State of Play: How RSL title race is shaping up, and where it could be won

Al Hilal entered the international break very much in command in the Roshn Saudi League, with the record winners having built a sizeable, 12-point lead at the summit.

Heading into the season’s final 10 rounds, the Riyadh club are more than well placed to add a ninth Pro League title, although rest assured, they will be taking nothing for granted.

Unbeaten thus far this campaign and on a world-record breaking run, Al Hilal surely recognise that any slip-ups could be pounced upon by at least Al Nassr, their city rivals and closest challengers in the standings.

With the 2023-24 RSL returning this week after the international break, we look at how the title race could play out – and when it could even be decided.

Al Hilal – 1st, 68 points

Clearly in pole position, Jorge Jesus’ side have been exemplary this season, triumphing in 22 and drawing two of their 24 league matches. In the process, they have set two records, one domestic and one global: Al Hilal have won an unprecedented 17 RSL games in a row, contributing to a world-record winning streak of 29 matches. It’s a feat that made headlines across the globe.

There are many factors for the team’s incredible 2023-24 campaign, with Aleksandar Mitrovic excelling in his debut season with 20 goals and five assists from 21 appearances. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more this season.

The star signings of Yassine Bono, Kalidou Koulibaly – Al Hilal have the best defence in the league having conceded a mere 13 goals - Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Malcom have each contributed hugely to the success. Saudi Arabia's Salem Al Dawsari and Brazilian Michael continue to be key components, also.

Jorge Jesus’ side are welcomed back to RSL action on Saturday with an always difficult trip to capital counterparts Al Shabab before next month travelling to third-placed Al Ahli.

Should they continue this remarkable run, and given their 26-goal advantage in the goal-difference stats, Al Hilal could wrap up the title in Matchweek 30 at Al Taawoun. That would make their game at Al Nassr, on May 16, more a celebration than a clash for top honours.

Al Nassr – 2nd, 56 points

Runners-up last season, the Al Awwal Park club dropped crucial points in the past month that have allowed that considerable gap to open at the summit.

Al Nassr had rebounded brilliantly to their 3-0 defeat to Al Hilal at the beginning of December. They went on a six-match winning streak, seeing off the likes of Steven Gerrard’s Al Ettifaq, champions Al Ittihad, and a soaring Al Taawoun. In those three matches, they scored 12 goals.

However, a dramatic but ultimately disappointing 4-4 draw at home to bottom side Al Hazem in Matchweek 22 was followed by an shock 3-1 loss at the same venue to Al Raed, leaving Al Nassr playing serious catch-up in the standings. The absence through injury of Anderson Talisca has certainly had its impact.

Ronaldo’s side did turn things around heading into the international break when the Portuguese star struck the only goal of the game against third-placed Al Ahli in Jeddah.

The converted penalty lifted Ronaldo to 23 goals in 22 RSL appearances this season, maintaining his lead at the top of the scoring charts. He leads the division in assists too, alongside Al Ettifaq’s Alvaro Medran, on nine.

Al Nassr will be intent on taking full points from Al Tai at home this Saturday and at Abha the following matchweek, and do not face a top-six side until that meeting with Al Hilal in the third-last round.

Of course, Luis Castro’s men will want that match, in front of their own fans, to have real implications on the destiny of the league trophy. For that, they most likely need to embark on another perfect spell, and hope Al Hilal stumble.