An extended international break has given the Arabian Gulf League’s 14 clubs time to pause and reflect.
There is only good news for champions Sharjah, who remain the class of an improved field – thanks, in part, to reigning Foreign Player of the Year Igor Coronado’s staggering exploits. The King know, however, that a stern challenge will continue to be mounted by the likes of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, Al Ain and even rebounding Al Nasr.
At the opposite end of the standings, seven painful matchweeks have left Madjid Bougherra’s Fujairah and promoted Khor Fakkan nursing bruises. Sides like Hatta, Al Wasl and Al Wahda can, however, dream of better days after recent recoveries.
Here are the early stars of 2019/20 and what is to look forward to in the remaining months of an engaging season:
Record: 2W, 2D, 3L
Transfer dealings: African attackers William Owusu and Bubacarr Trawally have added a necessary injection of goals, while serious injury to Mali defensive midfielder Tongo Doumbia is unfortunate. Veteran centre-back Waheed Ismail, 36, looks well past his best. 6/10.
Star man: Vander Vieira (above). A trio of goals and assists from the Brazilian winger. Remains deadly from set-pieces.
Outlook: A searing start to coach Ayman El Ramady’s fourth campaign has tapered off, the lowlight being a 4-2 loss to Al Wahda from 2-0 up after 15 minutes. Sale of UAE’s Mohammed Ali Shaker to Al Ain has hurt defence. Should, however, be comfortably mid-table. Again.
Record: 4W, 2D, 1L
Transfer dealings: Al Ain’s lineage of elite strikers has been continued by Togo’s Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba and his, remorseless, eight goals in seven matches. But Caio Canedo, Shaker and Abderrahmane Meziane require more time to shine. 7/10.
Star man: Laba. From scoring in his first five AGL run-outs, to notching four in the 7-1 humiliation of Fujairah.
Outlook: Something is building under ex-Croatia midfielder Ivan Leko. Would be top if they’d avoided late collapse at champions, and leaders, Sharjah.
Record: 1W, 4D, 2L
Transfer dealings: None of the Sky Blues’ summer recruits can be considered a roaring success. Luiz Antonio hasn’t truly grasped control of midfield, while South Africa’s Ayanda Petosi has netted once. Defence does not look improved by Serbian Sasa Ivkovic. 5/10.
Star man: Pedro Conde. Where would Bani be without the productive Spaniard? His four goals settled the unforgettable derby with Wahda.
Outlook: Last month has not been kind, featuring two losses and two draws. The goalless stalemate with Al Ain, however, showed why Bani should not worry about relegation.
Record: 2W, 1D, 4L
Transfer dealings: Root of the problem for the Western Knights. Dutch winger Mikhail Rosheuvel has one goal, Brazilian playmaker Diego Jardel has zero goals or assists and utility defender Masoud Sulaiman has been unavailable too often. 2/10.
Star man: Khalid Al Senani. The ex-Al Jazira goalkeeper’s division-best 31 saves highlights his importance.
Outlook: Alarm bells should be ringing and their seven-year stay in the top flight appears at risk. The joint-second lowest scorers must start finding the back of the net with greater regularity.
Record: 2W, 0D, 5L
Transfer dealings: Goalless Liberia striker William Jebor has been, arguably, the 2019/20 AGL’s biggest flop. Brazilian forward Jhonnattann has only one goal, while winger Khalil Khamis has had a negligible impact. 2/10.
Star man: Fernando Gabriel. Prolific Brazilian midfielder’s brace – including a 91st-minute winner – against promoted Khor Fakkan has averted real disaster.
Outlook: Ex-Rangers and Algeria defender Madjid Bougherra is learning on the job as a head coach – and it’s been a school of hard knocks. Lead the way with 17 goals conceded. Will be right near the bottom all season.
Record: 2W, 2D, 3L
Transfer dealings: The Tornado can have no complaints about their extensive summer business. Daniel Amora is efficiency personified in the middle, Ricardo Valente struck a wonder goal in victory at Fujairah and centre-back Waleed Sirag has made them tough to beat. 7/10.
Star man: Amora. The ex-Al Raed orchestrator leads the way with 550 passes. Makes rookie coach Christos Kontis’ vision come to life.
Outlook: Vibes at Hamdan bin Rashid Stadium would be very different if the result at Fujairah had gone the other way before the international break. They will now hope they’ve got enough quality to always be one step ahead of the bottom two.
Record: 2W, 0D, 5L
Transfer dealings: Ex-Germany Under-21 striker Peniel Mlapa began with a brace, in agonising defeat at Al Ain, and has remained an omnipresent threat. Jordan winger Yaseen Al Bakhit has contributed two assists. Emirati additions like Yaqoub Yousef, though, have failed to deliver such instant returns. 6/10.
