Wounded Zamalek cannot afford anymore slip-ups as they take on Smouha on Sunday to atone for a series of disappointing results and preserve their position at the top of the Egyptian Premier League.
Some promising displays and results in the first half of the season boosted the success-starved side’s hopes to end a league drought stretching back to 2004, but a recent dip in form has set the alarm bells ringing.
Zamalek were held to two goalless draws with ENPPI and Ismaily before suffering a stunning 2-1 defeat against lowly Gouna to give challengers Ahly and Ismaily a timely chance to narrow the gap.
Second-placed Ahly, who are eyeing a seventh consecutive league crown, are now just one point adrift of Zamalek with Ismaily a further point behind in an exciting three-horse race for the premier domestic competition.
Zamalek coach Hossam Hassan will be waiting for a response from his players when they host struggling Smouha after he sternly criticised them following the loss against Gouna.
The Egypt’s all-time leading scorer went as far as threatening to resign from his post before backtracking on his comments, vowing to carry on and help Zamalek clinch the title.
“I’m sure we will be the eventual champions,” said Hossam Hassan’s twin brother and Zamalek’s football director, Ibrahim, who was involved in a war of words with his Ahly counterpart recently over refereeing issues.
Hossam Hassan might include Amr Zaki in Zamalek’s starting line-up against Smouha after he made a substitute appearance against Gouna following his recovery from a niggling knee injury.
Lack of firepower cost Zamalek dearly, with the likes of Ahmed Gaafar and Ivorian Abou Kone unable to fill the void left by Zaki.
Smouha are eager to allay their relegation worries as they lie third from bottom on 17 points, two behind the safety zone.
Ismaily will be looking to maintain their revival under new coach Emad Soliman when they play Arab Contractors.
The Dervishes, who won the last of their three league titles in 2002, have improved under the guidance of Soliman, who replaced sacked Dutch tactician, Mark Wotte, garnering seven points out of possible nine.
Their array of talents, especially in midfield, gives them the edge over their opponents as they seek to make up for a stunning exit from the CAF Confederation Cup preliminary round.
Soliman will have a fully-fit squad to choose from against Contractors after Moatasem Salem recovered from an injury and his defensive partner, Shady Mohamed, returned from suspension.