x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Asian Champions League: Fatigue a factor for Al Shabab against Al Ittifaq

Coach to balance weary squad, bottom of the table in the group, with heavy workload to manage for other competitions.

Marcos Paqueta has to manage the workload of his squad. Razan Alzayani / The National
Marcos Paqueta has to manage the workload of his squad. Razan Alzayani / The National

DUBAI // Given recent exertions, Al Shabab enter tonight's Asian Champions League clash against Al Ittifaq in a tentative mood.

Success domestically has prompted a stockpiling of fixtures and a wearying of mind and muscle, leaving Marcos Paqueta, the club's coach, somewhat ambivalent before the meeting with their Saudi Arabian rivals.

A glance at Group B would fix his focus. Shabab have no points from their opening two games and, although they deserved more from last month's 1-0 home loss to Pakhtakor, remain rooted to the bottom.

This evening's encounter therefore assumes great significance, not that Paqueta seems flush with resolve.

With Shabab in the midst of a schedule that spans four competitions and has already demanded eight matches in four weeks, the Brazilian should be granted the right to prioritise.

So, as his side chase a top-four spot in the Pro League - they sit seventh with seven rounds remaining - and with a President's Cup semi-final looming, Paqueta expects to use some of his younger charges tonight.

"We'll try to strike a good balance between the key players and substitutes to avoid fatigue," he said.

"The Champions League matches arrive in the same moment as our most important games domestically, so we know this is a vital time for the club. We want to do our best for the fans, especially in the match [in the President's Cup] against Al Wahda, but of course we want to win here, too.

"It is a difficult part of the season. It's too hard to fight our way at the same time in several competitions with so little break between.

"However, we have discussed the game with the players and told them how crucial it is. We have goals to achieve."

Whether those ambitions include an extended run in the Champions League is a moot point. Yet performances in previous assignments suggest Shabab are right to harbour faint hopes of progression.

The loss in the opening game with Lekhwiya, the Qatari champions, was certainly harsh, while Paqueta's men dominated against Pakhtakor only to be caught cold in the dying moments. The perceived misfortune has increased commitment for Ittifaq's visit.

"We had a chance to win in those two matches, so we'll do our best to get the three points [tonight]," said Edgar Bruno, the club's top scorer. "Because we played well without getting a result, we'll try harder to have success here."

Ittifaq, too, crave success having reached the last 16 in 2009. The Saudis now lie third, with a solitary point from two matches. Manager Maciej Skorza, though, expects an improvement on last month's goalless draw with Lekhwiya.

"The match will be hard, as Shabab are a good side with good players, but we'll try our best to have a better performance than the previous match and win," he said. "It is do-or-die for both teams."

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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