While the reigning European champions will head into the tie as favourites, there is reason for them to be wary of the threat they will face coming up against one of the most formidable outfits Asian football has to offer.
By winning the AFC Champions League last season, Al Hilal became the tournament’s most-successful side of all time as they claimed a fourth continental crown, to go with their record 17 Saudi Professional League titles.
Having booked their place in the Club World Cup semis with an emphatic 6-1 second-round win over Al Jazira on Sunday — a new tournament record victory — we take a closer at the Al Hilal players that could pose the most problems for Chelsea in Wednesday’s clash at Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
Replacing a former Juventus star in Sebastian Giovinco as the team’s playmaker-in-chief was always going to be a huge ask, but Matheus Pereira has risen to the occasion in emphatic fashion last August.
Despite signing midway through their AFC Champions League campaign, the ex-West Brom man would go on to play a pivotal role in the latter stages of their title success in the No. 10 role.
Facing off against Pereira once again is likely to stir up bad memories for Chelsea, given the 25-year-old scored a brace against them last April in a 5-2 win for West Brom — a first triumph at Stamford Bridge for his former club since 1978.
Although a fullback by trade, Yasser Al-Shahrani has established himself as one of the best in his position across all of Asia for his ability to not only do his job defensively but also offer plenty going forward.
Still only 29, Al-Shahrani has made over 200 appearances for Al Hilal and also featured for Saudi Arabia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, where he performed admirably coming up against Liverpool star Mohamed Salah as the Green Falcons came from behind to end their campaign with a 2-1 triumph over Egypt.
Once an automatic selection in the Al Hilal starting XI, Al-Shahrani did briefly lose his place in the side and was a substitute in last year’s AFC Champions League final, but featured against Al Jazira at the weekend and is likely to be relishing the prospect of showing his worth against quality opposition in the form of Chelsea.
Barring a brief loan spell with Villarreal which saw him make a solitary LaLiga appearance against Real Madrid in May 2018, Salem Al-Dawsari has spent the entirety of his career with Al Hilal — which is perhaps somewhat surprising given his undoubted talent.
Nonetheless, the 30-year-old has thrived in his homeland and should go down as one of Saudi Arabia’s best-ever footballers.
Al-Dawsari can lay claim to having scored at a World Cup and also won the Most Valuable Player award at the conclusion of last year’s AFC Champions League tournament, adding to a impressive list of accolades which also includes four Saudi Professional League crowns and two Asian titles.
An impressive record of 21 goals in just 31 appearances for Al Shabab was enough to convince Al Hilal that the Nigeria international was the man to replace departed club icon Bafetimbi Gomis at the start of the month, and he made an immediate impact by scoring on debut against Al Jazira on Sunday.
Source Link: Read more