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Friday, 25 June 2021

Preview: Ahly, Zamalek clash in top-of-table Cairo derby

At the same stage last season, Ahly were playing in a league of their own but it's a different story this time around

Ahram Online , Sunday 9 May 2021
Ahly v Zamalek
File photo of a Cairo derby clash between Ahly and Zamalek (Ahram)

There is little to separate perennial rivals Ahly and Zamalek as they meet in a top-of-the-table clash in the Egyptian Premier League on Monday, with both look poised for a fierce two-horse race for the coveted title.

At the same stage last season, Ahly were playing in a league of their own -- opening up a significant lead on top and virtually securing the title with only half the season played.

It's different this time around as Zamalek lead Ahly by four points on top, although the latter still have two games in hand.

Should Zamalek atone for last month's 2-1 loss to Ahly, when they were largely outplayed, they will have a chance to pull clear even if the Red Devils win their rescheduled matches.

"On paper, there are still many matches left. However, tomorrow's result will have a big role in settling competition for the title. Whoever wins will get a big boost of morale," Zamalek's French coach Patrice Carteron said. 

Both sides have shown patchy of form of late, dropping points against some modest opponents and struggling to embark on any long winning streaks.

Promoted Ghazl El-Mahalla, whose squad represents a fraction of the transfer value of the expensively-assembled sides of Ahly and Zamalek, claimed the scalps of both sides with 1-0 and 2-1 wins respectively.

Ahly and Zamalek are also suffering the adverse effects of a tight fixture schedule that left them with tired legs. Ahly, who unlike Zamalek are still in the African Champions League, in particular have been the victims of a string of injuries that hit their key players.

They will miss influential left-back Ali Maaloul, Nigerian forward Junior Ajayi and defensive midfielder Hamdi Fathi against Zamalek. The White Knights will have to do without left-back Abdallah Gomaa through injury and versatile midfielder Emam Ashour through suspension.

Referee Amin Omar will take charge of Monday's clash, marking the second successive Cairo derby to be officiated by an Egyptian official as the country's football association continues to break away with the tradition of assigning foreign referees for the high-stakes game.

The EFA ignored pleas from Ahly to bring in a foreign referee, taking heart from Mahmoud El-Banna's convincing performance in last month's derby, which was devoid of any glaring refereeing errors.

Both Ahly and Zamalek have grown vocal of their criticism of Egyptian refereeing as they believe many key decisions have gone against them in recent games. 

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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