[SPL kick-off] Saudi version of ‘El Clasico’… Benzema vs Ronaldo in the race for top scorer

The world’s greatest rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, known as El Clásico, is also played in Saudi Arabia.

The match between Al Hilal and Al Ittihad FC is known as the Saudi Clásico.카지노사이트 The two teams have created a rivalry that bisects the Saudi Arabian league, much like Real Madrid and Barcelona. Al Hilal has won the most titles with 18, followed by Al Ittihad with nine, along with Al Nasr. Al Hilal also have the most runner-up finishes with 15, followed by Al Ittihad with eight.

Al Hilal won the title for three consecutive seasons, from 2019-20 to 2021-22. But last season, Al Ittihad bounced back to win the title for the first time in 14 years since 2008-09.

Al Hilal and Al Ittihad, in their respective roles as challengers and champions, swept aside the world-class players who dominated European football. The Saudi Arabian league in 2023-24 is back, with a more glamorous ‘Saudi Clasico’ than ever before and a fierce title race.

Al Ittihad shocked the football world by signing Karim Benzema.

Al Ittihad shocked the football world by signing Karim Benzema.

N’Golo Kante joins Al Ittihad ⓒAl Ittihad

In a transfer window that has seen the entire Saudi Arabian league target the European market, Al Ittihad have been the favourites. In June, they shocked the world by signing Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema (2022). His contract runs until 2026. At a whopping €200 million a year, Benzema is a big name.

Benzema was not the end, but the beginning. Less than a month later, we signed another world-class midfielder, N’Golo Kante. Not only has the club pledged to pay him €100 million a year, but Celtic attacking midfielder Jota and, more recently, Liverpool veteran Fabinho have also joined the Al Ittihad.

Ruben Neves (left) after his move to Al Hilal ⓒAl Hilal SNS

Al Hilal have also been the subject of interest from Al Ittihad. Former English Premier League players Nabil Neves and Kalidou Koulibaly, as well as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, one of the best midfielders in the Italian Serie A, have worn the shirt of Al Hilal. Al Hilal have spent €178 million on players so far in this summer’s transfer window.

These are not the only reasons why Al Hilal have been in the spotlight. Al Hilal have been in the running to sign Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe. While the deals fell through due to the players’ desire to stay in Europe, the club showed off its financial muscle by offering €1 billion for Mbappe alone, including transfer fees and salary, an astronomical sum of money that no European team could afford.

Sadio Mane’s signing ceremony at Al Nasr. Al Nasr social media

Al Nasr, who finished second last season after signing Cristiano Ronaldo, will be challenging for the title this season. Sadio Mane joins Ronaldo as his attacking partner, with Marcelo Brozovic supporting them in midfield. In defence, they are joined by Alex Teles, a flanker with attacking ability.

Al Ittifa and Al Ahly are also considered dark horses for the title. Al Ittifaq are attracting interest due to the reunion of Liverpool legends Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. Riyad Mahrez, who starred in last season’s Manchester City treble, is the latest addition to the squad, which also boasts former Premier League players such as Alain Saint-Maximin, Roberto Firmino and Edouard Mendy.

Cristiano Ronaldo is in his second season in Saudi Arabia.

The race for the top scorer is likely to come down to a battle between former Real Madrid team-mates Ronaldo and Benzema. Ronaldo showed no signs of rust last season, scoring 14 goals in 16 games. This season, with the addition of Mane and Brozovic, he is expected to find even more goals.

Mousa Dembele, who joined Saudi Arabia from Atletico Madrid in Spain and Olympique Lyonnais in France, is another favourite for the top scorer’s award. Dembele scored 21 goals in 30 appearances for Lyon in the 2021-22 season.

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