It was a long 144 days for football fans in Saudi Arabia, but after four months without any action, the Saudi Pro League (SPL) returned this week with 26 goals scored across the eight fixtures.
Round 23 of fixtures kicked off on Tuesday evening, with the last game of the week being the highly anticipated Riyadh derby last night which saw Al Hilal claim their first derby victory in three years, with an impressive 4-1 win away to rivals Al Nasr.
With the league returning to complete the 2019-20 campaign, there are seven more rounds of fixtures to be played in the short window of just one month, but what did we learn this week from the return of the country’s most popular sport?
A title in sight for Al Hilal
Seven games to go and a nine-point gap at the top of the table. The three second half goals for the league leaders gave them an impressive victory last night to take a massive step towards reclaiming the SPL title. Goals from Sebastian Giovinco, a double for Bafétimbi Gomis and Carlos Eduardo gave the visitors their first league derby win since October 2017. Next up for Al Hilal is a home clash against Al-Fateh who will be hoping for an upset to continue their mini revival in the fight against relegation.
Al-Ittihad’s struggles continue
The Jeddah giants’ let an early lead slip in their first game back, falling to a 2-1 defeat away to Abha. Just two years ago they were lifting the Kings’ Cup having been in the top four of the SPL. They have struggled of late and now find themselves just one point above the relegation zone with only one win in their last five league games. It does not get any easier for the Tigers with a Jeddah derby against Al-Ahli coming up on Sunday evening.
Champions League places are still up for grabs
Al Shabab’s impressive 3-0 away win to high flying Al Wehda has narrowed the gap in the race for Champions League football. Victory for the visitors means there are just five points separating fourth place Wehda and Al Shabab who sit in seventh. Al Wehda have one point between them and fifth place Al Faisaly, but there are some tricky games coming up for the Makkah side with their next two games against sixth placed Al Raed and Al Nasr.
Three-way battle for the golden boot
Arguably the most prestigious individual award up for grabs each year, the race for the league’s top scorer became tighter after goals from Bafétimbi Gomis and Omar Al Somah narrowed Abderrazak Hamdallah’s lead at the top of the charts. The Moroccan leads the way on 18 goals but Gomis’ double against Al Nasr puts him just two behind, whilst Al Somah found the back of the net in Al Ahli’s 4-2 win over Al Hazm, to take his tally to 14 for the season.
Safety measures shows signs of early success
Ahead of the restart, the SPL detailed the lengths of the measures that were being taken to ensure a safe return to the action. With over 15 new safety precautions in place, teams worked well with the league to make sure matches got underway. Staggered team arrivals, changing room restrictions, social distancing and continued disinfection throughout stadiums have shown great cooperation from everybody involved to make sure the season finishes.
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