European Semis Review and Domestic Champions Preview

Real vs Juve and United vs Ajax are two European finals that have Wasim foaming at the mouth. Wasim also looks ahead to the weekend, where champions can be crowned all across Europe.

 

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This Football Weekend

As we approach the halfway point of the season, the pressure is mounting at the top end of leagues all across Europe. Teams will be looking to finish 2016 on a high note, but to do so they will have to overcome tough opponents. There are plenty of exciting big games and unpredictable fixtures taking place all over the continent and here are my picks for the matches to follow this football weekend. 

Friday, December 16th

Hoffenheim vs Borussia Dortmund (4th vs 6th in the Bundesliga)

Saturday, December 17th 

RB Leipzig vs Hertha Berlin (2nd vs 3rd in the Bundesliga)

Atletico Madrid vs Las Palmas (6th vs 10th in La Liga)

Guingamp vs Paris Saint-Germain (6th vs 3rd in Ligue 1. Guingamp manager Antoine Kombouaré will be looking to prove a point against his former employers)

AC Milan vs Atalanta (3rd vs 6th in Serie A)

Oostende vs Zulte-Waregem (4th vs 1st in a clash of Belgium’s most surprising teams)

West Bromwich Albion vs Manchester United (7th vs 6th in the Premier League)

Juventus vs Roma (1st vs 2nd in Serie A)

Sunday, December 18th

Bournemouth vs Southampton (10th vs 9th in the Premier League’s south coast derby)

Napoli vs Torino (4th vs 8th in a match between Serie A’s third-highest scoring teams)

Ajax vs PSV Eindhoven (2nd vs 3rd in the Eredivisie’s biggest rivalry)

Manchester City vs Arsenal (4th vs 3rd in the Premier League)

Barcelona vs Espanyol (2nd vs 9th in La Liga’s Catalan derby)

Lazio vs Fiorentina (5th vs 7th in Serie A)

Monaco vs Lyon (2nd vs 4th in Ligue 1)

Sporting Lisbon vs Braga (3rd vs 4th in the Primeira Liga)

Monday, December 19th

Everton vs Liverpool (8th vs 2nd in the Premier League’s Merseyside Derby)

This Football Weekend

European competition has concluded for 2016 and from now until February, the focus will be on domestic football on the continent. This weekend sees some heavyweight clashes across many different leagues. Here are my picks for the games to watch this weekend:

Friday, December 9th

Eintracht Frankfurt vs Hoffenheim (5th vs 4th in the Bundesliga)

Saturday, December 10th

Cologne vs Borussia Dortmund (7th vs 6th in the Bundesliga)

Bordeaux vs Monaco (7th vs 2nd in Ligue 1)

Leicester vs Manchester City (The Premier League Champions in 16th welcome 4th placed City)

Sunday, December 11th

Anderlecht vs Club Brugge (3rd vs 2nd in the Belgian Pro League)

Torino vs Juventus (7th vs 1st in Serie A’s Turin derby)

Manchester United vs Tottenham (6th vs 5th in the Premier League)

Schalke 04 vs Bayer Leverkusen (8th vs 9th, between two of Bundesliga’s European powers)

Benfica vs Sporting (1st vs 2nd in the Primeira Liga)

Paris Saint-Germain vs Nice (3rd vs 1st in Ligue 1)

Monday, December 12th

Villarreal vs Atletico Madrid (6th vs 4th in La Liga)

Roma vs AC Milan (2nd vs 3rd in Serie A)

This Football Weekend

After some great European action, it’s time to get back in to the thick of things on the last weekend of domestic action before the international break. Here are 10 games to watch this weekend.

Friday, November 4th

Galatasaray vs Istanbul Basaksehir

Not one of the traditional Istanbul derbies, but high stakes as third place Galatasaray welcome surprise league leaders Istanbul Basaksehir. Will the upstarts maintain their lead or will the giants pull level at the top by handing Istanbul Basaksehir their first defeat of the season?

Saturday, November 5th

Bayern Munich vs Hoffenheim

Another battle between first and third sees unbeaten league leaders Bayern Munich welcoming an undefeated Hoffenheim at the Allianz Arena. Amongst the many intriguing battles is the one in the dugout between experienced campaigner Carlo Ancelotti and 29-year old Julian Nagelsmann. Wisdom and experience against dynamic inspiration. Who will come out on top?

