After a short off-season, the Egyptian Premier league is back for another season that will start on Friday with a game between ENPPI and Aswan.
The last season was so condensed after the Egyptian Football Association decided to resume the season following a five-month suspension due to the spread of coronavirus in the country.
Clubs were forced to play more than half of the season in around 70 days, putting huge pressure on the clubs and players.
This season will also be very condensed after its late start and Egypt’s involvement in tournaments like the 2021 African Cup of Nations and 2022 World Cup qualifiers, as well as the preparations of the Egypt U-23 national team for the Olympic Games of Tokyo.
However, the season is very promising, with reigning five-time Champions Ahly facing a stiff challenge from a number of contenders in contrast to their decades long two-horse race with arch-rivals Zamalek.
Sure, the Red Devils, who are ecstatic following their historic treble of tournament wins — The Egyptian League, Egyptian Cup, and African Champions League, are the team to beat, but Zamalek and big spending Pyramids FC have all they need to topple them.
With this short off-season, Cairo giants Ahly and Zamalek will enter the season without making their usual heavy recruitment. Both sides were content with signing a small number of players with the likes of Moroccan defender Badr Benoun and Arab Contractors' winger Taher Mohamed Taher, who joined Ahly, while Zamalek lured Tunisian fullback Hamza Mathlouthi from Club Sfaxien of Tunisia.
They also restored their loanees players, with the Red Devils regaining Mohamed Sherif from ENPPI, Salah Mohsen and Nasser Maher from Smouha, and Gouna's duo Akram Tawfiq and Ahmed Yasser Rayan.
On the other hand, Zamalek got back international full-back Ahmed Fatouh from Smouha, Mohamed Ashraf from Talae El-Geish, and Moroccan Hamid Ahdad from Raja Casablanca.
In contrast, Pyramids FC continued their spending spree, recruiting top stars like Ramadan Sobhi, Ahmed Fathi, Sherif Ekrami, and Ahmed El-Sheikh.
Sobhi, who is seen as one of Egypt's hottest prospects, and experienced full-back Fathi will propel Pyramids FC to a serious title contender.
Ahly have been granted a relatively easy start of the season, taking on Maqassa, then promoted side Ghazl El-Mahalla, and then Ittihad of Alexandria — who is led by Egypt’s former iconic forward Hossam Hassan — before facing Zamalek on the 28th of this month.
On the other hand, Zamalek will have a very tough start against Arab Contractors, Pyramids FC, and Smouha before the Cairo derby.
The White Knights have to be cautious in their start to avoid their usual scenario of dropping points in the start of the season, which puts the team under pressure during their remaining campaign in the league.
Another interesting race will be the one for the top four with Arab Contractors, Smouha, and Masry ready to fight fiercely to secure an African berth behind the summit trio —Ahly, Zamalek, and Pyramids FC.
Last season’s relegation battle went right down to the wire with the coronavirus enforced break helping a few clubs out.
In the end, Wadi Degla, Aswan, and Gouna all survived, sending Tanta, Harras El-Hodoud, and FC Masr to the second division.
Recently promoted sides Ceramica Cleopatra and National Bank Club, who enjoyed their first appearance in the Egyptian league, are hoping to establish themselves with the elite given their great financial facilities.
Ceramica Cleopatra, backed by wealthy owner Mohamed Abou El-Enein, have spent big in the close season, as they look to quickly make their mark.
They have so far landed more than a dozen players, including several footballers who played for Cairo's famed duo Ahly and Zamalek, such as playmaker Mohamed Ibrahim and midfielder Saleh Gomaa.
National Bank Club share the same objective of Ceramica Cleopatra, with the club owned by the National Bank of Egypt hiring 22 players who have all the experience of playing in the first division.
The club will be managed by former Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef, who guided the Red Devils in the 2013 African Champions League.
The third newcomer is Ghazl El-Mahalla, one of only seven clubs to have won the Premier League, returning to the elite competition after a four-year absence.
The club's mission to keep their place with the elite in the first division will not be easy given how cash-stripped the club is.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)