Is there any stopping champions Al Hilal as ACL West Zone group stage passes halfway mark?

Defending champions Al Hilal are the only team in the West Zone of AFC Champions League 2022 with a perfect record of three wins at the halfway mark of the group stage campaign. Asian Football Confederation

With three rounds down and three more still to play, the group stage of the AFC Champions League 2022 West Zone remains delicately poised at the halfway stage.

Unsurprisingly, reigning champions Al Hilal have set the standard as the only team still boasting a perfect record, but a handful of others has also made bright starts.

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With only the five group winners guaranteed a place in the Round of 16 along with the three best-performing runners-up, there remains plenty to play for in the second half of the group stage.

Here, we take a closer look at the main talking points in the western half of the competition, and assess if there is anyone that could potentially rival Al Hilal's dominance.

Al Hilal in cruise control

At the halfway mark of the group stage, it is hardly a shock that Al Hilal have racked up three consecutive wins but it is perhaps surprising that no other team has achieved the feat.

Two of those wins have just been by a single goal and Al Hilal have had an even spread of scorers so far with six individuals netting once each, with star names Odion Ighalo, Salem Al-Dawsari and Matheus Pereira yet to get off the mark -- suggesting more improvement is still to come.

Al Hilal are experts of getting into their groove in the latter rounds of the competition so the main thing for now is just to ensure they make it out of the group stage, something they are comfortably on course for at the moment.

Saudi Arabian clubs leading the way

It is not just Al Hilal who are flying the flag for Saudi Arabia in ACL 2022, with Saudi Arabia's three other representatives all find themselves top of their respective groups after three matches.

Al Shabab -- led by ex-Sevilla star Ever Banega -- remain unbeaten with a three-point lead at the top of Group B, Al Taawoun jointly sit at the Group D summit with Al Duhail, while Al Faisaly are in pole position to qualify from Group E after racking up seven points thus far.

It was only two years ago when three Saudi Arabian sides found themselves in the knockout round, but having the entire quartet advancing would be an achievement that has only been previously accomplished in 2011.

Are Qatari giants Al Sadd, Al Duhail at risk of faltering again?

As two of Asia's traditional heavyweights, it was a huge surprise when Qatar's Al Sadd and Al Duhail were both eliminated in the group stage last year -- but could the unthinkable happen again for a second straight campaign?

Al Sadd finally picked up their first win of the campaign on Friday with a 5-2 rout of Al Wehdat but still trail Al Faisaly by three points in Group E. Meanwhile, Al Duhail are in a slightly stronger position level on points with Al Taawoun on top of Group D but also having been far from at their best.

There are enough games for both to kick on and secure their berths in the Round of 16, although failure to do so two years in a row will be seen as a massive failure.

Will 2022 produce another surprise like last year's Istiklol?

In their tournament debut last year, Tajikistan's Istiklol emerged as the surprise package by reaching the Round of 16 after pipping Al Hilal to top spot in their group.

2022 has not been as kind to Istiklol as they are currently bottom of Group A having lost all three matches so far, but could another overcome the odds and cause a stir?

Al Faisaly are one of three debutants in the West Zone but their status as one of Saudi Arabia's representatives means their strong start is not that much of a shock. Instead, it could be down to Mumbai City -- who became the first Indian side to claim a win in the competition when they beat Air Force Club - to provide this year's underdog story.

Has absence of Persepolis, Esteghlal reduced quality of ACL 2022?

Considering Iranian giants Persepolis and Esteghlal have effectively been mainstays of the competition -- both featuring in the previous five editions and combining for a total of 22 appearances since 2003 -- this year's tournament has felt a little strange without either of them present, after both failed to meet the ACL's licensing regulations.

In their joint absence, Iran's charge has been led by Foolad and Sepahan with the former performing better so far after recording a win and two draws in Group C.

The duo has shown enough to suggest they could still mount a challenge in the second half of the group stage, although they definitely do not boast the same star quality as Persepolis and Esteghlal -- who have been sorely missed already this season.