What they said - RSL matchweek 20

The wait was finally over as the Roshn Saudi League resumed after a mid-season break for the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 and, in terms of the action, it has picked up from where it left off.

Al Hilal and Al Nassr continue to set the pace, while there was an important win for Al Ittihad as they look to turn around their fortunes in the second half of the season. Elsewhere, we witnessed a dream debut for a former Barcelona star, arguably the marquee signing of the winter transfer window.

Here is the best of what was said after another compelling round of matches.

Former Barcelona and Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic made an instant impact on debut for Al Shabab, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Damac - perfect preparation for the Riyadh derby against Al Nassr in Matchweek 21.

“The goal was a little bit like my career - shots out of the box. It was amazing. Also Musab [Al Juwayr] just saw me, I called him, and he had a small touch, and there was also a bit of luck because some defender touched it before [it went in]. But it was important to score, and I feel really happy.”

Now living in Riyadh, Rakitic also made time to catch up with his former Barcelona teammate, Al Hilal’s Neymar Jr, with both sharing the joy of their reunion on his Instagram.

“What a joy to see you brother! Don't ever lose that happiness! We will enjoy our new home together!”

Al Hilal marked their return to league action with a 3-1 win over Al Raed thanks to a brace from Aleksandar Mitrovic and a second-half header from Kalidou Koulibaly. It extends the undefeated streak in the RSL for Jorge Jesus’ side to 20 matches. Before the game, the popular Portuguese was honoured with another Coach of the Month award.

“I am honoured to claim yet another award as head coach, though all credit is due to the exceptional players of the Al Hilal team who are enjoying a phenomenal season. My sincerest wish is for this success to continue, and for me to maintain my place as the best coach of the month in the Saudi Pro League.” 

Al Nassr also continued their winning ways with a 2-1 victory at home to Al Fateh, a result visiting coach, Slaven Bilic, was left to rue.

“It was a good game for neutrals, a lot of chances, a lot of shots - an open game I would say. I had a feeling that Al Nassr tonight was there to be taken, and whether they were a little bit tired after the [midweek] game in the [AFC] Champions League or whatever. But I had a feeling we could get more than just a good performance.

“You can’t get too many chances, but in the first 20 minutes of the second half we created three big chances. But, as it happens, we didn’t use our chances and then, when you play against big teams, they punish you.”

Al Ettifaq ended their winless streak with a 2-0 win away from home against Al Khaleej thanks to goals from Georginio Wijnaldum and Demarai Gray. The goal for Gray was his third of the season and first since October - something he hopes to build on for the remainder of the season.

“[The goal] is something we work on repetitively in training. We have Alvaro [Medran]… we have good chemistry, he has good quality and we already know he’s going to make these types of passes. So, I anticipated, it’s my job to put the ball in the goal, and I hope to keep scoring more goals and creating more goals.”

Pitso Mosimane made his debut in the dugout for Abha in their 1-1 draw with high-flying Al Taawoun, but he was left frustrated after his side conceded a 96th-minute equaliser to deny them a crucial three points.

“We did our best tonight, but I think we lost two points the same way we lost the game against Al Raed [97th minute winner]. So it means we need to improve our concentration at the end, at the last minute of the game in the critical phase. But we played a team that is fourth and you can see why they are a good team.

“We had our chance and we took it – yes, it was an own goal but it was forced... because we put the balls in the box. But I am happy with my team. The organisation is better, but we need to improve a little bit going forward now to convince ourselves that we can score.”