Star names and title pressure makes Friday’s Riyadh derby between Al Shabab and Al Hilal a must-watch Roshn Saudi League match
Al Shabab and Al Hilal meet on Friday night in a hugely important Riyadh Derby that has consequences for what is already a thrilling title race in Roshn Saudi League.
It is a clash between third and fourth, teams that are in different form but with the same need of a win to stay in touch at the top.
As things stand, hosts Al Shabab are in fourth with 44 points and Hilal are a point and a place better off. Both have played 21 games, which means they have nine to go, which is one fewer than the top two.
Al Ittihad are in first with 53 points and Al Nassr a point behind in second.
This means there is little room for error. Whichever team collects victory on Friday will move to within five or six points of the leaders, while defeat would leave the losers with an awful lot to do, especially considering that Al Ittihad and Al Nassr are both in excellent form.
The stakes are high then and Al Hilal, as they have so often done in such situations in the past, are hitting top gear. The champions have won their last four and will fancy their chances if they can make it five in a row and have the top two in their sights.
Coach Ramon Diaz, who led the 18-time champions on an amazing run last season to come back from behind to clinch the title, also has Odion Ighalo to call upon. The striker, who arrived in Saudi Arabia from Manchester United in 2021 to sign for Al Shabab, then moved across Riyadh to Al Hilal later in the same year.
The Nigerian ended last season with 24 goals to finish as the league’s top scorer. He is currently on fire and has found the target an impressive nine times in seven games so far this year.
Four in his last two appearances has put Ighalo on top of this season’s goal-scoring charts, alongside Talisca of Al Nassr. The fact that Al Shabab know all about the striker does not make him easier to stop.
The hosts are still missing their own star striker Carlos Jr, injured in February action in the AFC Champions League, and the club’s form has been mixed of late.
After a run of four wins from four had the team in the thick of the title race, five points have been dropped in the past three. Six goals have been conceded in those matches and with the firepower that Al Hilal have at their disposal, that will be a concern for coach Vicente Moreno and the Spaniard’s fingers will be crossed that centre-back Hassan Tambakti is fit.
There are issues for Al Hilal, too. Centre-back Ali Al Buhaili looks to be out and his fellow Saudi Arabia internationals Salem Al Dawsari and Salman Al Faraj missed Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Al Fayha.
Compared to Al Shabab, Al Hilal have been busier as Friday’s game will be their third in the space of a week, while Al Shabab have not played for more than two weeks.
It all points to a repeat of October’s tight 1-1 draw and another vital Riyadh Derby, which is not to be missed.