MAKING THE DIFFERENCE
Xavi Hernandez scored a brace against Al Wakrah and once again proved the sort of difference his experience and quality can make in crunch matches. Suspensions to Baghdad Bounedjah, Ibrahim Majed and Pedro Miguel had left Sadd depleted and coach Jesualdo Ferreira fielded several inexperienced players. Xavi led from the front and ensured the youngsters, including Hamza Sanjadji, stayed focused and cool as Wakrah held them goalless close to the hour mark. Ferriera picked Xavi for special praise at the Press conference, but the Spaniard should know all that will count for nothing unless he helps Sadd regain the league shield.
El Jaish, who started off as one of the title favourites, once again saw their campaign fizzle out midway through the season mainly because of injuries to many key players. And if they search for a silver lining, then Sardor Rashidov’s series of fine runs could form one. The Uzbek winger looked unstoppable as he constantly unleashed skilful runs on the left and tormented the rivals. He was once again in his element last week and netted a brace to help the Soldiers see off a battling Al Shahaniya. Coach Sabri Lamouchi pulled him out towards the end much to the applause of their fans and team-mates.
After watching Musab Kheder’s composed performance as a centre-back in the big game against Lekhwiya, Al Sadd should be wondering why they never tried him in that position. Musab, who joined Rayyan on loan from Sadd last January, caught coach Michael Laudrup’s attention in quick time as he deployed the youngster in his preferred right-back’s role. But with Nathan Ribeiro suspended, Laudrup overlooked seasoned deep defender Younes Yaqoub and started Musab, who did a fine job. “We wanted our centre-backs to push Lekhwiya’s striker Youssef El Arabi and their attacking midfielders back, not giving them enough space to work with. And Musab and Gonzalo (Viera) did a good job in containing them,” said Laudrup.
UNBEATEN ALL THE WAY?
With only six matches remaining, Lekhwiya have the opportunity to regain the league title with an unbeaten record. Their overall quality and strength in depth, especially with the emergence of several young players like Almoez Ali and Asim Madibo, mean it is well within reach. Coach Djamel Belmadi will love to cap their fine run with such a record, but said it was not a priority. “If we can set such a record, then why not? We all will be happy. But that isn’t our priority. It’s to win the league title,” said Belmadi.
If one thought Muaither would implode following their 1-6 rout against Al Sadd in the 17th round, then the Eagles proved it wrong. They bounced back to defeat Al Wakrah 3-1 and held Arabi 1-1 and Al Khor 2-2 in the following games. That should stand Philippe Birol’s men in good stead ahead of the big matches against Al Rayyan, Umm Salal and El Jaish. If they can put up strong fights and take home points, it should leave them with a good chance to remain in the top flight.