ABU DHABI // The Pro League takes a two-week break as the national team play two friendlies, and with the top players away club coaches will be able to give some of their reserves a chance to shine in the Etisalat Emirates Cup.
The competition is played on a home and away basis with 12 teams divided into two groups and, in the early stages, offers a reward to squad players on the fringe of the first team. A three-match card kicks off the first round of the competition on Saturday, with Al Wahda facing Al Ain at home, David O'Leary's Al Ahli travel to Kalba and Al Nasr entertain Baniyas.
On Sunday Dubai welcome Al Dhafra, Al Wasl make the trip to Sharjah and Al Shabab are in Abu Dhabi to take on Al Jazira.
The Pro League, meanwhile, is proving to be a closely-fought contest with four points separating the top seven teams. Al Wasl regained the lead at the end of round five with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Al Shabab, but they are just a point ahead of Al Jazira with Sharjah a further point behind in third.
Sergio Farias, the Brazilian coach who left Pohang Steelers after leading the South Korean club to the Asian Champions League and to the second round of the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi last year, appears to have transformed Wasl into a stronger unit.
The Dubai club won the league and cup double in 2006/07 but they finished a distant seventh twice in the two years that followed and were fifth last season. "We wanted to finish on top when the league takes a break, and that was a good incentive for a solid performance from my players," Farias said.
"They were committed and had that incentive to win, and win big."
The Brazilian sees no clear-cut favourites in the league but rates his team as one of the challengers.
"I take one game at a time and while the league takes a break, I can give my reserves a go in the cup games," Farias said.
"It is very important to give them a game to get their rustiness off and the cup competition is an ideal formula."
Jazira, Wahda and Ahli also made their intentions clear with impressive wins before the break. Abel Braga's Jazira ran out 4-0 winners over Baniyas.
Braga led Jazira to the Etisalat Cup title last year but that is nothing compared to his remarkable record in the league. Jazira are the only unbeaten team, extending the Brazilian's record to one loss in 27 matches from last season. In his first year, they lost twice to Ahli, the eventual champions.
Braga's record stands at three defeats in 49 games but those figures will count for nothing if he cannot win some silverware.