“When does the Saudi Pro League start?” That has rarely been a hot question in the collective psyche of the footballing world.
All that’s about to change. Saudi Arabia’s domestic competition has come on the international football scene with a mission to assemble all-star squads this transfer window.
Exorbitant salaries have been offered to lure the cream of European football to the Gulf country.
As a result, there is increased interest in the Saudi Pro League, as fans are eager to know when and how they can follow their favourite footballers.
Here’s all you need to know-
When does the Saudi Pro League start?
The Saudi Pro League begins on August 11 with a fixture between Al-Ahli and Al-Hazem.
It will be Al-Ahli’s first game after promotion back to the first tier. This game will be notable for the potential debuts of two former Premier League stars.
Ex-Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Liverpool favourite Roberto Firmino were secured by Al-Ahli in statement signings and both are expected to play a part here.
They are overwhelming favourites for this one against Al-Hazem, who are one of the clubs left behind in the spending frenzy in Saudi.
The reigning Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema will make his debut on August 14 against Al-Raed.
The fixture to watch out for on the first matchday is the clash between Steven Gerrard’s Al Ettifaq and Al Nassr, who started the madness with the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo.
By then, Gerrard might have Jordan Henderson to call upon if a fee can be agreed with Liverpool.
Saudi Pro League format
The Saudi Pro League consists of 16 teams. Home and away fixture for each means that there are 30 matchdays with a win worth three points and a draw worth one.
However, at the start of the 2022/23 season, it was announced that the 2023/24 season will have 18 teams instead of 16. Consequently, four teams were promoted from the second division while only two were relegated- Al Adalah and Al-Batin.
Therefore, the upcoming season will be the first in Pro League with 34 matchdays, equalling Bundesliga.
In the revised format, the bottom three teams will be relegated.
The winner qualifies for the Club World Cup hosted by FIFA and also earns direct qualification to the AFC Champions League Group Stage.
Reigning champion and players to watch out for
Al-Ittihad are the reigning champions of the Roshn Saudi League. Former Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s side pipped Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr to the title by five points last season.
They are expected to begin this season as favourites again after securing Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante. Jota, acquired from Celtic, adds some youthful exuberance to the aged European imports.
Nuno has got the side playing to his tune and with a sprinkling of stardust on a settled team, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Al-Nassr will also expect to be right up there as reinforcements have arrived for Cristiano Ronaldo in the form of Marcelo Brozovic. However, other sides have arguably strengthened better.
Chief among them are Al-Ahli, who will have probably the best midfield in the competition. In Ruben Neves and Sergei Milikovic-Savic, they beat the trend of signing aging superstars and bought two players in their prime instead.
Those two would probably walk into most European elites and as such represent a huge coup for Al-Ahli. Expect them to fight for the title after finishing 13 points behind the eventual winners last time.