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Saudi Pro League preview: Title protagonists hoping to flex their muscles

There is a full programme of action in the Saudi Pro League across Thursday and Friday, including an eye-catching contest between Al Nassr and Al Ahli.

With just four points separating the top six in the standings, the signs are already there that this could be one of the most competitive Pro League seasons for some time and two of the sides in the mix, sixth-placed Al Nassr and Al Ahli in third, do battle on Friday night.

Before that match at Al-Awwal Park, leaders Al Hilal will put their unbeaten record on the line when they visit struggling Damac, while second-placed Al Ittihad will host Al Fateh in seventh, the visitors themselves are not too far off the pace.

Al Nassr aiming for seven heaven

WhatAl Nassr v Al Ahli
WhereAl-Awwal Park, Riyadh 
When19:00, Friday 22nd September
OddsAl Nassr 4/6, Draw 11/4, AlAhli 10/3

It was a tough start to the season for Al Nassr and their new head coach Luis Castro, as they opened the new Saudi Pro League campaign with back-to-back defeats, but they have since rallied, winning four on the bounce and scoring 17 goals in the process.

With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Sadio Mane spearheading their attack it is no surprise that Al Nassr have quickly found their feet, with those two forwards having scored a combined 13 goals between them.

Ronaldo, who is currently leading the Pro League scoring charts with seven, is 8/13 to notch anytime against Al Ahli, while Mane is 13/10 in the same market.

Al Ahli currently sit above Al Nassr in the standings, winning five of their six games since earning promotion, the only problem is, the sole defeat during that run was a 5-1 reverse at Al Fateh in their last away fixture.

That defeat may still be fresh in the minds of Matthias Jaissle and his players heading into this daunting away clash. It is no surprise to see Al Nassr heavily fancied to win this contest at 4/6.

No dramas expected for league leaders

WhatDamac v Al Hilal
WherePrince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium, Abha
When16:00, Thursday 21st September
OddsDamac 10/1, Draw 11/2, Al Hilal 1/6

We want our title back appears to be the general feeling surrounding Al Hilal at the start of this season, as the side that had won three Pro League championships on the bounce prior to last term have opened the current campaign with five wins and a draw from their six matches.

Jorge Jesus' side are protecting the only unbeaten record left in this season's Pro League and they will expect to have far too much for Thursday's hosts Damac, who are yet to win this season and whose team does not hold the same star dust as Al Hilal.

The likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Malcom have been starring for Al Hilal over recent weeks and that is before you even take Neymar into account, with the Brazilian set to make his first league start for the club after his cameo from the bench in last week’s 6-1 thrashing of Al Riyadh.

Neymar provided an assist in that game and he is 1/3 to open his Al Hilal goalscoring account against Damac.

Defending champions set for stern test

WhatAl Ittihad v Al Fateh
WhereKing Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah
When19:00, Thursday 21st September
OddsAl Ittihad 1/3, Draw 15/4, Al Fateh 6/1

Al Ittihad have got their title defence off to a strong start, with the only blot on their copy book coming during their home defeat to Al Hilal at the start of the month when they let a 3-1 lead slip to lose 4-3.

Nuno Espirito Santo's side have responded to that setback with back-to-back wins over Al Akhdoud in the league and AGMK in the AFC Champions League, but they will face a stern test of their credentials against Al Fateh on Thursday.

Managed by former West Ham boss Slaven Bilic, Al Fateh have lost just one of their opening six matches and will head into this game with a spring in their step after following up a 5-1 home success over Al Ahli with a 3-1 road win at Al Khaleej.

Confidence should certainly be high within the Al Fateh camp, but Al Ittihad did the double over them last season - including a 5-1 away success in March - and the smart money has to be with the hosts at 1/3, while a repeat of that 5-1 victory can be backed at 33/1.

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