How Cristiano Ronaldo kept Al Nassr in the Saudi Pro League title race: what do they need to win the league?
The former Real Madrid star’s debut season in Saudi Arabia looked certain to end trophyless but Al Nassr could still win the league title.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as he probably would have hoped. The former Real Madrid attacker was paraded to huge fanfare by Al Nassr in January but hasn’t had his troubles to seek for most of his time in the Saudi Pro League, either on or off the field.
Derby and cup defeats
While the Portuguese can’t be criticised for his output (14 goals and two assists in 15 league matches), Al Nassr lost a crucial derby clash against bitter rivals Al Hilal in mid-April to fall off the pace at the top of the league, before being dumped out of the King’s Cup in the semi-finals by lowly Al Wehda.
Why was Ronaldo threatened with arrest and deportation?
Ronaldo miraculously avoided a red card for wrestling an opponent to the ground in a headlock in that defeat to Al Hilal and a petition was presented to the Public Ministry of Saudi Arabia to have him arrested and deported for grabbing his genitals on the field in response to rival fans chanting Lionel Messi’s name at him. To make matters worse, speculation has also been rife of a break-down in his relationship with long-term partner Georgina Rodríguez.
Ronaldo keeps Al Nassr in the Saudi Pro League title race
Yet there may be a slither of light at the end of the tunnel. On Tuesday, the ex-Manchester United star led his team to an unlikely comeback victory over third-placed Al Shabab, who had themselves looked set to challenge for the Saudi title until a recent collapse. 2-0 down with 40 minutes played, Al Nassr launched a stirring fightback which culminated with Ronaldo, soccer’s ultimate ‘clutch’ player, weaving his way past two opponents and curling a superb strike into the far corner to set his team on the road to victory.
After the defeat to Al Hilal, the Portuguese and his teammates had looked down and out, three points behind Al Ittihad, managed by former Tottenham boss Nuno Espirito Santo, with six matches left to play, while the leaders had seven. The gap remains the same but feels less now that both have just two matches remaining.
What do Al Nassr need to win the league?
But while Ronaldo’s strike keeps Al Nassr in the title race, their destiny is still very much out of their own hands. Both teams will fancy their chances of winning their last two fixtures against mid-table and bottom half opposition, so the Riyadh-based side need a favour. Well, two favours, in fact.
Should the teams finish level on points, the title will go to Al Ittihad due to the fact that the next tie-breaker is the head-to-head record between teams. The pair drew 0-0 at Al Awwal before Ronaldo arrived in October, while Nuno’s men won 1-0 in the return fixture in Jeddah in March. Al Nassr must therefore win their remaining two matches and hope their title rivals slip up in both of theirs.