2023-24 RSL season: The assist kings

While the goalscorers tend to steal the headlines, they are typically only as good as the service they receive.

Being able to hit the right pass at the right time, one that lands inch-perfect, or slices open a stubborn defence, is just as important as being able to put the ball in the back of the net.

And, in the just-concluded 2023-24 season in the Roshn Saudi League, the quality of the service was as good as it has ever been, helped enormously with the influx of talent from Europe’s best leagues.

We take a look at the top five assist providers in the RSL this season.

Riyad Mahrez - 13

The former Manchester City star was one of a number of headline signings last summer, making the move to newly promoted Al Ahli.

Playing in an attack alongside Allan Saint-Maximim, Roberto Firmino and Firas Al Buraikan made life easier for the former Leicester City and Manchester City ace.

While Mahrez is the only Al Ahli player in the top five, the fact Saint-Maximim and Al Buraikan also feature in the top eight speaks to the quality of combinations in attack for Al Ahli this season.

Mahrez was also something of a barometer for the side this season, who lost only two of the games in which he provided an assist - coming against Al Hilal and Al Nassr, the league champions and runners-up.

And far from merely his assists, Mahrez also scored 11 times as well, leading by example.

Ruben Neves - 12

Aged only 26, the signing last summer of Portuguese international Ruben Neves was seen as a real coup for Al Hilal as they sought to return to top spot this season after a third-placed finish in 2022-23.

While Neves registered only four assists in the first half of the season, that didn’t tell the full story of his contribution; he was the midfield maestro who made the Riyadh club tick.

However, the former FC Porto and Wolverhampton Wanderers captain did finish the season in superb form, racking up eight assists in the back half of the campaign.

Neves’ precision from set-piece situations, with the height of Aleksandar Mitrovic or Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to aim for, was particularly damaging, while he also managed to find the back of the net three times himself.

Cristiano Ronaldo - 11

Was there any metric in which Cristiano Ronaldo did not contribute to Al Nassr this season? Along with his record-breaking 35 goals, his 11 assists made set a new mark of 46 goal contributions in a team that scored 100 goals.

It was a phenomenal individual season by any measure.

Ronaldo’s combination with Anderson Talisca, in particular, proved especially fruitful and it was noticeable that his assists tailed off after the Brazilian went down with a season-ending injury early in the new year.

Ronaldo’s match against Abha in April, when Al Nassr thumped the beleaguered side 8-0, was particularly noteworthy – he notched a hat-trick and an assist on the night to prove age is no barrier for the 39-year-old superstar.

Alvaro Medran - 10

Like his Iberian colleague in Ronaldo, Alvaro Medran did most of his damage in the first half of the season while wearing the yellow of Al Taawoun.

The Spaniard, a former Real Madrid and Valencia midfielder, was settled having played the previous two campaigns with the Buraidah club after arriving from Chicago Fire ahead of the 2021-22 season.

The 2023-24 RSL campaign was a breakout one for the 30-year-old, however, having registered only two assists in the two previous seasons combined.

But Medran’s combination with Brazilian Joao Pedro and Gambian international Musa Barrow was especially fruitful, with six of his eight assists going to either of the two strikers, before a mid-season move to Steven Gerrard’s Al Ettifaq.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic - 10

One half of the powerful Al Hilal midfield alongside Neves, Milinkovic-Savic was another revelation this season after arriving last summer from Lazio, where he had made a name for himself after eight seasons in the Italian capital.

The Serbian international was a double threat, capable of either providing the assist or being the man on the end of one, with 11 goals also this campaign.

Having experienced the Derby della Capitale while playing for Lazio, “SMS” took a particular liking to the Saudi Clasico, with three of his assists coming against Al Ittihad - including two in a 3-1 win over the defending champions in March.

Showing the power and strength of the Al Hilal machine, Milinkovic-Savic’s 10 assists were provided to six different players. It goes some way to explaining how the champions managed to score 101 goals for the season, with threats coming from every position on the park.