Neymar Set for SPL Debut: How Will He Fit in with His Star-Studded Teammates?
Neymar will make his Saudi Pro League debut on Friday, over a month after arriving in Riyadh to be introduced as Al Hilal’s significant new acquisition.
When he arrived from Paris Saint-Germain in the middle of August, the 31-year-old Brazilian was still rehabilitating from a long-term ankle ailment.
The last international break provided Neymar with crucial game time, as he started both of Brazil’s 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Bolivia and Peru under new coach Fernando Diniz.
Neymar surpassed the legendary Pele to become Brazil’s all-time leading scorer with 79 goals in a 5-1 victory over Bolivia.
The Brazilian took a private plane to Riyadh on Wednesday morning and is expected to train with his Hilal teammates on Thursday evening, prompting speculation that coach Jorge Jesus could put him in his squad for Friday’s home game against Al Riyadh.
Neymar will wear the No. 10 shirt at Al Hilal that was previously worn by another Brazilian icon, Rivellino, who came to Riyadh in 1978 and spent three seasons there after being a member of the famed 1970 World Cup-winning squad alongside Pele, Jairzinho, and Tostao.
Hilal’s form has been remarkable despite his delayed debut as their star signing. They lead the SPL with 13 points after five games, having only surrendered points in the 1-1 draw against Al Fayha on the evening of Neymar’s official presentation to the home fans. Al Riyadh, their next opponents, have only four points and are in 15th place, narrowly above the relegation zone in their first season back in the top flight since 2004/05.
As he welcomes Neymar to the team, coach Jorge Jesus will need to adjust the lineup to accommodate his abundance of attacking skill.
So far, the former Fenerbahce and Benfica manager has chosen a 4-3-3 formation with Ruben Neves and Sergei Milinkovic-Savic at the back and either Mohammed Kanno at the back or Salem Al Dawsari in a more offensive role.
The offensive combination of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Malcom, and Al Dawsari has thrived, with each scoring four league goals so far, while Michael has been outstanding when placed down either flank. Unfortunately for the former Flamengo winger, he appears to be the most likely to be dropped from the starting lineup to make room for Neymar.
In the absence of Vinicius Junior, Neymar has been deployed as Brazil’s No. 10, with creative flexibility behind Richarlison and flanked by Raphinha and Rodrygo.
Malcom and Al Dawsari are expected to fill the two wide spots if he is employed in a similar way, while Neves is likely to be charged with greater defensive responsibilities in addition to the role he has done flawlessly as a deep-lying playmaker. Milinkovic-Savic, on the other hand, would function as a box-to-box midfielder, utilizing his athleticism and ability to arrive late into the box to represent an additional goal threat.
Alternatively, Jorge Jesus may play Neymar on the left side of a three-man attack, with Al Dawsari resuming his role as the more advanced of a midfield trio.
Whatever role he plays on the field, Neymar’s entrance in the Saudi Pro League adds to the growing global interest in the tournament sparked by big-name signings such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Riyad Mahrez.
Brazil is already an important market for the SPL, with more participants in the competition than any other foreign country and broadcast rights sold to Canal Goat, so there will be more South American eyes in Riyadh than ever before.