ABU DHABI // Al Jazira have leaked 23 goals in the 10 matches across three competitions since Luis Milla took over as coach of the 2011 Pro League champions, and whatever ideas the Spaniard had of instituting Barcelona-style attacking football have been sidetracked by the obvious need to stanch the flow of balls into the Jazira net.
The problem has been exacerbated by the loss, to injury, of Juma Abdullah, the tall veteran who has been a fixture in the centre of the Jazira defence in recent years. He has missed several matches, and is out for the season following knee surgery in Germany last week.
To compound Abdullah's absence, as Jazira travel today for a meeting with Al Shabab, are the fitness doubts on Khalid Sabeel and Salem Masoud, who have been the choices at right back this season.
"We have had very little time to work on this area as we have a game almost every four days, but I hope we have spent sufficient time to solve this problem to a great extent ahead of the Shabab game," Milla said yesterday.
He said he has promised his defenders "that everyone has a role to come down in help". He added: "The problem persists only when we don't have possession."
The style Milla is trying to establish for Jazira is to play compactly and with a short-passing game, and it is more evident with every match. Yet the results have not come; Jazira have one victory in 10 games.
They often were aligned in a diamond formation, in midfield, under the Brazilians Abel Braga, who led them to the league and President's Cup double in 2011, and Paulo Bonamigo, under whom Jazira had a 12-game league unbeaten streak before he was replaced by Milla in February.
"We want to win as many points as possible and finish as high as possible in the league," said Milla, who acknowledged the poor results have undermined the club's confidence. "It is very difficult to come out of this mentality," he said.
"The team at the moment is not playing well and their concentration level goes down towards the end. We want to change this negative mindset of the players."
Milla believes a victory in the league could change everything. "We just need just one good result and everything will fall in to place. Thereafter, we can take that momentum forward," he said.
Before coming to the UAE, Milla coached Spain's Olympic team, and he believes that providing chances for Jazira's young players is the way forward. "We want to bring this philosophy to Jazira to provide the youngsters more playing opportunities," he said. "The older and experienced players can help to groom them."
Milla in recent games has used Ali Mabkhout, 22; Sultan Bargash, 24; and Sultan Al Suwaidi, 19 in the line-up, and Ali Salem, 24, has filled in for Abdullah in central defence.
Milla, the former Barcelona and Real Madrid midfielder, has created competition among the players, He has left out the Brazilian Fernandinho for Mabkhout and the captain Ibrahim Diaky for Bargash.
Jazira are fourth on 36 points, and Milla still hopes to finish second.
Dubai v Al Dhafra
Having ended their run of six consecutive defeats with a win last week at Dibba Al Fujairah, Dubai are hoping to further improve their position on the points table with another positive result.
“We desperately needed that win,” said Hamad Al Matar, the team manager.
“That win has restored the confidence of the players and coaching staff, and now we are looking forward to this game.
Al Shaab v Ajman
Marius Sumudica, the Al Shaab coach, reckons his team need six of the 18 points still available to ensure their survival in the Pro League and he is hoping to get three of those when they host Ajman on Monday night.
“We have to make sure our destiny is in our own hands and not dependent on the results of Kalba or Dibba Al Fujairah,” Sumudica said. “So we need to get those six points.”
Baniyas v Al Ahli
Al Ahli will be looking to put aside the distractions of the past week when they travel to Baniyas tonight for what could be a crucial battle for second place.
The Dubai club have been in the news over the past week after an object thrown from the stands at the linesman led to a stoppage of their game against Al Ain, two minutes from time.
The scores were 0-0 at the time, but the match was awarded 3-0 to Al Ain by the disciplinary committee.
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