Ronaldo excels, Al-Nassr impresses, Al-Hilal scores nine

Photo of Ronaldo securing the 2nd position of Al Nassr in saudi pro leaugue.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s standout performance, Al-Nassr’s impressive run, and Al-Hilal’s historic goal-scoring feat have ignited the league with excitement. The Portuguese maestro, Cristiano Ronaldo, showcased his enduring brilliance in a recent match for Al-Nassr. In a strategic move that left fans in awe, Ronaldo emerged as the defining presence in the game against Al-Akhdoud.

Although relatively quiet for the first hour, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner delivered two stunning moments of quality, including an outstanding lob from nearly 40 yards. With this stellar performance, Ronaldo took his Pro League season tally to an impressive 15 goals in just 13 games, placing him four goals ahead in the Golden Boot race.

The final international break of 2023 has concluded, signaling the return of the Saudi Pro League with a remarkable Round 14 featuring 35 goals across nine matches, including the largest-ever victory in league history.

In the upcoming week, the top two teams are gearing up for a showdown, having both impressed in their warm-up matches, while the contenders in the title race lost further ground.

Al-Hilal now boasts that record after a commanding 9-0 win over Al-Hazm, maintaining a four-point lead over Al-Nassr, who secured a 3-0 victory against Al-Akhdoud. The stage is set for their crucial clash this Friday.

The title race appears increasingly to be a two-team affair, with Nassr now seven points ahead of the pursuing pack. None of the five teams directly below them managed to secure a victory upon their return to action. Notably, under new manager Marcelo Gallardo, Al-Ittihad settled for a 1-1 draw with Al-Ettifaq, keeping the defending champions in fourth place and trailing by 13 points behind the league leaders.

Check the standings of Saudi Pro League here.

Winner: Georginio Wijnaldum representing Al-Ettifaq

While Al-Ettifaq currently resides in the seventh position in the league standings, it’s evident that the club’s summer additions have made a substantial impact on Steven Gerrard’s team, and they are not responsible for the team’s disappointing league standing.

A notable standout among these new signings is Georginio Wijnaldum, who has impressively scored six goals in various competitions, including the opening goal against Al-Ittihad from close range.

Since leaving Liverpool in 2021, Wijnaldum’s career has been characterized by injuries and below-par performances during his time at Paris Saint-Germain and Roma. Nevertheless, the Dutchman appears to be returning to his peak form in the Middle East.

Disappointing Performance: Karim Benzema

There were high hopes that Karim Benzema would finally find his form in the Pro League after Nuno Espirito Santo’s departure from Al-Ittihad, particularly following his hat-trick in the final game before the international break.

However, if his recent display against Al-Ettifaq is any indication, this may not be the case. In Marcelo Gallardo’s inaugural match as the manager of the defending champions, Benzema appeared out of sync, requiring his strike partner Abderrazak Hamdallah to salvage a point.

Nonetheless, Ittihad has a relatively favorable series of upcoming fixtures leading to the Club World Cup, offering Benzema an opportunity to rediscover his form against some of the Pro League’s less formidable opponents.

Victorious: Cristiano Ronaldo

Despite Cristiano Ronaldo no longer consistently dominating the entire 90 minutes at his current age, his exceptional talent allows him to be a decisive force even in matches where he maintains a relatively quiet presence.

This was evident in Al-Nassr’s victory over Al-Akhdoud on Friday. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was relatively inconspicuous for the first hour before showcasing two moments of outstanding brilliance. His most remarkable goal was an extraordinary lob from nearly 40 yards, securing a 3-0 victory. This performance elevated his Pro League season tally to 15 goals in just 13 games, placing him four goals ahead in the Golden Boot race.

Triumphant: Al-Hilal

Confronted with the challenge of Al-Nassr’s earlier triumph and recognizing the importance of maintaining their position ahead of the impending top-of-the-table clash with Ronaldo and his team, Al-Hilal may have felt some pressure, even though Saturday’s opponents, Al-Hazm, were in the relegation zone.

If there was any pressure, it certainly didn’t hinder them, as Jorge Jesus’ team secured a dominant 9-0 victory, establishing the largest margin of victory in Pro League history.

Several standout performances were noted for the league leaders, with Aleksandar Mitrovic extending his scoring streak to five games, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic making a triumphant return from injury with a goal and an assist, and winger Michael contributing two assists in an impressive display.

Yet, it was Brazilian striker Malcom who took center stage, achieving his second hat-trick of the season in the league. Once more, Neymar’s fellow countryman played a vital role in making sure that the absence of the injured former PSG star was not conspicuous.

Struggling Performer: Al-Taawoun

Al-Taawoun has been a noteworthy storyline in the Pro League season, initially emerging as a threat to some of the wealthiest clubs worldwide for the title. However, it seems their hopes for a remarkable campaign are slowly diminishing.

Despite taking an early 1-0 lead against Al-Riyadh on Friday, the situation took a turn for the worse, especially after Musa Barrow missed a penalty early in the second half. The momentum unraveled from that point onward.

Abdulfattah Adam’s red card in the 62nd minute preceded two goals by the visitors, including a penalty in the 10th minute of stoppage time. This outcome marked Al-Taawoun’s second consecutive defeat, extending their winless streak to five games and causing them to gradually fall out of contention for the title.

Triumphant: Al-Tai

The late-game penalty excitement wasn’t limited to Al-Riyadh in this round; Al-Tai also successfully converted a penalty in the dying moments of added time during their extraordinary come-from-behind victory against Al-Raed.

Despite being behind 3-1 after 90 minutes, Al-Tai impressively fought their way back into the game. Former Atletico Madrid forward Bernard Mensah secured the equalizer from the penalty spot in the 99th minute, achieving his second goal of the match and his seventh of the season. Just a minute later, Virgil Misidjan scored the decisive goal, concluding one of the more remarkable games in the history of the Saudi Pro League.


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