MIKE KEEGAN: Gerrard may have taken the upper hand against Ronaldo

MIKE KEEGAN: Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson could have taken the upper hand against Cristiano Ronaldo… before a ball has even been kicked!

  • Steven Gerrard side Al-Ettifaq are set to take on Al-Nassr on Monday night
  • Cristiano Ronaldo suffered an injury in his side’s Arab Club Champions Cup win
  • Watch the first full episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ here

Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson appear to have taken the upper hand against Cristiano Ronaldo – before a ball has been kicked. 

The former Liverpool pair’s Al-Ettifaq take on the Portuguese’s Al-Nassr in Dammam on Monday, in their opening fixture of the Saudi Pro League next to the Arabian Gulf.

However, the Englishmen may have watched with smiles on their faces when Ronaldo’s side triumphed on Saturday night in a gruelling Arab Club Champions Cup Final extra-time victory against their Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal.

While captain Ronaldo scored both goals in a 2-1 win, he also departed via a medical buggy with what appeared to be a leg injury after challenging for the ball with former Chelsea defender Kalidou Koulibaly five minutes from the end of what was a gruelling clash.

The 38-year-old, the first of the big names to head to the Middle East, is a doubt to make the game although he did appear to be moving without discomfort while he and his team-mates paraded the trophy in Taif and later made no mention of the injury in celebratory social media posts. 

Cristiano Ronaldo (left) suffered an injury during Al-Nassr’s Arab Club Champions Cup win on Saturday night against Al-Hilal 

The Portuguese superstar was removed from the field on a medical buggy, spelling doubts over his fitness to play in his side’s opening game of the Saudi Pro League season

Al-Nassr are set to open their campaign against Steven Gerrard’s (left) and Jordan Henderson’s (right) side Al-Ettifaq on Monday night

Should Ronaldo prove his fitness, he will be taking to the field in what are likely to be stifling temperatures of around 35 Celsius having completed a highly-charged game just 48 hours earlier.

The kick-off of the final was brought forward to allow Al-Nassr additional time to recover, although at one stage putting Monday’s fixture back is thought to have been among the options being considered.

Regardless of Ronaldo’s injury status Al-Nassr, who finished last season second, will be favourites to prevail over Gerrard’s side, which ended the campaign in seventh.

Aside from Henderson, former Celtic pair Jack Hendry and Moussa Dembele have joined the club in what has so far been a modest recruitment drive compared with the huge splurges from the four sides recently taken over by PIF, the Saudi government’s investment arm.

The match will take place at the Prince Mohammad bin Fahd Stadium, which has a capacity of 26,000 and and is surrounded by an athletics track.

Henderson, 33, will captain the side managed by his former Anfield team-mate. 

The England midfielder has come in for heavy criticism for moving to a club in Saudi, thanks to its stance on homosexuality and given his previous support of the LGBT community.

Gerrard (L) became the manager of the Middle Eastern side earlier this summer, while Henderson (R) arrived during the transfer window to join up with his old Liverpool team-mate

Al-Ettifaq finished seventh last season in the Saudi Pro League, and even in Ronaldo’s absence are still the underdogs for Monday nights game

However, Pro League director of football Michael Emenalo voiced his support ahead of the fixture.

‘I think he remains pro gay rights,’ said the former Chelsea technical director. ‘I don’t think it changes anything, you know. 

‘It doesn’t change the views of Jordan Henderson, Jordan Henderson was a professional in the open market, and he’s looking to do the best for him. And in fact, being here is an opportunity for him. 

‘To see it, just like me, this is a place where you can live with your family and have fun and have a certain level of growth. And pursue your career and do the things that you love. And do it every day without any concerns.’

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