Real Sociedad vs Atletico Madrid

A visit to San Sebastian is never easy, especially as the locals ratchet up the atmosphere when one of the big teams come to play against Real Sociedad. Two teams in form and two of the best exponents of wide play in La Liga. Should be entertaining and feisty!

Chelsea vs Everton

Two teams that have already shown plenty of improvement from last season’s dismal campaigns. Managers Antonio Conte and Ronald Koeman have already put their stamps on their new teams. Will Everton join the crowd at the top of the table or will Chelsea pull further away?

Napoli vs Lazio

This has become one of Serie A’s grudge matches over the last two seasons. Once again Napoli and Lazio find themselves close to each other in the table, with the visitors in fourth, one point above Maurizio Sarri’s men. The two teams have combined for 42 goals already this season. How many more will we see in this match?

Sunday, November 6th

Arsenal vs Tottenham

North London derby. Arsenal vs Tottenham. Wenger vs Pochettino. Second vs fifth. A difference of just three points between the sides. One attack that is fluid and is getting goals from a variety of sources. The other can’t buy a goal at the moment. The hype is incessant. Rarely, if ever, does this fixture follow the form book. How can we predict a game between two of England’s most unpredictable clubs? It’s best to just wait for kickoff!

Anderlecht vs Oostende

Second against third in the Pro League. While seeing Anderlecht in such a fixture is no surprise, not many punters would have imagined seeing Oostende that high up in the table. Level on points and separated by goal difference, will Anderlecht’s big match experience prevail or will Oostende keep the fairytale going?

Porto vs Benfica

After reviving their respective Champions League campaigns, storied rivals Porto and Benfica face off in the first O Clássico of the season at the Dragao. Porto need the win to reduce the gap at the top to the visitors. If Benfica win, they’ll establish an eight-point lead that would be almost insurmountable in the Primeira Liga. Who will come out on top?

Sevilla vs Barcelona

A Sevilla team on a high take on a Barcelona team facing some questions. After getting a huge win over Atletico Madrid at the Pizjuán last time out, Jorge Sampaoli will be keen to add Barcelona to Sevilla’s list of victims. If the hosts manage to win, they’ll jump above the champions. Can Sevilla lay down another marker as contenders or will Barcelona dig deep and prevail despite their injuries? Should be a feast of a football!

Paris Saint-Germain vs Rennes

Normally this would be a routine win for the French champions, but recent victories have been far from easy for Unai Emery’s men. A statement win is needed in the capital, but with Rennes only three points behind and unbeaten in four, Christian Gourcuff will be confident of getting a result. Will the champions finally break through the shackles or will Rennes make it another war of attrition? Tune in to the Parc des Princes to find out.

This Football Weekend

Such is the relentless pace of the European football calendar that we’ve barely had enough time to savour the return of continental competition and another round of tantalizing domestic league competition is upon us. There are some great matches to look forward to across the continent and these are my picks for the games to watch this football weekend.

Friday September 16

Sampdoria vs AC Milan

Vincenzo Montella returns to the Luigi Ferraris as manager of AC Milan in what is surely going to be a contentious game in a feisty atmosphere. Montella’s reign as manager of Sampdoria was tumultuous at best and the early indications are that his reign at the helm of the Rossoneri won’t be smooth either.

Meanwhile Sampdoria have gotten off to a great start under the canny management of Marco Giampaolo. With Luis Muriel firing on all cylinders, Sampdoria won their first two fixtures and look set to get maximum points against Roma last weekend before mother nature intervened and changed the momentum of the match.

Samp will be keen to get one over their former manager, while Montella will want to get a positive result or the pressure will increase a few notches with an already disillusioned fanbase in Milan.

Chelsea vs Liverpool

Mourinho vs Guardiola last weekend, Conte vs Klopp this weekend. This is the season that just gives when it comes to managerial battles in the Premier League. Both teams come into the game with a mixture of positives and questions from their performances in the league so far.

Chelsea have looked focused, though not always inspired. Ironically, when they played some of their best football at Swansea last weekend, they contrived to lose two points thanks to some shaky defending and refereeing incompetence.

