At the same stage last season, first-placed USM Alger had a 37-point lead over the bottom clubs Bordj Bou Arreridj and Ain Fakroun, but this term the right run of results could theoretically see a team go from bottom three to top three within a couple of matchdays. It's a tremendous moment of parity for football in Algeria, which FIFA.com examines with the help of local coaches and players.
Much-travelled Frenchman Jules Accorsi, 77, is in his second stint in charge of 14th-placed MC El Eulma, and he thinks the even table is not only exciting for fans but shows the opportunities for inroads by less fashionable clubs.
“For me, the fact the League is so close this year is a kind of a blessing,” explained the former Central African Republic coach, who believes one of the reasons why the league is so close is because there is no side as dominant as USM Alger were last season. “The top level has dropped a bit since last year."
Accorsi's compatriot Alain Michel, the CR Belouizdad coach who has been in charge of four other Algerian clubs, said that domestic football in the North African country has also been impacted by the constant changes of coaches.
“Football in the country suffers from a lack of stability in the technical staff," he said. "It is difficult for teams to rely on a system over time, so many teams have a similar style. Things are quite physical and matches are very tight. This has ensured a very level playing field and there is not much between teams.”
Hubert Velud, who won back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014 as coach of ES Setif and USM Alger before being dismissed earlier this year, agreed: “There has been a large turn-over of coaches. But to be successful, you need continuity and patience, so the standard has declined.”
According to the 66-year-old Michel, another reason why the clubs are so close together is that it is very difficult to win away from home: “For instance, at RC Arba it is almost impossible to win (they have one home defeat in 12 matches). Visiting players face a hostile environment, and as a result some of them are a little scared and not always completely invested in the game.”
Pressure and success
Algeria striker Kamel Larbi, who plays for MC Oran, agrees with Michel that matches are marked by tightness. “Most of the teams defend a lot," he said. "Their first objective is not to concede goals. If they can win, it’s a bonus, but I feel the fear of conceding is stronger. Avoiding defeat can become an obsession, due to the pressure of the press and supporters. So there is less risk-taking and a lot of games end up in a draw."
Accorsi is even more direct about it: I feel that clubs tend to be too scared to lose matches. They play with a knife to their throats and fear in their chests. Games often lack thrills and excitement.”
Velud predicts that the league will remain tight until the very end: “It is very possible that one of the minor clubs will win the championship, while one of the bigger clubs gets relegated. With five games to go, MO Bejaia are second in the championship, and this team could be champions. They kept their coach from last season and this has kept the dynamics of the team. I think this is the way forward if clubs want to be successful.”
Ironically, success has been found on the continental level with ES Setif winning the CAF Champions League last year - a first in the competition for Algeria since 1990. And three teams are still alive in the last 16 of the 2015 event - USM Alger, MC El Eulma and the holders - and all of them are well-placed to make the eight-team group stage. That parity is also seen historically in the number of clubs that has represented the country in the Champions League. While four Egyptian clubs, five from Tunisia and six from Congo DR have played in the show-piece event of African club football, Algeria has been represented by ten clubs.