Star man: Majid Rashid. Teenager is an emerging powerhouse in midfield and a player of vast promise.
Outlook: Quality performers like Hungary winger Balazs Dzsudzsak, Al Bakhit, former Barcelona centre-back Henrique and Mlapa are now matched by veteran boss Jorge Da Silva. Should have enough to survive, again.
Record: 3W, 2D, 2L
Transfer dealings: Jazira’s moves were the talk of the AGL. Coveted 2016 AFC Player of Year Omar Abdulrahman, however, has no assists or goals – even though he’s created the third-most chances (23) – and Brazilian forward Keno has fallen victim to injury. But Serbia centre-back Milos Kosanovic has impressed. 6/10.
Star man: Ali Mabkhout. Best of an underperforming bunch. Even a return of two goals and three assists is down on his average.
Outlook: With coach Marcel Keizer back at the helm and in charge of one of the Middle East’s best squads, the Pride of Abu Dhabi should be well in the title mix. Must correct poor results in grandstand matches to stand any chance of hurting Sharjah.
Record: 0W, 3D, 4L
Transfer dealings: Definition of a mixed bag. Unheralded Brazilian midfielder Dodo has excelled, while heralded compatriot Bismark is floundering. Ahmed Al Yassi represents a good pick-up at right-back, but Uzbekistan striker Temurkhuja Abdukholikov hasn’t come close to netting. 3/10.
Star man: Dodo. Few outside of his native lands would have heard of Dodo. His exploits in the UAE have been exceptional – especially his 30-yard half-volley versus Hatta.
Outlook: It’s not looking good for the men in green. They are the competition’s only winless side, plus possess its worst attack. Relegation appears a certainty.
Record: 4W, 1D, 2L
Transfer dealings: Cape Verde playmaker Brandley Kuwas has four assists, teenager Glauber is a Rolls-Royce of a centre-back and Chile midfielder Esteban Pavez produced a stonking opener versus Kalba. What a difference a good coach makes. 8/10.
Star man: Krunoslav Jurcic. The ex-Croatia midfielder worked miracles last term at promoted Bani Yas and has revitalised Nasr since his October hiring.
Outlook: Could there be an outside bolter for the AGL crown? Nasr have won all four matches under the new regime…
SHABAB AL AHLI DUBAI CLUB
Record: 5W, 1D, 1L
Transfer dealings: Veteran left-back Yousef Jaber, 34, has recorded four assists and netted a UAE return, while playmaker Davide Mariani is a solid contributor. But Leonardo’s ban has curtailed his influence and fellow winger Federico Cartabia is invisible. 7/10.
Star man: Yousef Jaber. Who predicted this? An exit from Bani Yas after nine years has revitalised him. Early contender for Player of the Year.
Outlook: Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s men are poised to pounce on any Sharjah slips. Do they, however, have the overall class to overtake them? We’ll find out…
Record: 6W, 1D, 0L
Transfer dealings: The strong have gotten ever stronger. Cape Verde striker Ricardo Gomes’ physicality has provided a new element up top as replacement for Welliton. A trio of Al Wahda players – Salem Sultan, Mohammed Abdulbasit and Tariq Ahmed – have added significant ballast. 9/10.
Star man: Igor Coronado. The AGL’s second-top scorer (six) and leading assist maker (seven). Also utterly remarkable when securing a 2-2 draw at Hatta in injury time and to down Al Ain. Peerless.
Outlook: It took 23 years for the King to reclaim their throne – and they are not in the mood to relinquish it. Look unstoppable. Extra demands of AFC Champions League are a, potential, curveball.
Record: 3W, 1D, 3L
Transfer dealings: The five goals of Spanish forward Carlitos prove his worth, while Uruguayan anchorman Nicolas Milesi is getting up to speed. Their decision to syphon off three useful Emirati players to Sharjah, however, looks seriously misguided. 4/10.
Star man: Manolo Jimenez. The Clarets were going nowhere under Maurice Steijn. They now have hope of gatecrashing the upper echelons thanks to two wins and one draw under their ex-Sevilla tactician.
Outlook: Wahda have got themselves back into the mix – a prospect that seemed unlikely after a winless first three fixtures. Must kick on from here – starting with improving competition’s second-worst defence (15 goals let in).
Record: 2W, 2D, 3L
Transfer dealings: Welliton’s four goals from seven run-outs has prevented a washout. Ecuador midfielder Fernando Gaibor lacks influence, Lucas Galvao failed to lift a porous defence and winger Haboush Saleh is scoreless across 443 minutes. 3/10.
Star man: Fabio De Lima (above). Brazilian forward has not been at his best, with just three goals and two assists. Still a cut above – especially since Canedo’s departure.
Outlook: Relegation once appeared an inevitability. That danger looks over after a three-match run without defeat. Must maintain push for mid-table security.
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