The pause is, almost, over.
Tuesday night heralds the 2019/20 Saudi Professional League’s resumption, behind closed doors, after five months inaction because of coronavirus. The emotions about witnessing west Asia’s grandest club competition kick back into gear, for an eight-game sprint to the finish, has only been heightened by an engrossing match-week 23.
From a titanic summit clash in Riyadh, to tension at the bottom and the race for Asian qualification, here are three must-watch fixtures.
AL NASSR V AL HILAL (WEDNESDAY, 22:00)
Saudi football has waited long enough for this.
A title battle at boiling point was made to simmer in March when alarming events elsewhere overtook it. The heat is now, unquestionably, back on, even in the absence of the impassioned atmosphere generated by a sell-out crowd at King Fahd International Stadium.
Champions Nassr will be feeling its force the most, a six-point gap in second to leaders – and great rivals – Hilal cannot grow any larger. For their star-studded opponents, a fantastic opportunity awaits to twin domestic supremacy with November’s cherished AFC Champions League conquest.
Nassr’s belated weekend agreement with Galatasaray about a permanent deal for pivotal Brazilian centre-back Maicon has significantly boosted their cause. So, too, the calming of a dispute with international playmaker Giuliano.
Further belief is provided by rich memories of their compatriot Bruno Uvini’s iconic 97th-minute header in last season’s fixture which did so much to secure a first SPL crown since 2014/15.
October’s 2-1 victory at Hilal also increased an unbeaten run in this pressure match-up to four; some turnaround from the previous three-game losing streak.
The division’s cagiest defence – only 16 conceded – must, however, attempt to engineer victory. This adds another layer of excitement,