Cristiano Ronaldo has been in stunning form for Al-Nassr this season. The Saudi Pro League’s extravagant spending was one of the major talking points of the summer transfer window. With numerous European football stars now plying their trade in the Middle East, we take a closer look at selecting the division’s best XI.
Goalkeeper: Yassine Bounou (Al-Hilal)
Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou joined Al-Hilal after four successful years at Sevilla, where he twice won the Europa League. The 32-year-old earned the title of the 2023 African Player of the Year due to his commanding performances at last year’s World Cup.
Centre-back: Kalidou Koulibaly (Al-Hilal)
Kalidou Koulibaly was part of the mass summer exodus at Chelsea following a lackluster 2022-23 campaign. The Senegal international previously excelled at Napoli and was named in the Serie A Team of the Season four times.
Centre-back: Fabinho (Al-Ittihad)
After five trophy-laden years at Liverpool, Fabinho decided to join the Saudi revolution by completing a £40 million move to Al-Ittihad. The versatile Brazilian impressed on his debut against Al-Raed and received a Rolex as a token of appreciation from a fan.
Centre-back: Aymeric Laporte (Al-Nassr)
Manchester City’s abundance of defensive options, including summer signing Josko Gvardiol, led Aymeric Laporte to leave the Etihad for Al-Nassr. The 29-year-old won 13 trophies with City, including five Premier League titles and the Champions League.
Right wing: Riyad Mahrez (Al-Ahli)
Another star name to exit Manchester City, Riyad Mahrez is already making his mark at his new club, Al-Ahli. Part of an attacking line-up that includes Roberto Firmino and Allan Saint-Maximin, the Algerian winger has scored two goals and provided two assists in five league matches this season.
Centre midfield: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Al-Hilal)
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is one of the few players who moved to Saudi Arabia this summer while at the peak of their powers. The 28-year-old maestro was Lazio’s key player last season, scoring nine goals and providing eight assists in Serie A.
Centre midfield: N’Golo Kante (Al-Ittihad)
N’Golo Kante and Chelsea failed to agree on a new contract, leading the 2018 World Cup winner to join Al-Ittihad on a free transfer. Injuries were a concern for the 32-year-old in his final years at Stamford Bridge, although he has made five top-flight appearances so far this season.
Left wing: Sadio Mane (Al-Nassr)
Sadio Mane left Bayern Munich after a challenging debut season but has quickly regained his best form in an Al-Nassr shirt. Senegal’s all-time leading scorer has scored five goals in as many league appearances, including a brace in the 5-0 win against Al-Fateh last month.
Attacking midfield: Neymar (Al-Hilal)
Perhaps the most significant signing made by a Saudi club this summer, Neymar joined Al-Hilal from Paris Saint-Germain in a deal reportedly worth £86 million. The Brazilian superstar has yet to make his debut but is expected to do so after the international break following his return to full fitness.
Striker: Karim Benzema (Al-Ittihad)
The first major signing of the Saudi summer, Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema joined Al-Ittihad on a free transfer from Real Madrid on June 6. He has settled comfortably into life in Jeddah, scoring two goals and providing two assists in five league appearances.
Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo (Al-Nassr)
Cristiano Ronaldo kick-started the Saudi project when he joined Al-Nassr back in January. The 38-year-old has been in sparkling form this season, scoring six goals, providing four assists, and earning the Player of the Month award for August.