RIYADH: While nine-man Liverpool were unlucky to lose to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday in the English Premier League, in the big game of the Roshn Saudi League, there were a number of ex-Liverpool legends in action as Al-Ahli drew 0–0 at home to Ettifaq.
As the clash — not as dramatic as the one that took place in London — kicked-off, Ettifaq were in fifth with 16 points from seven games, a point and a place above Al-Ahli. In terms of positions, that’s where they stayed after the stalemate. A win would have taken Ettifaq just a point — or two in the case of Ahli — behind league leaders Al-Hilal after eight games of the season. As it is, both are within touching distance of pole position.
The fact that this was such an eagerly-awaited clash was a measure of how far both have come since last season. The visitors Ettifaq may have finished seventh in May but were just nine points clear of the relegation zone and 22 behind third place. At the same time, Al-Ahli were in the second tier and fighting for promotion, a struggle that was ultimately successful. Much has changed in the months since. Finishing in first is unlikely but both have ambitions of a top four spot.
So far this campaign the men from Dammam have been revitalised under head coach Steven Gerrard and they are now four games unbeaten in the league. His fellow former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is still playing in midfield alongside Gini Wijnaldum, also with the Reds as they became champions of Europe in 2019.
On the opposite side in Jeddah was another Anfield legend in Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian now leads the line at Al-Ahli along with former Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez and Allan Saint-Maximin, who arrived in Jeddah from Newcastle United. There are few teams in the world that have such attacking talent at their disposal.
Despite that, there was not much action to speak of though Al-Ahli will feel that they did enough to get a goal or two.
Saint-Maximin set up Firmino for what seemed to be the opening goal after just 17 minutes. The flair-filled French star picked up possession just over the halfway line, advanced to the edge of the area to square the ball for the South American to sweep home. It was a fluid move but Saint-Maximin was adjudged by VAR to have been just offside during the build-up.
There is also talent at the other side of the pitch for the Jeddah giants. Just before the break, Edouard Mendy showed why Al-Ahli had splashed the cash to sign him from Chelsea. Ali Hazazi crossed from the right for Moussa Dembele to connect with a firm header. The French striker had already scored six league goals for Ettifaq this season so far but his effort was tipped over by the Senegalese shot stopper.
With 18 minutes remaining, the Liverpool connection almost put the visitors ahead. Henderson found Wijnaldum in the area and the Dutch midfielder shot over from close range. It was perhaps the best chance of the entire game as was shown as all Ettifaq players had heads in hands as it was not taken.
Both teams pushed for the winning goal but it was not to be and Ahli and Ettifaq had to settle for a point each.
Elsewhere, Al Fateh defeated Al-Wehda 5-1 to move into seventh above the visitors.