Abu Dhabi: Zlatko Dalic, the new coach of Al Ain, will get his first taste of the local football competitions as they host Al Ahli on Sunday in the most important encounter in the 20th week of the Arabian Gulf League.
The matches for the week have been scheduled over three days to allow the teams taking part in the AFC Champions League — Al Ain, Al Jazira and Al Ahli — to take a short rest and prepare for the domestic competition.
Al Ain, the reigning champions, are currently languishing in eighth place with 27 points, but still remain one of the biggest hurdles that Al Ahli — who are sitting pretty in the lead with 45 points — must overcome in the title race.
Olaroiu Cosmin, the head coach of Al Ahli, will have mixed emotions on returning to a club he led to the title in the past two seasons, before becoming public enemy number one after breaking his contract with Al Ain to switch clubs.
Al Ain will have had one day more rest than Al Ahli as they played at home on Tuesday, while Al Ahli played away in Iran on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Al Jazira will have a tough match as they host their neighbours, Al Wahda, in the Abu Dhabi derby on Friday. Al Jazira, third with 36 points, are seven clear of their rivals, whom they defeated two weeks ago in the semi-finals of the League Cup.
Al Wahda have renewed the contract of their captain and striker Esmail Mattar for five seasons and the local legend should be primed to lead his team in the derby.
Al Jazira’s players are brimming with confidence despite their exhausting schedule after some brilliant performances in the AFC Champions League, where they lead Group A.
The third important match of the week will be the battle of survival between Ajman, 12th with 15 points, and Al Shaab, 13th with 11. Ajman will be without their top striker and captain, Boris Kapi, who is serving a one-match suspension for collecting three yellow cards.
Al Shabab vs Al Dhafra, 5.45pm.
Ajman vs Al Shaab, 5.45pm.
Sharjah vs Al Nasr, 8.30pm.
Al Wasl vs Dubai, 5.45pm.
Al Jazira vs Al Wahda, 8.30pm.
Bani Yas vs Emirates, 5.50pm.
Al Ain vs Al Ahli, 8.30pm.