Al-Hilal have to do without their superstar playmaker Neymar for the rest of the season, as the Brazilian has suffered from a season-ending injury, after tearing his Anterior Cruciate Ligament of his knee in the World Cup qualifying game between Brazil and Uruguay. Now, The Blues would have one foreigner spot available, and they have the opportunity to fill it with a new signing.
They have the most Saudi international players in the league, which means that they can count on their local players to fill any void left by the foreigners. Mohamed Al-Owais, Ali-Bulaihi, Hassan Al-Tambakti, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Saud Abdelhamid, Salem Al-Dawsari, Mohammed Kanno, Abdullah Al-Hamdan, Salman Al-Faraj, Nasser Al-Dawsari, Yasser Al-Shehri…few teams boast the collection of Saudi talent that Al-Hilal does.
But still, adding some extra quality to their squad would increase their chances even higher to fight for the Saudi Professional League crown, the AFC Champions League trophy as well as the King’s Cup title. We have previously mentioned in the previous analysis that the replacement should not be done with a like-for-like profile, as we clarified that Salem Al-Dawsari can pretty much fill in the shoes of Neymar, as he doing before his arrival, despite the difference in the main qualities of each player.
Al-Hilal has been limiting the role of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic playing him as a pivot, which also put the team in danger of counters, as neither he nor Ruben Neves are really defensively minded. Anyway, we will take a look at five profiles that could bring a lot of balance to the Saudi capital club, and all of them are defensive midfielders:
Ibrahim Sangaré (Nottingham Forest)
Ivory Coast international Ibrahim Sangaré is a complete defensive midfielder, who can bring quality in both offensive and most notably defensive areas of the pitch, which makes him the almost perfect player for Al-Hilal. The Blues would need his defensive qualities in the big games, with his ball-winning, recovering, and tackling, but the club can also benefit from his dribbling and passing when they need that extra help against low-blocks.
Sangaré is a tough player to get past, as he ranks in the 96th percentile with 59.3% dribblers tackled. He ranks high in clearances, averaging 2.09 per game, which puts him in the 91th percentile. Most importantly, Sangaré is one of the best ball-winners in the world, ranking in the 98th percentile, with 9.76 ball recoveries per game. In the air, he is a beast, placing himself in the 91th percentile with 61.8% aerial duels won.
The part that he should improve is the rate of tackles won per tackles attempted, as he only wins 1.12 tackles for every 2.28, which makes it less than 50% of completion. Offensively speaking, Sangaré fares well for a defensive midfielder, as he averages 51.41 successful passes per game (87th percentile), with a 83.5% success rate.
What is special about his attacking side is that he likes to progress the play further, his progressive passing distance makes him rank in the 87th percentile, with 290.87 per 90, and most simply, he makes 8.01 progressive passes per game (93th percentile.) Though, his best offensive quality is his dribbling with 1.21 successful take-ons per game and 65.8% completion. As we said earlier, Sangaré can bring that extra support in attack when playing against low-blocks.
He basically generates 0.17 non-penalty expected goals per game, which is good for a defensive midfielder, as he ranks in the 95th percentile, and 0.15 goals per 90 (83th percentile). He still has to improve his finishing, Sangaré should have scored 0.3 more goals per game, taking into account the chances that he has got and/or generated.
The player should be available on the market if the club pays the right price for him. He has aroused the interest of a bunch of European giants including FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. His mates Franck Kessié and Seko Fofana in the Ivory Coast midfield are already playing in the Saudi Professional League, which would tempt him to join the SPL.
Joao Palhinha (Fulham)
Joao Palhinha has imposed himself as a definite starter with the Portuguese national team, and could be the next star to join the Saudi Professional League, as he is available in the winter transfer window. Bayern Munich were inches away from securing his services in the latest transfer period, they were ready to break the bank for his services, and should a Saudi club step forward for him, he might accept to join in.
Bayern Munich is a tempting destination, no doubt about that, but after all, Palhinha is 28 years old, which would make the financial power and the promising sporting project of the SPL as or even more tempting for him. Palhinha might not need the same introduction as Sangaré as he plays in the English Premier League, everyone watches the EPL, and you would at least jump on one of his games with Fulham against one of the big dogs.
Palhinha is a tackle master, simply the best player in the world in this specific aspect. Hear me out: he wins 2.33 tackles which puts him in the 99th percentile around the world. He also averages 1.55 interceptions and 1.78 clearances per 90, which place him in the 84th and 86th percentile. On the air, he gains 1.97 aerial duels per 90 (87th percentile), and has a 61.0% success rate, ranking him in the 85th percentile. All of this while playing in the toughest league in the world.
We only put Sangaré higher on the list, because he might be more suitable for a dominating team like Al-Hilal that might not need both Ruben Neves and Palhinha in the starting eleven, most notably against the low-defensive lines. Sangaré is better offensively than Palhinha, but the latter is one of the very best in the world defensively, and maybe it will only take him to play for one of the giants to be recognized as a world-class player.
He is not a very special player offensively, truth be told, but his switches of play are top-notch. Other than that, he does not get involved enough in the offensive part of the field. But it does not mean that he can’t. Being able to acquire the services of such a player, might not be as prestigious as the ones of Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar, but considering only what happens inside the pitch, he would improve the midfield of any Saudi team, no matter what they have already got on their squads.
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Gualter Fatia / Getty Images