Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr go head to head this Saturday in the latest edition of Riyadh's and perhaps Saudi Arabia’s most significant derby. These derbies in the past have conventionally resulted in fiery clashes between the two. Having won almost half of the nation’s domestic titles between them, it is rightfully deliberated the country’s major derby.
On paper, Al-Hilal by far are the most celebrated club in the Kingdom’s history having won 15 league titles and coming second on thirteen separate occasions. Al-Nassr, on the other hand, have lifted the trophy a mere seven times with the last winning season being 14/15.
However, Al-Nassr’s best enjoyed their best times in Saudi football during the 13/14 season where the club finally realized its long-term goal of winning titles, by producing an inspiring double against none other than Al-Hilal on both domestic and cup fronts under the guidance of Raul Caneda who took over as manager at the most crucial time of the season. The side subsequently qualified for the 2015 AFC Champions League following the amazing triumph.
“The derby game is always been at the top level and it only gets better every season given the Mohammed Bin Salman league’s stature being the best in Asia. The environment within the stadium is similar to what one would observe in a top derby anywhere across the globe,” said Raul Caneda regarding what it feels like to be in the derby.
Al-Hilal, on the other hand, have rumbled through the league table in recent times showcasing their prowess on-pitch having lost only four games in the last two seasons.
While holding a better head-to-head record, Al-Hilal hold the proud distinction of coming out on the top having won 59 off of 148 games since the league came into existence. While Al-Nassr last won against their rivals on in 2016 edition of the now defunct Crown Prince Cup, they last won their domestic match against Al-Hilal in May, 2015.
And either set of fans get riled up instantly when the conversation of the derby is introduced, with fans trying to one-up each other when it comes to antics. For example; when Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League Final in 2014, prior to the 2nd leg of the finale in Riyadh, Al-Nassr fans could be seen waiting to receive Western Sydney Wanderers at the airport cheering for them against Al-Hilal.
Al-Nassr will be particularly motivated for this week’s encounter as they will not only be competing to tie their rivals at the top spot in the league – their rivals are presently three points ahead – but will also be hoping to justify their heavy spending in the summer bringing in the likes of Ahmed Musa and Nordin Amrabat to the club.
However, the only challenge is that, the club is currently functioning without a manager as Uruguayan manager José Daniel Carreño was let off a few weeks ago based on unsatisfactory performance. The club’s attempt to sign former Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim (who was tempted with a € 12 million for the season contract) seems futile, as the Portuguese considers his options close to home.
For their part, Al-Hilal will be aiming to continue their dominance on the pitch while maintaining their perfect record for the season – the only team yet to lose a game in domestic play. They go into Saturday with what is widely observed as one of the sturdiest line-ups, led by Bafétimbi Gomis and Salem Al-Dawsari in the offense and Alberto Botia and Mohammed Al-Breik in the defence, ever to grace the league this season.