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UAE Pro League review: Ali Mabkhout shines in Al-Jazira’s dramatic 3-3 draw with Sharjah
Spoils were shared in the epic summit clash between Al-Jazira and Sharjah, Andriy Yarmolenko showcased his class for Al-Ain and there was further frustration for Leonardo Jardim’s Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club in the ADNOC Pro League’s memorable matchweek five.
Jazira icon Ali Mabkhout shone bright with a brace amid the galaxy of stars in Friday’s sensational 3-3 draw at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, while Greece centerback Kostas Manolas was culpable for two goals during an evening to forget.
Ukraine technician Yarmolenko, meanwhile, conjured an instinctive sixth-minute finish in the Boss’ 2-0 victory at winless Dibba Al-Fujairah, which had dispensed with head coach Zoran Popovic post-match and hired Gregory Dufrennes.
UAE forward Fabio De Lima’s hattrick propelled Al-Wasl into second courtesy of their 4-0 rout of Al-Dhafra, Belgium defender Jason Denayer’s first Shabab Al-Ahli start produced only a dispiriting goalless stalemate with Ittihad Kalba and Al-Wahda’s impressive 4-0 thrashing of Al-Nasr gifting manager Manolo Jimenez a sparkling return to the capital.
Ajman earned consecutive wins with the 2-0 dispensing of Baniyas and Khor Fakkan secured their opening three points in a consummate 3-0 defeat of promoted Al-Bataeh.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action:
Player of the week: Ali Mabkhout (Al-Jazira)
Household names who counted Barcelona, Roma, Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus among their former employers stood in opposition.
Yet, there can be no discussion about who remains the UAE top flight’s outstanding performer.
Mabkhout topped the bill during a rollercoaster heavyweight contest, played at furious tempo.
Sharjah will bemoan individual errors and Jazira will hail individual brilliance. There seemed little to separate these challengers in what could be a title race for the ages.
A first-half double moved the UAE’s top scorer onto – an Erling Haaland-esque – nine goals in five matches this term and record-extending 190 career goals in his nation’s top flight. To contextualize the achievement, it is one more goal than Saudi Arabia’s lionized center forward Majed Abdullah achieved at Al-Nassr in league competition during the 20th century.
Mabkhout buzzed around the park from kick-off, energized by sonorous support via packed stands. Within moments of Spain center forward Paco Alcacer’s header for the visitors, he ghosted behind a bewildered Manolas and volleyed into the corner.
A nerveless dinked finished followed almost 10 minutes later from Manolas’ slapdash back-pass. Teammate Abdullah Ramadan’s deflected free kick and Brazilian forward Caio’s double completed the scoring.
Mabkhout has played with, and against, a series of celebrated footballers. This gem of Asian football continues to prove a cut above — no matter the company.
Goal of the week: Pizzi (Al-Wahda)
These are curious times at Wahda.
Their 4-0 victory at Bataeh under Carlos Carvalhal was immediately followed by another 4-0 triumph versus Nasr under successor Jimenez, the Spaniard who guided them to a forgettable fifth in the 2019-20 season.
There was, though, a greater exuberance to this display. Set-pieces dominated the previous weekend, while Saturday was about style.
This was the case for Pizzi’s beguiling 90th-minute conclusion. The former Benfica skipper exchanged exuberant flicked one-twos with Egypt debutant Ahmed Refaat, before lashing in an opening goal in claret from just inside the penalty box.
A rancorous start to 2022-23 could yet come good if this standard is maintained.
They must be at their best on Saturday when Al-Ain welcome them to a hostile Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. The champions are unlikely to let ceding of 60 percent possession go unpunished, unlike Nasr.
Recreation of the interplay for Pizzi’s fine effort could, though, make all the difference.
Coach of the week: Abdulaziz Al-Anbari (Khor Fakkan)
The Saqr bin Mohammed al Qassimi Stadium support waited patiently for this moment.
Khor Fakkan’s talented side had taken one point from four prior outings, despite being newly led by the 2018-19 title winner in Abdulaziz Al-Anbari.
The top flight’s sole UAE custodian was, finally, left overjoyed by Saturday’s fine result against disrupters Bataeh.
Portuguese winger Aylton Boa Morte, the resigned Ramon Lopes and rapid Brazilian forward Juninho got on the scoresheet. But this result was truly vital to their coach.
Al-Anbari’s lifelong attachment to Sharjah — where he lifted silverware as a player and manager — was cut short last winter amid a degradation of results. The ex-UAE midfielder’s reputation required rehabilitation.
It was essential his next post was chosen wisely. Ambitious Khor Fakkan could be an apt pick.
Manolas must react to reality check
Sharjah or their elite centerback recruit did not envisage this start when contracts were signed last month.
From Manolas’ leaked interaction with a lion which went viral to Friday’s horror show at Jazira, it has been a chastening introduction.
Performances on the pitch from the former Olympiacos star will always take prominence. The latest was a torrid one in defense, but the King will hold onto promise about the extra dimension he can bring to build-up play.
Manolas was procured to dominate big nights. The 31-year-old’s career has included the famous Roma “Romantada” against Barcelona, selection for World Cup 2014, Rome derbies and Napoli’s pursuit of glory.
But he was still dissected by a razor-sharp Mabkhout.
Question marks about concentration emerged. Was he also prepared for the opposition presented?
A return to defensive fundamentals is essential. So, too, repetition of the wonderful, 40-yard assist for Caio which few are capable of.
Manolas’ ability is unquestionable. But he would not be the ADNOC Pro League’s first stellar name to stutter.
A positive response is critical when on-song Wasl come to town for matchweek six.