This match up was extremely important coming into Week 25 for a couple of reasons. First of all, this was the Riyadh Derby with one week to go in the league. Al-Nassr, leading Al-Ahli by two points, needed a win to further themselves from their Jeddah rivals as Al-Ahli go up against their own in Al-Ittihad on the final game day of the league season.
And the game ended with Al-Hilal down to eight (!) men after a hard tackle from Mohammed Jahfali, a last man tackle from captain Saud Kariri and a fight from Salem Al-Dossary. Chaos ensued at the King Fahd Stadium, but that was not enough to stop Al-Hilal giving Al-Nassr a run for their money in this game.
Abdullah Al-Enezi was nothing short of mesmeric with his shot stopping for Al-Nassr key to them winning the league. Al-Ahli Jeddah lose out on the title with a draw against Al-Taawon as they now finish second – four points behind the second consecutive league winners.
Speaking of league winners, Al-Ahli have not won the league since 1984, having provided us with an astounding season that couple up with the best striker in the region (Omar Al-Somah) while finishing undefeated should they avoid defeat next week in the Jeddah Derby against Al-Ittihad. Definitely reminiscent of Liverpool in 2013-14; a team with one of the best strikers around (Luis Suarez), losing it from their own mistakes and not winning the league in quite a long time (1989).
Nevertheless, Mohammad Al-Sahlawi showed up in the big game once again, but let’s talk about how Jorge da Silva and Giorgios Donis aimed for this to play out: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2pq6a4 (the goal)
Al-Hilal shape and system
Al-Hilal’s shape resembled the reincarnated Liverpool at the turn of the year, when they employed a 3-4-2-1 formation with a box midfield and two “Trequartistas”. Thiago Neves and Salem Al-Dossary were apart of the attacking double pivot, supporting Nasser Al-Shamrani up front. Abdullah Al-Zori was a menace down the left flank, but this enabled other things to happen in defence (a domino effect). Unfortunately, Faisal Darwish was unable to affect play down the right flank and neither was he efficient defensively.
After the first red card, they continued with a 4-2-2-1 on the Football Manager version of “Overload”, and as they went down to 9 men it was chaos all over the pitch.
Al-Nassr shape and system
Al-Nassr went into this game with another “reincarnation of Liverpool” formation, with the 4-4-2 Diamond their numerical formation coming into this game. Attacking midfielder Adrian was everywhere today; pressing high, backwards pressing, dropping deep, creating, moving to the flanks, creating overloads. It was only right that he got the assist to the (offside) goal that won Al-Nassr the game.
Al-Hilal calm, composed and convincing…
The game was all in favour The Blue Wave at the beginning of the game. Their back three enabled them to build out with ease from their defensive third with occasional help from the goalkeeper. Salman Al-Faraj, Thiago Neves, Abdullah Al-Zori and Salem Al-Dossary were all on the top of their game in the first 45 minutes and were the main threats of the Al-Hilal team.
Although, that wasn’t translated into clear cut chances with Al-Nassr doing so well to block Thiago Neves and Salem Al-Dossary out of the game in the first quarter of an hour or so. The opposition’s diamond midfield was often turned into a rhombus with Adrian’s non-static positioning providing the much needed-dynamism for the Al-Nassr team.
And with more than 65% of possession for Al-Hilal in the first twenty minutes it seemed like we would be treated to a game of “possession vs. counter attack” but as soon as Al-Nassr perfected their counter attack: taking advantage of the large spaces in between Al-Hilal’s lopsided back three / back four, easily seeing that Kwak although composed on the ball it was “a shame he is composed off of it” (by @korfan on Twitter) and his lack of physical dominance at the age of 33 saw him drawn out to create a large space behind him where Al-Nassr formed a 3v1 overload and allowed Mohammed Al-Sahlawi to score.
Al-Nassr reveal the touch of the champions
Al-Nassr were stuck in their own half at the start of the game as Adrian did all of the work towards forcing the play and creating chances for the team, also doing most of the pressing work as he did so moving in between both strikers who drifted into the half spaces. That all changed after the goal, which saw Al-Nassr take initiative and dictate the tempo of the game (not with possession of the ball as much as their off the ball movement showed, though).
Al-Sahlawi’s astute usage of his head to bully Kwak and Jahfali in the air was one of the Al-Nassr game plans, but the main plan was to obliterate the back 3 who were not adequately protected by the double pivot of Salman Al-Faraj and Saud Kariri. Saud Kariri was forced into areas of clear under load and in the end it became so dangerous that Kariri was the last man on the pitch, and sacrificed himself in turn for the Al-Hilal to avoid conceding a goal.
Salman Al-Faraj added flair into the game using his nimble dribbling and nifty skills to get past players but it wasn’t enough against the midfield diamond of Al-Nassr. Al-Nassr counter attacked with pace, isolated the back three (who were wide open in the half spaces) to provide clear-cut chances.
The statistics showed that Al-Nassr only created four attempts on goal (two on target) while passing the ball only 33 times in the opposition final third. This proved the danger that their attack and midfield can do in ‘bits and bobs’, with Jorge Da Silva outsmarting his Greek opponent Donis.
We congratulate Al-Nassr on winning the league for the second time in a row, and albeit scoring an offside goal and escaping a clear penalty call, it is more Al-Ahli’s fault for dropping points against Al-Taawon as Al-Nassr were superb across the whole season, winning their 20th game of the season (out of 25 games played as of yet) yesterday
The Asian Champions League exit may have hurt, but they will be back next season.