The Egyptian Premier League is going back towards the usual two-horse race between Cairo’s bitter foes Ahly and Zamalek.
Ismaily were also deemed title contenders but a stunning 1-0 home defeat by relegation-threatened Arab Contractors on Sunday cast serious doubts over their ability to mount a serious challenge for the prestigious accolade, which they last won in 2002.
Leaders Zamalek ended a three-match winless run with a late 3-0 victory over Smouha in Cairo to boost their morale and move four points clear of second-placed Ahly and five above Ismaily.
Ahly will look to have a chance to narrow the gap with Zamalek back to one point if they win the next game against Wadi Degla on Monday.
Although, no doubt they will be itching to grab it with both hands, they will have to play without three central midfielders: suspended duo Hossam Ashour and Hossam Ghaly and injured Mohamed Shawky, who hurt his knee in Ahly’s hard-earned 1-0 victory over Ittihad last week.
The absentees have prompted Coach Manuel Jose to include Shehab Ahmed in Ahly’s squad following a lengthy and surprise absence for unspecified reasons.
The promising midfielder was a regular starter under Jose’s predecessor, Hossam El-Badry but was demoted to the bench following the Portuguese’s arrival. He is expected to partner veteran midfielder Ahmed Hassan in the heart of Ahly’s midfield against struggling Wadi Degla.
Egypt skipper Hassan made some substitute appearances lately after recovering from a serious knee injury that sidelined him for around seven months.
“I’m doing my best in training to regain my top form,” the 36-year-old said on the Red Devils’ official website.
“I’m eager to help my team following my long absence,” he added, before rubbishing reports that he was involved in a fall-out with teammate, Ghaly.
Degla, who are experiencing their first ever season in the top flight, will be looking to allay their relegation fears as they lie 13th in the 16-team table on 19 points, above the relegation zone on goal difference.
They meet Ahly once in the reverse fixture last year, where the defending champions won 1-0.
In other matches, bottom side Ittihad take on Gouna in a fierce battle for survival while ailing Haras El-Hodoud, who have nothing to play for after failing to build on their successes in recent years, face Geish.