x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Al Ain have too much firepower for Jazira to extinguish

In a match that could well confirm the destination of the title, the key to the contest between Al Ain and Al Jazira lies in the belly of the battle.

Al Jazira's new coach Luis Milla goes from the frying pan of the Asian Champions League in his first match to the fire of a Pro League showdown with title holders Al Ain in his second match.
Al Jazira's new coach Luis Milla goes from the frying pan of the Asian Champions League in his first match to the fire of a Pro League showdown with title holders Al Ain in his second match.

In a match that could well confirm the destination of the title, the key to the contest lies in the belly of the battle.

For Al Ain, a midfield five offers graft and guile, spearheaded by the division's most gifted protagonist. Omar Abdulrahman illustrated against Al Hilal on Wednesday that even the continent's most accomplished defences cannot cope with his craft, and he should continue to thrive on Sunday night against Al Jazira.

But Abdulrahman does not constitute the champions' only threat. Yes, Asamoah Gyan is the league's top striker but, in Jires Kembo-Ekoko and Alex Brosque, he has been aided by arguably the two most astute signings of last summer's transfer window.

Typically employed on either flank, the pair have contributed 16 goals between them in the league. Abdulrahman has seven.

Behind the triumvirate Mirel Radoi, the club's captain, can be a calming presence in the heart of midfield, while Helal Saeed, at the age of 35, is still integral to maintaining Al Ain's crisp passing game.

Given their opponents' collective expertise, Jazira's engine room could quickly run out of steam.

Ibrahim Diaky has appeared lethargic of late, and Matias Delgado is not as influential as last season. Fernandinho, although much improved, struggles to offer the attacking edge present at Al Ain.

That places much on the axis of Subait Khater and Ismail Khamis, who could quickly find themselves overrun. Protecting the league's joint-best defence could prove too difficult.

The hosts' unrivalled ability to create makes them favourites; a second successive title all but secure.

 

KEY BATTLES

Asamoah Gyan v Ali Kasheif

Kasheif, the league’s best keeper, has been integral to his side’s stinginess, but stopping 21-goal Gyan will be his sternest test yet.

Omar Abdulrahman v Ismail Khamis

Much depends on Khamis’s ability to shackle his compatriot. Abdulrahman‘s ability to dictate makes Khamis’s role vital.

Mohaned Salem v Ricardo Oliveira

Salem has the physical attributes to deal with Oliveira, Jazira’s main goal threat, as 10 league goals in 14 attests.

 

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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