x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Early pointers for the Pro League season

Al Jazira have a strong chance of defending their crown, and it goes back to their unique blend of elite Emiratis.

Making snap judgements on a "sample" comprising less than five per cent of the whole would be dismissed as folly in the realm of professional statisticians.

But when your organisation has a fixtures list as short as the Pro League's 22 matches, the season gets late early, and we have no time to waste in making rapid assessments off the first round of games.

A status update for the league's 12 sides in their 2010/11 finishing order:

1. Al Jazira have a strong chance of defending their crown, and it goes back to their unique blend of elite Emiratis and carefully selected foreigners. Matias Delgado, Ricardo Oliveira, Ibrahim Diaky, Bare, Abdullah Mousa, Subait Khater, Juma Abdullah, Khalid Sabeel … no team in the league have as many players who can create and score goals.

2. Baniyas may be in trouble. The surprise No 2 team last season were shocked by the death last month of Theyab Awana, one of their best and most-popular players. And now their high-profile acquisition, David Trezeguet, is having trouble getting on to the pitch. They opened with a draw at the promoted side Ajman. Uh-oh.

3. Standing pat seems like a questionable idea, at Al Nasr. Carlos Tenorio, Ismail Bangoura, Leonardo Lima, and the coach Walter Zenga, looked a little jaded in the loss at Al Ain, and maybe the side could have withstood a bit of freshening.

4. Standing pat seems like a terrific idea, at Al Shabab. Returning Ciel, Julio Cesar and Carlos Villanueva, as well as the coach Paulo Bonamigo, looks like it will lead to more good times. Having a Villanueva to direct the attack may be what makes them distinct from Nasr.

5. And this is why Jazira didn't give Fernando Baiano, then 30, a three-year contract in the summer of 2009. The big Brazilian left for Al Wahda and led them to a championship in the spring of 2010, scoring 18 league goals, but he now looks overweight and unfit. It is hard to imagine Wahda competing for the championship unless he has a transformation.

6. Even with Diego Maradona hugging everyone in sight, Al Wasl need more help to push for a place in the Champions League. Mariano Donda and Juan Manuel Olivera can't carry them to a high finish, can they?

7. "The King" looks a mess, sterile in the attack, shaky in defence, holding weekly tryouts in goal. Sharjah not only seem incapable of winning the league, relegation looks like a real (if unprecedented) possibility. The weakest of the "big" clubs, so far.

8. Al Ahli managed to impress even in a 4-0 defeat to Jazira. No one in the country has as many strikers from which to choose: Grafite, Jakson Coelho, Ahmed Kahlil, Faisal Kahlil. Count on them to bounce back, and quickly.

9. Dubaistayed up last season, but early coaching turmoil could put them in a hole and on the way back to the First Division.

10. Nowhere does 2010/11 seem so long ago as at Al Ain, whose brush with relegation seems unfathomable when looking at a team boasting Asamoah Gyan, Yasser Al Qahtani, Ignacio Scocco and Mirel Radoi, and who will soon have Omar Abdulrahman back.

11.Ajman should not surprise anyone from this point forward. They demonstrated that their 10 points from four Etisalat Cup matches was no fluke by drawing with Baniyas. With Olivier Tia set to rejoin Ibrahima Toure and Karim Kerkar, this is not a side to be taken lightly.

12. Many of us already have settled on Emirates as a relegation victim, but they looked quite lively in a 2-1 victory over Dubai. If Al Hassane Keita is as good as he has shown, the country's premier yo-yo team (up in 2007/08, down in 2008/09, up in 2009/10, down in 2010/11, up in 2011/12) might break the pattern.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae


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