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The Best Team in the World This Year Is Al Hilal?

Maybe saying it is the best in the world will sound very bombastic for Al Hilal SFC. “The Blue Waves” or “The Boss”, the nickname of the ruling club of the Saudi Pro League for the 2023/2024 season, must legitimize it by becoming champions of the 2025 Club World Cup tomorrow. But in terms of data and facts, they deserve to be called the best this season!

Al Hilal is one of four teams endorsed directly by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS), through his Public Investment Fund (PIF) company. PIF’s outpouring of funds to Al Nassr, Al Hilal, Al Ittihad and Al Ahly has succeeded in making world football stars look to the Saudi Pro League as a career anchor.

It seems that the public is quite bored with the news about Cristiano Ronaldo and his Al Nassr, which is used as a “lighthouse” for Prince MBS’s ambitious project. Therefore, I will discuss it from a different perspective, from the perspective of Jorge Jesus’ The Blue Waves.

Tuesday (9/4/2024) early morning WIB, Al Hilal successfully defeated Al Nassr with a score of 2-1 in the semifinals of the Saudi Super Cup. Goals from Salem Al-Dawsari and Malcom could only be answered by a goal from Sadio Mane at the end of the match. Cristiano Ronaldo, who looked frustrated because he failed to penetrate Al Hilal’s defense, was given a red card in the 86th minute after elbowing Ali Al-Bulayhi.

This victory takes Al Hilal to the 2024 Saudi Super Cup Final, to meet defending champion Al Ittihad, next Friday (12/4/2024). Al Ittihad a few hours earlier succeeded in sinking Al Wahda 2-1 through goals from Karim Benzema and Abderrazak Hamdallah.

So how can the composition of this team from Riyadh have the potential to win all the trophies they participate in? What records have they recorded? Let’s discuss it.

Last season Al Hilal almost succeeded in becoming champions of the Asian Champions League, only losing 1-2 on aggregate against Urawa Reds (Japan) in the final. At the end of the 2022/2023 season, only the Saudi Cup title will be his achievement.

At the start of this season, The Boss went “crazy” in the transfer market. They brought in a number of the world’s best footballers such as Yassine Bounou (Morocco), Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal), Ruben Neves (Portugal), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia), as well as the Brazilian trio Renan Lodi, Malcom and Neymar jr.

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Even crazier, they offered Kylian Mbappe 300 million Euros, but the French superstar rejected it outright.

A series of new stars successfully synergized with local stars Ali Al-Bulayhi, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Mohamed Kano and the idol of Saudi fans, Salem Al-Dawsari under the leadership of the new manager from Portugal, Jorge Jesus.

Jorge Jesus is not an ordinary manager in world football. He was the figure behind the birth of the Benfica stars for the 2010-2015 period who dominated the Portuguese football stage. Jan Oblak, David Luiz, Axel Witsel, Nemanja Matic, Bernardo Silva, Ruben Amorim and Joao Cancelo are his cool fruits.

Jorge Jesus also managed Al Hilal in the 2018/2019 season, winning the Saudi Super Cup trophy. So this figure, who is only tied for a season, is The Boss’s best choice to rule Asia and the world this year.

The recruitment of world-caliber players and the appointment of top managers is a special signal that Al Hilal is indeed being pushed by PIF to become a showcase for Saudi Arabian football. They could be said to be the “golden children” of Prince MBS’s mega project.

Apart from Neymar Jr, who only played in five Al Hilal matches before suffering a serious ACL injury, all of The Boss’s marquee players (special foreign players) have become important players in Jorge Jesus’ 4-2-3-1 scheme.

Yassine Bounou is a mainstay in goal. The goalkeeper who led Morocco to become semifinalists in the 2022 World Cup only conceded 17 goals in 27 matches in the Saudi Pro League, the second best this season behind Inter Milan (conceded 15 from 31 matches).

Bounou should also have a record as good as Yann Sommer (Inter Milan) who recorded 10 clean sheets from the first 15 matches. However, because it competes in mainland Asia, this record is not comparable between the top European leagues.

Al Hilal’s solid back line was put together by Kalidou Koulibaly along with Al-Bulayhi, whose name is famous for mocking Messi at the 2022 World Cup. They were assisted by fullbacks Renan Lodi and Mohammed Al-Burayk.

Ruben Neves and Milinkovic-Savic are the two metronomes in midfield, helping the trio of Al-Dawsari, Malcom and Michael who are the attacking players behind Aleksandar Mitrovic.

The marquee players that Jorge Jesus has got this season are very evenly distributed across all lines. This helped him to win the competition with three other big Saudi clubs whose player recruitment was somewhat “unbalanced”.

FYI, Al Nassr focuses more on attackers with Cristiano Ronaldo, Talisca, Otavio, Sadio Mane and Brozovic. This makes the yellow-blue club often unsteady when attacked.

This is different from Al Ittihad, the minimal number of players brought in are creative-player types. N’golo Kante and Fabinho, who in fact play the same position, were put together in one team. This made it difficult for Karim Benzema and Jota to create opportunities.

So, Al Hilal is unstoppable this season! They were unbeaten in 41 matches, exactly the same as Bayer Leverkusen’s record.

Even more amazing, Al Hilal has set a world record with 33 consecutive wins to date (9 April 2024), and has the opportunity to sharpen that record! The team whose record they have surpassed is The New Saints from the Welsh league with 27 consecutive wins.

Isn’t The Blue Waves amazing? Opportunity to clean sweep the trophy and prepare for the World League

Next Friday, Al Hilal can start a clean sweep of its trophy coffers if it is able to defeat Al Ittihad in the Saudi Super Cup Final. Meanwhile, the title of champion of the Saudi Pro League  is already in the hands of Al-Dawsari et al, after being 12 points away from Al Nassr with 7 matches remaining.

Next, to show hegemony in the Asian region, Al Hilal must beat Al-Ain (UAE) in the semifinals, before meeting the winner between Ulsan Hyndai (South Korea) and Yamaha Marinos (Japan) in the 2024 Asian Champions League. Of course it is not difficult, because The Boss already achieved it in 2021.

The fourth trophy that can be wrapped up in the remainder of the season is the Saudi King’s Cup. In May, they will play the semifinal match against Al Ittihad, before the Asian Champions League Final schedule takes place.

With very good squad depth, especially if Neymar Jr can recover on time at the end of April, it is not impossible that Al Hilal can sweep all these trophies. Jorge Jesus will certainly be very focused on sharpening the record his team has achieved this season.

If everything can be realized, The Blue Waves must prepare for the inaugural FIFA tournament which will crown the world’s best club. The 2025 Club World Cup will be held in June-July 2025, bringing together 32 of the world’s best clubs. Al Hilal already has one ticket, for winning the 2021 Asian Champions League.

The world still underestimates the strength of the Asian leagues compared to Europe, so that is the moment for Al Hilal to legitimize their greatness as one of the best teams in the world. Moreover, Saudi Arabia will also campaign to host the 2034 World Cup.

So, can Al Hilal do it? Hopefully the rest of this season will still go well for Neymar Jr et al to sharpen their record.

ASL

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