PREVIEW: Roshn Saudi League Matchweek 26

Quick off the back of Matchweek 25, Roshn Saudi League action continues midweek with the next batch of games taking place across Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. A mouthwatering set of fixtures is spearheaded by derbies in the Kingdom's two largest cities, which could have a huge impact on how the table will look come the end of the season.

Following a weekend that saw Al Hilal extend their world-record winning streak to 30, including 25 in the RSL, and margins slashed in both the race for AFC Champions League Elite football and in the survival battle, teams will have to dig deep to get the results they need in the busiest period of the calendar.

Al Ahli v Al Ittihad

The Jeddah derby is expected to attract one of the largest crowds of the season as the two eternal rivals battle for third place that guarantees a place next season in Asia’s top club competition: the AFC Champions League Elite.

Monday’s hosts currently occupy that position, with 48 points, but having dropped points in three of their past five games, Al Ahli know any other mistake will mean losing their place to the in-form Al Ittihad - who have won four of their past five.

Al Hazem v Damac

It was a heavy defeat against neighbours Al Taawoun last time out for Al Hazem, but fortunately for Jose Carreno’s side, all five teams above them in the table dropped points too. A great escape will be needed if the side from Ar Rass are to extend their stay in the top flight, and a home encounter against Damac could be an opportunity to start a rally.

A bright start of the season allowed Cosmin Contra’s men to climb up the table and, with nine games left in the campaign, they sit seventh - which would represent an all-time high for the club from Khamis Mushait.

Damac, meanwhile, have been struggling recently, with three defeats in their past four matches. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou will need to be at his creative best to fire them back into winning ways.

Al Raed v Al Khaleej

The third of Monday’s clashes is one that could have ramifications at the bottom end of the table. Al Raed and Al Khaleej are five and 10 points above the relegation zone, respectively, and while the visitors will feel a win would give them a comfortable cushion, the home side know a first-ever relegation could be looming if they fail to collect points.

Abha v Al Nassr

The RSL title might be a remote possibility for Cristiano Ronaldo and Co, who trail Al Hilal by 12 points with the leaders seemingly unstoppable at the moment. However, the trip down south offers an opportunity to build on back-to-back wins.

The castle standing in the background of Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Stadium might be a replica of the ones dotting the Asir region, but under Pitso Mosimane, Abha have turned their home ground into a fortress.

With two wins and a draw in their three matches since the South African took over at the turn of the year, the impending visit of Al Nassr represents second-from-bottom Abha's biggest challenge yet in their pursuit to escape relegation.

Al Fayha v Al Wehda

RSL followers in Nigeria will have no shortage of compatriots to watch in Al Majma’ah on Tuesday, when an Odion Ighalo-led Al Wehda come to town to face a host whose attack is spearheaded by Henry Onyekuru and Anthony Nwakaeme.

Al Fayha are fairly secure in mid-table, but will want to bounce back from a draw and a loss in their past two games, while Al Wehda will hope to edge closer to their opponents - while widening the five-point gap that separates them from the drop zone.

Al Hilal v Al Okhdood

Another week, another chance for Al Hilal to extend their world record and go one step closer to finishing the 2023-24 season with a perfect winning run.

Next up is an encounter against Al Okhdood at Kingdom Arena. The challenge? Top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic was stretchered off in the previous match against Al Shabab and is set to miss at least two games. Can Al Hilal keep firing without him?

Al Okhdood, though, are playing in the top division for the first time in their history, and at times that lack of experience has shown, most recently with the ongoing run of four defeats and a draw in their past five. Can Alex Collado’s hot form help the side from Najran upset the champions-elect?

Al Tai v Al Taawoun

With the two teams above them in third and fourth meeting on Monday, Al Taawoun will be eyeing the opportunity to move back into the top four and edge closer to the final ACL Elite place. They should be full of confidence when they travel to Ha’il, having last time out brushed aside their Qassim neighbours Al Hazem 4-0.

Former Al Hilal and Al Ahli manager Laurentiu Reghecampf will be relying on the prowess of his talented Ghanaian attacker Bernard Mensah once again, as his team look to bounce back and get a win that could lift them out of the relegation zone.

Al Fateh v Al Ettifaq

It might not be a derby, but Al Fateh and Al Ettifaq has established themselves as the flagbearers for the Eastern Province in the 2023-24 campaign. Former Premier League managers Slaven Bilic and Steven Gerrard are separated by two points and as many places in the table, with Al Ettifaq sitting sixth ahead of the trip to Al Ahsa to face eighth-placed Al Fateh.

Al Ettifaq coach Steven Gerrard with Al Fateh coach Slaven Bilic

Al Fateh came from behind to defeat Al Wehda 3-2 in their most recent outing, while Al Ettifaq were clawed back at the death by Al Ahli, thus denying them a famous victory on Friday. Expect an entertaining affair at Al Fateh Club Stadium.

Al Shabab v Al Riyadh

A side boasting talents in the mould of Ivan Rakitic, Yannick Carrasco and Romain Saiss showed their quality despite a 4-3 defeat to leaders Al Hilal on Saturday,in which them came close to ending their neighbours’ winning run. However, could theyl have a reality check on Wednesday when they take on their other neighbours, Al Riyadh?

Despite the visitors playing in the RSL for the first time, they are only three points behind their star-studded opponents, making the final game of Matchweek 26 the proverbial relegation "six-pointer". Only Al Okhdood have scored fewer goals than Al Riyadh’s 23 goals this term, and pressure will be on former Watford and Burnley ace Andre Gray to deliver if they are to draw level on points with Al Shabab.