Even though Al Sadd have swatted aside all opposition this season, Xavi Hernandez makes it a point to acknowledge his team’s rivals before every match, often paying them generous tribute for the way they compete or for the potential they hold.
With the QNB Stars league title literally for them to lose – they lead second-placed Duhail by 13 points with six matches to go – Xavi could easily get away with some bombast if he wanted to.
But that’s not his style as he once again spoke about the “difficulty” of Al Sadd’s match against Al Arabi Monday, saying they are capable of causing an upset.
“The next game is against Al Arabi and we expect it will be difficult. Everybody can remember we suffered in the final of the Amir Cup because they were defending very well. They didn’t concede too many goals in the recent period. They have improved a lot after that with a few new players,” the Spaniard said Sunday.
“They improved in defence and in attack, and of course they have new players like Youssef Msakni who have increased the level of the team. It will be difficult because for sure, they will be really motivated against us.”
Al Sadd will wrap up the title with five matches to spare Monday itself if they beat Al Arabi and Al Duhail lose to Al Gharafa, but Xavi said he was only focused on what his team can do.
“We can win the title if we win the game tomorrow and Al Duhail lose, but just depending on ourselves, if we win the next two games, we are champions. So the focus now is on Al Arabi.
“It is a derby against Al Arabi, and there will be a lot of tension, and a lot of motivation from Al Arabi for sure. We are in a good moment and we are the favourites to win the three points.”
As for Al Arabi’s recent form, Xavi said: “The match will be very difficult as Al Arabi hasn’t lost since we played the Amir Cup final. It means that they are in a really good moment, they improved a lot and they are working really hard, especially in defence. They didn’t concede too many chances to score for their opponents.”
Finally, Xavi extended his wishes to his Al-Arabi counterpart Heimir Hallgrimsson who has tested positive for COVID-19. “I’m sorry for Heimir. I too got the virus in the summer. It happens, this is life.”
“I wish him all the best and a quick recovery, and I will miss him on the bench. It’s a pity that he cannot be on the bench, and of course I wish him all the best because I respect him as a coach and as a person. So, get well soon!
Meanwhile, Al Duhail coach Sabri Lamouchi said facing Al Gharafa for the second time in a matter of a week will be a “new challenge”.
“After our 2021 Qatar Cup semifinal victory over Al Gharafa, our focus has been more on the recovery of our players and restoring their physical readiness in preparation for the league match against Al Gharafa tomorrow, in which we have to make greater efforts in order to achieve victory.
“Our squad could witness a number of changes, but we must take into account the element of harmony and the need to maintain balance within the group. For me, I will count on the best 11 players to play this match. Facing Al Gharafa again is a new challenge.”
Al Duhail have 31 points form 16 matches and with no realistic chance of winning the title will have to keep fighting for the second spot with Qatar Sports Club, Al Gharafa and Al Rayyan breathing down their necks.
Al Rayyan, meanwhile, take on Al Kharaitiyat Monday and will be primarily concerned with avoiding the humiliation of getting beaten by a relegation-threatened team.