Dubai: Sharjah and Al Jazira head into a crucial clash as the top two clash in Round 18 of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) this Friday.
Both are tied for top spot on goal difference with an identical 37 points with nine games to go in the AGL title race.
Sharjah had been the early runaway leaders. However, the defending champions have struggled since turning the corner while accounting for just five points from a maximum 12 following a loss, two draws and a win.
The King struggled for a 3-2 win against Fujairah, then drew 1-1 against Al Wahda before crashing to a defeat against Al Ain. Last week was no better as Sharjah dropped further points after being held to a 1-1 away draw to Al Dhafra.
Al Jazira, on the other hand, have gone from strength to strength collecting 10 points from a possible 12 since the start of the second leg of fixtures.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi have looked ominous in the scoring department while smashing 17 goals and letting in just four in the last four games. They began with a 3-0 win over Al Nasr and then hammered neighbours Al Dhafra 5-1 before swamping lowly Kalba 6-0. They dropped vital points and the opportunity to go clear at the top when they were held to an exciting 3-3 draw by third-placed Bani Yas last week.
“We are all aware what we need to do at this juncture. I have been instructing our team that this league is a long competition and we should maintain our focus all the time,” Sharjah coach Abdul Aziz Al Anbari told media in his virtual pre-match interaction. “Basically, our fall has been due to a lack of focus. But, I am confident that our team will rise to the occasion and continue their chase for another title this season.”
The Sharjah coach, also a former midfielder with the UAE national team, was certain his team would not nbe taking Al Jazira lightly. “All of a sudden, we have seen them [Al Jazira] finding their rhythm. No doubt, they are a compact side and we have a plan in mind,” he said. “But for a start, we need to just stay focused and go for full points and keep our position at the top of the league.”
Also in action this weekend will be a host of challengers who are hot on the heels of the top two teams. Third-placed Bani Yas will be looking for full points as they host second-bottom Ajman, while fourth-placed 13-time champions Al Ain will make the trip to Al Dhafra in search of full points.
Al Wasl will host Al Wahda to decide who can move into the upper half of standings, while fifth-placed Al Nasr will be eyeing full points as they host cellar-placed Hatta and sixth-placed Shabab Al Ahli Dubai will take on eleventh-placed Khor Fakkan to wrap up the weekend.
Fujairah v Kalba, 5.30pm
Al Dhafra v Al Ain, 5.30pm
Al Wasl v Al Wahda, 8.15pm
Al Nasr v Hatta, 5.30pm
Bani Yas v Ajman, 5.30pm
Sharjah v Al Jazira, 8.15pm
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai v Khor Fakkan, 8.15pm