored from the spot deep into additional time in their incredible comeback win over Al-Raed.
Tai trailed 3-1 after 90 minutes, but rallied back, with former Atletico Madrid forward Bernard Mensah scoring from the penalty spot in the 99th minute for his second goal of the game and seventh of the season.
It was then up to Virgil Misidjan to score the game-winning goal a minute later, capping off one of the most amazing games in Saudi Pro League history.