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AGL Picks of the Week: Even time cannot stop Ismail Matar, while Hatta must harden up

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AGL Picks of the Week: Even time cannot stop Ismail Matar, while Hatta must harden up

The Arabian Gulf League returned with a bang this weekend after seven months away.
2020/21’s anticipated kick-off contained 27 goals – the third most in the professional era – across seven, engrossing, matches. Al Wahda led the way via a 6-0 mauling of 10-man Hatta, further big scores being notched in Al Dhafra 4-1 Ajman, Fujairah 2-4 Sharjah and Al Wasl 1-4 Bani Yas.
2019/20 pacesetters Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club recorded a resounding 3-0 victory at 10-man Ittihad Kalba, 13-time record-champions Al Ain downed Khor Fakkan 2-0 and Al Nasr drew 1-1 with Al Jazira.
Here are Sport360°’s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ismail Matar (Al Wahda)
(UAE Pro League)
What would the AGL be without Matar?
The 37-year-old forward delivered a masterclass in Friday’s dismantling of hapless Hatta, putting on a pair of assists for relieved Slovenia striker Tim Matavz and dispatching a penalty kick of his own.
Timeless is a hackneyed phrase when it comes to football. But it is fitting for this, seemingly, eternal UAE and Clarets icon.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Suhail Al Noobi (Bani Yas)
(UAE Pro League)
On a weekend to savour for AGL aficionados, Al Noobi’s impudent effort stood out.
Bani Yas scythed through a slow-paced Wasl with abandon, none more so than for their memorable third. A back-heel flick from the superb Joao Pedro put Mohammed Al Hammadi into space, the midfielder’s incisive through-ball leading to an inch-perfect chip from Al Noobi after he’d confidently stood up stranded goalkeeper Humaid Al Najar.
This was free-flowing, emphatic football with a luxurious finish. Bani look nailed on for a sizeable improvement upon a curtailed 2019/20’s ninth.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Aleksandar Veselinovic (Al Dhafra)
(Twitter/@aldhafraclub_ae)
Coaches change. So, too, the players.
Yet the Western Knights possess a formula for continued success, within a constant state of flux. Veselinovic is the new man at the helm after fellow Serb Vuk Rasovic’s late departure last month to Wahda.
The five-man defence which led Dhafra into seventh, and the President’s Cup final, is no more. They did, though, cut sorry Ajman to threads with a fresh 4-2-3-1 formation on Friday, as yet another regime showcased bountiful promise.
TALKING POINT
Hatta must harden up
There is much to admire about Christos Kontis’ Tornado.
Clubs of similar resources and traditional aspirations rarely produce such calibrated, possession-heavy football. They earned, as a promoted side, the fourth-highest average possession per match in 2019/20 of 55.8 per cent, while their 8,638 passes was the third most – 192 greater than leaders Shabab Al Ahli.
Remarkable statistics, according to Wyscout, for an outfit which spent 12 of 19 match-weeks inside the bottom two.
This purist’s resolve from Hatta’s rookie Greek coach often, however, comes at significant cost. None more so than when mauled at Al Nahyan Stadium.
They were wretched in both penalty boxes, witnessed experienced defender Essa Santo implode for a wild 27th-minute sending off against his former employers and gift-wrapped 2/3s of Wahda’s six-goal haul. Extrapolate these errors across an entire campaign, regardless of opposition quality, and relegation seems certain.
Deadline-day signing Mwape Musonda, a second-half substitute in Abu Dhabi, offers a cure up top. But their defensive issues might only be solved by an honest review of Kontis’ laudable philosophy.