Defending champions Ahly cannot afford even one slip-up when they host Talae El-Geish on Sunday just to hang onto the coat-tails of arch rivals and Egyptian Premier League leaders, Zamalek.
Some poor displays in the first half of the season left Ahly six points behind the success-starved Zamalek, who aim to end a league drought stretching back to 2004.
Ahly’s hope to clinch a seventh consecutive league title largely depends on whether they can avoid any stumble against the league’s tiny teams, including El-Geish who are enjoying a fine run of form.
“El-Geish did not suffer any defeat in their last seven matches. They will be a tough opponent,” Ahly’s Portuguese coach Manuel Jose told the club’s television channel.
“They are also coached by an ex-Zamalek manager [Farouk Gaafar], and this will be an extra incentive for them to win. Such teams always play with a very high morale when they face Ahly.”
Jose returned to the Red Devils in January to lead them for a third spell following two-hugely successful stints at the helm, during which they won a host of domestic and African titles.
Under his guidance, Ahly were held to a 1-1 league draw with promoted Masr Lel Maqassa before claiming a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Ittihad El-Shorta.
They also reached the African Champions League round of 16 after beating South Africa’s SuperSport United 2-1 on aggregate.
Jose often complained about packed schedules during his previous spells in charge of Ahly, saying his players never had sufficient time to rest.
The matter is even more complicated now, as the current schedule was hastily drawn up following a sudden decision to resume the league after more than two months off due to the popular Egyptian uprising that overthrew Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule.
Whereas before the team used to play one game per week, lately, the team has been playing double-time.
“We don’t have any problems now, we are used to playing a match every three or four days. This was the trend during the past six years,” Jose added.
“We are determined to keep Zamalek under pressure by claiming consecutive victories.”
Ahly have no injury worries ahead of the game apart from long-term absentee Sherif Ekramy. Stand-in keeper Ahmed Adel is likely to continue deputising for him.