x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Al Ain juggernaut looks unstoppable

The champions have scored almost 1.5 more per game than second-placed Al Ahli, and Asamoah Gyan has found the net in every round.

Given Walter Zenga's recent concession surrounding Al Ain's seemingly unstoppable journey to a second successive league crown, perhaps we will see the Italian on Sunday night in traffic-police garb, busily directing vehicles away from Al Maktoum Stadium.

Desperate times, it appears, call for desperate measures.

Last week, as his Al Nasr side were held at Ajman and leaders Al Ain notched a comprehensive victory at Baniyas, then in second, Zenga mused: "Only if they lose their bus in traffic can they lose a game. They have scored nearly 50 goals."

A sixth straight win shifted Al Ain six points clear at the top of the table. The goal count through 12 matches, while not quite 50, stands at only three less; last season, Cosmin Olaroiu's men managed 52 throughout the entire programme.

The champions have scored almost 1.5 more per game than second-placed Al Ahli, and Asamoah Gyan has found the net in every round. With 22 goals, the Ghanaian collected the golden boot in his first year in the UAE. Not even halfway into his second, he already has 20.

Al Ain's 10th league trophy was secured in April with three games to spare, many attributing the success to a burst from the blocks. Nine wins garnered from their first 11 games, this year they have matched that.

Initial fears proved unfounded that the club would miss the departed Yasser Al Qahtani and Ignacio Scocco, two hugely influential players. Jires Kembo Ekoko and Alex Brosque are more than adequate replacements, the latter's goal on Monday taking his tally to seven in 10 league games.

Should Dubai's notoriously congested traffic not swallow Al Ain's coach when they visit Nasr on Sunday, then surely Zenga's only hope is to "park the bus" on the pitch. If Nasr can find a way to stop the country's most luxuriant attack, by fair means or foul, the rest of the championship perhaps can dream of puncturing Al Ain's title hopes, too.

However, even if the Garden City club prevail, all should not be surrendered. The season's first segment has provided little obstruction, but the second promises to test resources.

There is Gyan's participation in the African Cup of Nations, which spans, potentially, the final two weeks in January and opening two in February. Replacing his goals may prove a challenge.

His predicted return coincides with the inception of the 2013 Asian Champions League, a competition the club have confirmed assumes top priority.

While Al Ain are one of four UAE sides competing, Ahli, spearheaded by the in-form Grafite, and Baniyas, refreshed by the return of Mohamed Zidan, could take advantage of distraction and drowsiness.

Add the constant pressure on the susceptible limbs of Omar Abdulrahman, the team's fulcrum, and Al Ain must tread carefully. Abdulrahman scores at a rate of one in every two league games, yet it is his ability to create that cements his importance.

Having played throughout the summer with the UAE Olympic team and sure to be an integral part of next month's Gulf Cup campaign, the 21-year-old Emirati needs protection from burnout. A league schedule that requires four extra matches also cannot be ignored.

Furthermore, recent narrow home wins against Al Shaab and Al Wahda have hinted Al Ain are slowing somewhat, although Zenga is certainly under no illusions. That they have already conceded the same amount of goals as in the whole of last season may offer some comfort, but the number is skewed by Ahli's 6-2 opening-night demolition, which can be attributed to rustiness.

Such has been Al Ain's dominance that there is cause to clutch at straws. Troublesome traffic represents the final one.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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