DUBAI // Al Ahli and Al Shabab, two of the country's fiercest footballing rivals, will clash tonight for the sixth time this season, with both teams keen to improve on their performance in their last Pro League match.
Shabab looked a shadow of the team who had climbed to second in the table just three rounds ago, as they laboured to a 1-1 draw against Dubai on Wednesday.
On the same day, Ahli were stunned 2-1 by a resurgent Emirates in Ras Al Khaimah.
"I was not happy with our performance against Emirates," Quique Sanchez Flores, the Ahli coach, said.
"I was surprised by the number of mistakes we made. The players were below the levels expected of them.
"But this is a new game. We have worked over the past few days and, hopefully, we have learnt our lessons from the Emirates match."
Ahli have been struggling for consistency this season. In the last six matches, every win has been followed by a setback.
They won 2-0 at Ajman, but were held to a 2-2 draw at home by Sharjah; they defeated Baniyas 3-1 in Abu Dhabi, but lost at home to Al Wasl and their loss to Emirates in Ras Al Khaimah followed an impressive 2-1 win over Al Jazira.
"We have been working on that," said Sanchez Flores. "It is really important that the players learn from their mistakes, and make sure they do not repeat them.
"If we want to show the true level of our team and win back the confidence of our fans, then we will have work harder and work together."
Shabab have dropped points on a regular basis since they were seen as one of the title contenders.
They have collected only three points from their last four matches and have slipped from second in the table to fourth.
"We really have to pick our performances up," Paulo Bonamigo, the Shabab coach, said.
"In the last match, we created so many chances but could not score and football has a way of punishing you if you miss such opportunities.
"So that is our main challenge - to keep the players focused and motivated."
Ahli will welcome back Basheer Saeed, the former Al Wahda central defender who has missed the last two weeks through injury, while the forward Faisal Khalil is also back in training after an illness.
Sanchez Flores will be banking on these players to fill the void left by the suspension of the midfielder Luis Jimenez and the absence of the striker Ahmed Khalil, who is training with the UAE Olympic team.
Bonamigo, on the other hand, will be hoping for improved performances from Kieza, their new Brazilian striker, and Ciel, who had an off day against Dubai.
In the five previous matches between these two teams this season, Ahli have won four but Shabab beat them in the home leg of the GCC Club Championships to win the title. Bonamigo, however, said past results will count for little.
"This is a new game and the winner will be decided by how you play on the day," he said.
"We know Ahli well, just like they know us. So focus will be very important.
"We have to make sure we implement our plans on the pitch."
6.55pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1
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