Neymar-less Al Hilal secure Saudi Pro league title with three games to go

May 13 – Al Hilal have been crowned champions in a historic season for the Saudi league, whose summer spending of big name stars has earned them a place on the watchlist of football fans worldwide.

Twelve points ahead of Riyadh rivals and nearest Saudi Roshn League challengers Al Nassr, the title was won with three games to spare. Unbeaten domestically this season, having earned 29 wins from 31 league matches, Al Hilal also created world football history earlier in the campaign by winning 34 matches in succession across all competitions.

Al Hilal boss Jorge Jesus hailed the club’s achievement as ‘spectacular’. He said: “The Al Hilal team this season has made a spectacular season.

“What we have achieved is an example for all the others because if we see all the details then we are the best in goalscoring, best in fewest goals conceded, no losses in the league, and obviously the most points. We are the Super Cup winners, in the semi-final of the King’s Cup, and have won the league. We only failed in the Asian Champions League, in the semi-final, but if we speak about the Saudi level then winning the King’s Cup will mean we have won everything available this season in Saudi.

“That’s my habit wherever I’ve been – with Flamengo in Brazil I did this, with Benfica in Portugal I did this, and now at Al Hilal this can be achieved. We prepared to do this from the beginning of the season – but we have had to do this missing key players; Neymar for most of the time, Mitrovic for some of the time. But I have the notion that the Saudi league will grow better and better every time.”

Al Hilal snatched the headlines during the summer transfer window after acquiring PSG’s Neymar for €90 million, forming the most ambitious move for the Saudi league during a transfer season packed with eyebrow-raising business.

The 32-year-old enjoyed a fruitful start to life in Saudi with three assists in as many league games, but suffered a cruciate ligament tear in October which ruled him out for the rest of the season.

Speaking at the title celebrations on Saturday following Al Hilal’s 4-1 victory over Al Hazem that clinched the Riyadh club’s 19th Saudi Arabian league crown, the Brazilian said: “I am very happy obviously. Winning titles is always good. The best thing would have been being on the pitch, but I am so happy for my team-mates.”

“I am fine. I am feeling good,” Neymar continued. “I am impatient to be back on the pitch. The fans are unbelievable. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to give them the happiness they deserve but you can be sure that next season we are going to have a lot of fun.”

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr are set for a second-placed finish, sitting 19 points ahead of third-placed Al Ahli. They added to the superstar signing of Ronaldo with former Liverpool winger Sadio Mane amongst a host of other big names from Europe.

Despite beating Al Hilal in the Arab Club Champions Cup last summer, the team have been a far cry from the league champions.

Al Ahli, home to Roberto Firmino, Allan Saint Maximin and Riyadh Mahrez amongst a host of other ambitious summer acquisitions, look set for a third-placed finish. Showing signs of life but with work still to do, Matthias Jaissle’s side will hope to improve on a disappointing season next term.

Despite the sensational pickup of Ballon D’or holder Karim Benzema in the summer, alongside former Chelsea player Ngolo Kante and Liverpool defensive midfielder Fabinho, last season’s champions Al Ittihad currently sit in fifth position with three matches to play.

Contact the writer of this story, Harry Ewing, at moc.l1721323762labto1721323762ofdlr1721323762owedi1721323762sni@g1721323762niwe.1721323762yrrah1721323762

 


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