ROSHN secures Saudi Pro League naming rights

RIYADH: The 2022-23 Saudi Professional League season is fast approaching and there are, as always, many questions. Arab News looked into the future and tried to predict the main issues for this season.

Champions: Al-Nassr

It’s the toughest call of all, but among the contenders, Al-Nassr are the ones who really got stronger over the summer.

The club finished last season strong with 16 points from the last six games and it went almost unnoticed that they finished just six points behind champions Al-Hilal.

The three big signatures look great on paper. David Ospina in goal, full-back Ghislain Konan and midfielder Luis Gustavo all have good major league experience and if they settle down, Al-Nassr should stop.

It all depends on new coach Rudi Garcia, but he has worked at big clubs like Roma and Lyon and won’t be fazed when facing Al-Hilal.

Add attacking talents such as Pity Martinez (South American player of the year 2018), Talisca, who stood out last season, and Vincent Aboubakar, top scorer at the last Africa Cup of Nations, and Al- Nassr have all the ingredients in place. for the No.10 title. Add to that some fine homegrown talent including Ayman Yahya, Abdulrahman Ghareeb, Sultan Al-Ghanam and Abdulelah Al-Amri.

With no Champions League commitments, everything looks very promising for the Riyadh club.

Second place: Al-Hilal

Only once in the last decade has Al-Hilal finished outside the top two and that is unlikely to happen this time around. Every season, the Riyadh giants aim for the top spot, just like last season when they won the No.18 title.

This summer’s transfer ban means manager Ramon Diaz hasn’t been able to strengthen his squad, however. Instead, there have been rumors that playmaker Matheus Pereira wants to leave and even question marks over whether star striker Odion Ighalo will stay.

There are also injury issues, as well as the Mohamed Kanno saga, the one that caused the ban, which don’t help. Add in Asian Champions League commitments and several of their players heading to the World Cup, and it all adds up to a tougher-than-usual season.

Yet despite all this, Al-Hilal can never be counted. In February, they were 16 points behind Al-Ittihad but ended up winning the title. The Blues are a winning machine and, in addition to talent, they have an incredible mentality. But no new player – at least until January – can make a difference this time.

Third place: Al-Ittihad

The Tigers have been nursing injuries since losing a double-digit lead in the title chase last season. Under new coach Nuno Espirito Santo, they are likely to struggle.

The additions of Tarek Hamed and Helder Costa look good, but prolific striker Abderrazak Hamdallah’s four-month ban could be costly. There are questions about the defense that the coach will have to answer, but the most important is how the failure of last season will affect the mood and mentality.

Surprise Package: Al-Ettifaq

Last season, a late run under Patrice Carteron saw Dammam’s men narrowly escape relegation.

The Frenchman knows the region well and while he’s not one to stay too long in one place, the former Lyon boss, who won the African Champions League and the Egyptian title, seemed to galvanize the players after his arrival in February and which brought results when they were needed.

There is a decent backbone in Al-Ettifaq. New goalkeeper Paulo Victor has a solid CV, Swedish striker Robin Quaison has shown he can score, and the midfield also looks promising, especially if the new signings can materialize quickly.

Apart from a second-round clash with Al-Ittihad, the team’s start looks pretty sweet and if there are any points on the board early on, the pressure is off and the prospect of a much better season is opened.

Top scorer: Odion Ighalo

Hamdallah’s suspension until December means it is unlikely, if not impossible, for the Moroccan to win the Golden Boot for a third time.

This gives Odion Ighalo, who appears to be staying at Al-Hilal and in good pre-season form, a great chance to repeat his feat from last season when he finished top of the scoring charts, splitting his goals between Al -Shabab then the champions after his mid-season transfer.

In total, the Nigerian has scored 24 goals and is one of those strikers who can be almost invisible but then appear with a goal. The former Manchester United man will surely find the target regularly. There is no World Cup to manage and with Al-Hilal there are certainly plenty of chances.

Best goalkeeper: David Ospina

He is the league’s hottest goalkeeper and was a regular feature in Serie A for Napoli last season and before that he featured in the UEFA Champions League for Arsenal.

With over 100 caps for Colombia, he has a resume few other goalkeepers can match and in 2015 he was called the best goalkeeper in the English Premier League by an admittedly biased Arsene Wenger.

Ospina is a great shooter but isn’t the greatest and that, and his reputation for mistakes, may have kept him from reaching the top echelons of the goalkeeping world, but he got away with it. close.

A first league win outside his homeland would add to that resume and could lead to other Saudi clubs seeking bigger No.1s.

Foreign player to watch: Ever Banega

There are so many to choose from, but there may be few better than the Argentine playmaker who has rocked Al-Shabab for the past two seasons.

He is now well and truly settled in Riyadh and under Spain coach Vicente Moreno should be ready to set the league on fire. If Al-Shabab is going to fight for the title, then they will need their fitness and their 34-year-old dismissal.

There is another Argentine in Pity Martinez who has yet, partly due to injuries, shown his true ability for Al-Nassr although there were some flashes at the end of last season. With plenty of time to train, the former River Plate man could be like a new signing for the Yellows.

Saudi player to watch: Firas Al-Buraikan

Hopefully Hassan Tambakti, a young centre-back, gets more minutes on the pitch with Al-Shabab this season as the 23-year-old has real potential.

The big story, however, could be that of Firas Al-Buraikan who, like Tambakti, joined the Under-23 side after the AFC Asian Cup group stage in June and helped youngsters Green Falcons to win the title.

There is a dearth of Saudi strikers playing regularly and he was the only homegrown striker to finish in the top 10 scorers last season, all the more impressive considering he was playing for Al-Fateh and not one of the giants.

If the 22-year-old continues to improve, especially with Saleh Al-Shehri’s injury from Al-Hilal, then he will start and maybe play in the World Cup.

Coach to watch: Nuno Espirito Santo

It’s a fun old game. A year ago, the Portuguese manager was at the top of the English Premier League after winning three out of three with Tottenham Hotspur, but now he is in Jeddah.

If Nuno can succeed in Saudi Arabia and Asia and not take the first opportunity to return to Europe that comes along, then he could really show others that this is a place where coaches can make a difference and work with the best. players.

That’s in the future as the first task will be to bring the title to Al-Ittihad for the first time since 2009. The Tigers ruined everything last season but now have a top boss and higher expectations.

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