With a squad boasting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Seko Fofana, Marcelo Brozović, and Aymeric Laporte, it’s no surprise that Al-Nassr have begun the season in impressive fashion. After falling to back-to-back losses to Al-Ettifaq and Al-Taawoun, Al-Nassr beat Shabab Al-Ahli 4-2, scoring three goals in the final 12 minutes to secure a comeback victory and their place in the AFC Champions League group stage.
Since that narrow victory against the Dubai-based side, Al-Nassr have won their last nine matches in all competitions, including a 2-0 win against Persepolis in the first match of their AFC Champions League group stage campaign. Portuguese manager Luís Castro masterminded their victory in Tehran, Iran, taking advantage of his right back Sultan Al-Ghannam’s speed and attacking efficiency. The Saudi international would often find himself in the typical position of a right winger, charging into the final third and making his way into suitable crossing areas where he would create havoc.
Playing against Persepolis’ mid-low block and their 4-4-2 defensive setup, Al-Nassr left back Mohammed Qassem would drop back to form a back three with Laporte and Abdelelah Al-Amri, who was pushed towards the right half-space and allowed Al-Ghannam to push into advanced areas.
With Persepolis using just two players up top, Al-Nassr had no issues creating a numerical superiority with their back three, rotating the ball to one of them who could then make a long pass to Al-Ghannam, taking advantage of the hosts failing to press with intensity.
Moreover, Castro utilized Sadio Mané as an inside forward, with the Senegalese operating in the right half-space and allowing Al-Ghannam to step up and hold the width, pushing the fullback to central areas. Otávio, operating as a right-sided central midfield, was able to shift into wide positions on the right flank, preventing the opposing winger from tracking Al-Ghannam and forcing him to make a decision about who to mark. As such, Al-Nassr were able to find Al-Ghannam in dangerous areas thanks to the quality of their defenders in terms of making long passes, particularly Laporte.
Mané was able to utilize his speed and enter the box before the cross was made, acting as a second striker next to Cristiano Ronaldo, whilst Otávio would offer the option of the cutback or make himself available for a second ball if the opposing center back cleared the cross.
After Persepolis fell to 10 men in the 52nd minute, Al-Nassr would take the lead shortly after via an own goal and seal the deal in the 72nd minute with a goal from Qassem. They edged Al-Ahli 4-3 with Cristiano Ronaldo and Anderson Talisca recording braces, before thrashing Ohod 5-1 in the Round of 32 of the King Cup of Champions, whilst a late penalty from Ronaldo would see them beat Al-Ta’ee 2-1.
Despite falling behind before the break, a goal from Ronaldo and a brace from Talisca would see them prevail 3-1 against Tajik side FC Istiklol. Al-Nassr will host Abha and Damac in league play before hosting Qatari side Al-Duhail in the third match of the AFC Champions League group stage, a match that will see Philippe Coutinho face off against former Liverpool teammate Sadio Mané, whilst Rúben Semedo will face off against Ronaldo and Otávio, having played with both at club and international level.
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Anadolu Agency / Ali Al-Haji / AFP