Welcome to the party, Neymar! Saudi Pro League winners & losers as Al-Hilal's biggest star finally debuts while 'lazy' Karim Benzema feels the ire of Al-Ittihad supporters

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The forward was one of a number of Brazilians to shine after the international break, but other superstars aren't having it their own way

After two weeks away for the international break, the Saudi Pro League returned over the past few days, with anticipation having built in the days leading up to matchday six as another global superstar prepared to make his bow in the Middle East.

Having returned from injury, Neymar made his debut for leaders Al-Hilal on Friday, and the Brazil international didn't disappoint as he shone in his new side's 6-1 thrashing of Al-Riyadh. There were wins, too, for Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli, who remain just one point behind the early pacesetters.

Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sadio Mane kept up their fine scoring form for a resurgent Al-Nassr, while Steven Gerrard's Al-Ettifaq remain in the top five after victory over Abha on Saturday.

GOAL breaks down the winners & losers from the latest round of Saudi Pro League action...

  1. WINNER: Al-Shabab's new arrivals

    Traditionally one of the heavyweights of Saudi football, Al-Shabab have endured a terrible start to the 2023-24 season. After five matches, they were without a win having lost three matches and drawn the other two.

    What a relief it must have been, then, for them to finally get off the mark in terms of victories with Thursday's 1-0 win over Al-Feiha. But what made it extra pleasing was that it was their two newest arrivals who made it happen.

    Yannick Carrasco's cross was headed in by Roman Saiss for the only goal, but it was not just that moment that helped the duo stand out. Carrasco, who joined from Atletico Madrid just before the transfer window closed, provided flair and creativity in attack, while Morocco defender Saiss was dependable at the back as he helped his new team keep their first clean sheet in 10 matches.

  2. LOSER: Karim Benzema
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    LOSER: Karim Benzema

    Karim Benzema may have scored the only goal of the game against Al Akhdoud as Al-Ittihad got back to winning ways after their dramatic Clasico defeat to Al-Hilal last time out, but that could not save the Ballon d'Or winner from criticism as he got a first taste of the notoriously hard to please Saudi fans.

    Benzema was described by Ittihad supporters as being "lazy" and "unwilling" to participate in build-up play while some members of the media have also begun to call out Benzema's performances as being under-par.

    He might be being well remunerated, but that won't keep Benzema from coming under the microscope if his performances don't match his salary.

  3. WINNER: Neymar & Al-Hilal's Brazilians
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    WINNER: Neymar & Al-Hilal's Brazilians

    As the most expensive signing of the Saudi transfer window in terms of transfer fee, much is expected of Neymar at Al-Hilal, and on Saturday fans got a first glimpse at what their club had paid €90 million (£77m/$98m) to acquire from Paris Saint-Germain.

    A second-half substitute as he continues to recover from injury, Neymar laid on the assist for his compatriot Malcom to score the fifth goal in his new team's 6-1 win over Al-Riyadh. In fact, a Brazilian had a hand in each of the team's goals, though it was perhaps the least heralded samba star who impressed the most.

    Midfielder Michael stole the show with a series of tricks and fancy footwork, which eventually led to him winning a penalty. Signed from Flamengo in 2022, the 27-year-old could make a name for himself if he continues at this level when more and more supporters tune in to watch Neymar.

    A special mention, too, must also go to Salem Al Dawsari too, as the Saudi Arabia forward responded to reports that he is about to lose the captaincy to Neymar by scoring two late goals to take his season tally to six in six games; only Ronaldo has more.

  4. WINNER: Steven Gerrard
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    WINNER: Steven Gerrard

    Abha are traditionally one of the toughest Pro League teams to beat on their own turf, and so the way that Gerrard's Al-Ettifaq side went about their task was mightily impressive on Saturday. Despite having to wait until the second half to open the scoring, Gerrard's team dismantled their hosts to stay within three points of the summit.

    Moussa Dembele grabbed the breakthrough, scoring from a Jordan Henderson assist for the third time in their last two matches, while debutant Demarai Gray proved his class with two assists late on in the 3-1 win.

  5. LOSER: Roberto Firmino
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    LOSER: Roberto Firmino

    Back on the opening night of the season, Roberto Firmino was the toast of the Pro League. The ex-Liverpool striker marked his Al-Ahli debut with a hat-trick, and looked poised to become one of the stars of the division.

    However, Firmino has not scored since, and drew another blank on Saturday in his side's hard-fought 3-2 win over fourth-placed Al-Taawoun as another former Premier League star, Allan Saint-Maximim proved to be the hero.

    Firmino was never a prolific striker at Anfield, but the step down in quality led many to believe that he would fill his boots in the Middle East. So far, however, that hasn't been the case.

  6. WINNER: Mourad Batna

    Among the litany of household names that have arrived into the Pro League over the past few months, one of the surprise stars of the early weeks of the season has been Al-Fath forward Mourad Batna.

    The Moroccan followed up his double against Al-Ahli in the final game before the international break with another brace against Al-Khaleej for Slaven Bilic's side on Friday, taking his goal tally for the season to five, making him one of the early frontrunners for the Golden Boot.

  7. LOSER: Alvaro Medran
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    LOSER: Alvaro Medran

    Nestled in among the super-rich, PIF-owned clubs, Al-Taawoun have been the gate-crashers at the top of the table during the opening weeks of the season, and went into the international break unbeaten and on a run of four straight wins having already taken down Al-Nassr.

    That form has largely been inspired by the performances of former Real Madrid academy star Alvaro Medran, who has grown into a strong presence in midfield for Al-Taawoun.

    However, his team will have to do without him next time out after he picked up a red card in stoppage-time against Al-Ahli, who also ended their visitors' unbeaten and leapfrogged them in the table with Saturday's 3-2 victory.

  8. Winner: Talisca/ Al-Nassr

    With Ronaldo already established in the team and Mane arriving to join him in attack, many expected Anderson Talisca's days at Al-Nassr to be numbered, and his cause has not been helped by an injury that ruled him out for the first few weeks of the season.

    But on Saturday, he proved his value after being introduced as a half-time substitute against Al-Raed for just his second appearance of the campaign by scoring what was the goal of the week in the Pro League.

    The Brazilian lashed in a 30-yard drive into the top corner to put Al-Nassr 2-0 up before laying on the assist for Ronaldo to net his seventh goal of the campaign late on. Maybe they can play together after all...