Al-Jazira’s alarming slump continued, champions Al-Ain heaped more misery on Al-Nasr and Al-Wasl surrendered two goals — plus, the leadership — in the ADNOC Pro League’s intriguing matchweek seven.
Exciting Congo winger Prestige Mboungou’s smartly taken second-half strike earned Ajman a 1-0 win and made it four games on the bounce without victory for the stuttering Pride of Abu Dhabi.
Spain predator Paco Alcacer’s solitary header at promoted Al-Bataeh, meanwhile, ensured new pace-setters Sharjah made back-to-back triumphs after Friday’s President’s Cup final and lethal Togo hit man Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba’s brace eased Al-Ain to 3-1 success at Al-Maktoum Stadium.
Galatasaray loanee Alexandru Cicaldau got on the scoresheet when dark horses Ittihad Kalba fought back from 2-0 down on 55 minutes to draw 2-2 at shaken Al-Wasl.
Mohamed Juma profited via a defensive error to gift Leonardo Jardim’s Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club their 1-0 win versus Khor Fakkan, Palmeiras-owned Rafael Elias lashed home a hat-trick for Baniyas to condemn winless Dibba Al-Fujairah to 4-1 defeat and Al-Wahda rebounded after Cup disappointment to beat sorry Al-Dhafra 4-2.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and talking points from the latest action.
Player of the week — Rafael Elias (Baniyas)
Elias went from worrying problem to probable solution within the space of 45 minutes on Saturday.
A yawning chasm at center forward was created at Baniyas Stadium the moment Joao Pedro’s loan from Dhafra ended in summer 2021. The prolific Brazilian had fired them to an improbable second, ahead of a permanent move to Al-Wahda.
Immediate replacement, Sweden international Isaac Thelin, prematurely terminated his contract last March after just six goals in 21 outings.
Elias, 23, appeared to be headed in the same dispiriting direction, with six scoreless runouts contributing to Baniyas’ status as joint-lowest scorers with three goals.
This paltry tally did not reflect the collective talent within their ranks. But what can rapid winger Suhail Al-Noubi or graceful Argentine playmaker Nicolas Gimenez do when they’ve got no one to create chances for?
The 1-1 score line at the break against Dibba did not augur much. But a mixture of fortune and ruthless finishing from 47 to 86 minutes witnessed Elias collect the match ball, doubling Baniyas’ seasonal total in the process with two headers and a swept effort.
Lowly Dhafra are up next on Sunday, presenting an opportunity for striker and employer to belatedly build momentum.
Goal of the week — Andriy Yarmolenko (Al-Ain)
Yarmolenko is heating things up, just as temperatures begin steadily cooling.
The statuesque Ukraine attacker’s opener at Al-Nasr made it three goal contributions in his last three top-flight matches. This was also poetry in motion, as the Boss’ premier attackers all combined in satisfying fashion.
A burst of acceleration granted Morocco winger Soufiane Rahimi space down the left. Laba and Yarmolenko lurked on the penalty box’s edge when the expected World Cup 2022 competitor glanced across, before laying up a low center.
The former’s telepathic stepover bought Yarmolenko the second’s distraction required to convert low, on the stretch.
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Such synchronization will have pleased boss Serhiy Rebrov. Continue like that and the holders’ stumble out of the starting blocks may turn into a winning sprint.
Enjoyment was etched on the ex-West Ham United and Dynamo Kyiv maestro Yarmolenko’s face. His goal was just reward for an all-round display in which he boasted 87-percent pass accuracy, completed 60 percent of dribbles and recorded three interceptions.
Weekend opposition Shabab Al-Ahli have been warned.
Coach of the week — Goran Tufegdzic (Ajman)
A remarkable result cemented the belief that Ajman’s campaign can transform into a landmark one.
The Orange Brigade won at Al-Jazira for the first time in the professional era, courtesy of the outstanding Mboungou’s killer touch and unerring shot in at the near post. This 77th-minute decider by the summer addition from Roshn Saudi League’s Abha came in a contest in which his club registered only 33 percent of possession, lost the attempts count 13-7 and needed goalkeeper Ali Al-Hosani to make several sharp stops.
Statistics, however, only tell part of the tale. The visitors pressed feverously to disrupt Jazira’s trademark passing carousel under ex-Ajax tactician Marcel Keizer and crafted a range of excellent chances, on the counterattack or through set-pieces.
The Orange Brigade lost two of their opening three fixtures but have since taken 10 points from the next 12 available.
UAE football regular Tufegdzic — Ajman represent the Serbian’s fifth outfit since 2016 — led them to a best Pro League finish of seventh in last season’s debut. A further climb up the standings has to be the target.
Thorsten deserves more time
The walls continue to close in on Thorsten Fink.
Al-Nasr’s third defeat from four fixtures increased the feeling of finality that has surrounded the summer hire from Latvia’s Riga FC.
Yet, there are reasons grounded in fact that exemplify why the Blue Wave’s board have remained patient when Al-Wahda and Dibba have already made managerial changes.
A cold look at the situation has Al-Nasr sitting two spots and two places outside the drop zone. They’ve won just once, despite making seemingly impressive pre-season recruits in Morocco midfielder Adel Taarabt and former Al-Tai center-back Lucao.
But they have accrued the second-most passes with 3,845; joint-second-best pass accuracy of 86 percent; and sixth-most efforts with 91. Only Al-Wahda have directly bettered them for possession, with their average percentage coming in at 63.4.
Former Basel, Hamburg, APOEL and Vissel Kobe boss Fink has forged a palpable identity in the early months of his reign.
These are the foundations upon which progress can be built. Whether he is the man to enjoy them may, yet, depend on how Al-Nasr perform at Kalba on Saturday.