No Neymar, no problem: Al-Hilal sit atop the league table, four points above Al-Nassr and nine above Al-Ahli, having won 11 in a row in all competitions. Jorge Jesus’ side picked up their third straight 2-0 win on November 10 with Aleksandar Mitrovic opening the scoring in the 81st minute whilst Mohammed Kanno sealed the deal against Al-Taawoun with a goal in the 99th minute.
Despite the absence of the Brazilian playmaker, Al-Hilal boast the likes of Mitrovic, Kalidou Koulibaly, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Ruben Neves, Salem Al-Dawsari, Michael Delgado, Malcom, and many more, but one player who has been absolutely vital since arriving is Yassine Bounou. After an epic campaign that saw him win the Europa League with Sevilla and lead Morocco to the semifinals of the World Cup, Bono is showing why he is one of the best goalkeepers in world football.
The 32-year-old has made himself a reliable presence in terms of 1v1 situations, and his veteran composure has proven vital to an Al-Hilal side that has not been conceding too many chances but rather, dominating possession and operating with a high defensive line. They don’t concede many counter-attacks, but when they do, they’re often dangerous, notably against speedy strikers.
For all of their blockbuster signings, Al-Hilal don’t exactly have a genuine defensive midfielder with Neves and Milinkovic-Savic being better suited further forward. But this kind of high blocks might put your center-backs in direct sprinting competition with the opposing wingers who generally are the fastest players in any club, and as such, Bono has been forced into plenty of 1v1 situations and proven his worth on countless occasions, making two saves in a 4-0 win against Al-Raed in his debut before making six saves, all from inside the box to keep them in the game as they prevailed with a 4-3 comeback victory.
His ball-playing performance was also superb, netting 10 successful long balls out of 14 attempted against The Tigers. Bono has almost only been conceding hard opposing shots and from inside the box in his start to life with Al-Hilal. Having to be awake and focused to save the few shots you get when your team is attacking for most parts of the game is widely regarded in football as much harder than goalkeeping for the overly defensive side.
Al-Hilal have the best defense in Saudi Arabia with 8 goals conceded, and Bono has proven crucial in their impressive start. Although the Moroccan isn’t playing in the AFC Champions League, where clubs are only allowed to include 5 non-Asian players, the Blues already have Saudi international gloveman Mohamed Al-Owais, who is also more than enough to get the job done.
Al-Owais, the World Cup hero in the famous Saudi Arabian victory against Argentina, has himself said that Bono is one of the best goalies in the world, and it remains to be seen if the Saudi capital side will consider playing the Moroccan veteran in the advanced stages of the biggest club competition in Asia. If they do, they’d have to give up Ruben Neves, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Kalidou Koulibaly, Malcom or Michael.
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