Shaky defending is something Liverpool are familiar with, having conceded 7 goals already. The Reds are purring in attack however, and look set to thrill fans regardless of consistency.

Under Klopp Liverpool have saved their best for big games such as these. On the other hand, Conte loves to prepare tactics and ideas for big opponents as well. How this one turns out is anyone’s guess.

Saturday September 17

Hoffenheim vs Wolfsburg

Hoffenheim have started the Bundesliga season as the great entertainers, scoring six and conceding the same amount. As if having 29-year old manager Julian Nagelsmann wasn’t a story in itself, Hoffenheim were the first opponents for the Bundesliga’s newest and most hated team, RB Leipzig. They conceded a late equalizer to draw that match 2-2 and followed it up with an absolutely mental game at Mainz. Nagelsmann’s men were torn to shreds trailing 4-1 at the half, only to come back and tie the game with three goals after the 70th minute.

Wolfsburg were tipped by many to struggle this year after last season’s very disappointing campaign. However, Dieter Hecking’s men have been steady so far with four points from the first two games. It’s highly unlikely that the Wolves will reach the heights of their memorable 2014-15 season, but with Julian Draxler, Mario Gomez, Luiz Gustavo, Ricardo Rodriguez and Jakub Blaszczykowski in the side, there is enough in this squad to keep a football fan excited.

It will be interesting to see who comes out on top in this battle between the youngest manager and an elder statesman of the Bundesliga.

Sunday September 18

Feyenoord vs PSV Eindhoven

It’s a game that is pencilled into the calendars as soon as the Eredivisie fixtures are released. The fact that is also a clash of table-toppers adds an extra layer of intrigue to the occasion. Feyenoord have fallen away in the last decade in comparison to PSV and Ajax, but there is finally a sense of upward momentum since the team from Rotterdam won the KNVB Beker last season.

Feyenoord have started the season in blazing fashion with five wins out of five and carried that momentum into the Europa League, where their campaign kicked off with a fantastic win over Manchester United. PSV had a less celebratory week in Europe as once again penalty woes against Atletico Madrid cost them. Nevertheless, nothing can soothe those wounds better than a home win over Feyenoord and jumping over their rivals into top spot. I just can’t wait for kickoff in this one!

Athletic Bilbao vs Valencia

Memories of last season’s tempestuous Europa League round of 16 match are still fresh in the minds of both sets of fans. Neither team have started the season well. Valencia have lost all three La Liga games so far, including two losses at home. Athletic at least got off the mark last weekend thanks to a stunning goal from Raul Garcia at the Riazor, but they then followed it up with a humiliating 3-0 defeat to European debutants Sassuolo in the Europa League.

Nothing I have seen from these two in the season so far would suggest a free-flowing classic, but the animosity and pressure make this a high-stakes game.

Hertha Berlin vs Schalke 04

One team comes into this game with maximum points, behind Bayern Munich only on goal difference, while the other has yet to open its account. Many would assume that Schalke would be the former and Hertha the latter. In stead, the Berlin side have continued their fine form from last season, thanks in large part to the creativity and energy of Genki Haraguchi allied with the defensive shape and discipline of manager Pal Dardai.

Schalke would like to believe that they have a talismanic manager in their own right in Markus Weinzerl. Though the new era hasn’t got off to the greatest of starts, it should be pointed out that one of the losses was against Bayern Munich in what was actually the Royal Blues’ best performance in a big match after a long time.

Results however, are the only currency that matter. An away trip to the capital is no easy feat, but it will be intriguing to see how the attacking talents of Yevhen Konoplyanka, Max Meyer, Breel Embolo and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar match up against Dardai’s organized and intelligent defensive unit.

Inter vs Juventus

The stature of this fixture may be diminished for some in light of Inter’s recent struggles. However, the Derby d’Italia is still a marquee match for many football fans and this occasion won’t be any different.

Juve continue to operate like clockwork in Serie A. The loss of Paul Pogba has been offset by the goals of Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic is just getting warmed up. The Old Lady did however hit a road block against Jorge Sampaoli’s organized Sevilla team in the Champions League.

While that was considered a disappointment by many in Italy, it pales in comparison to Inter’s shambolic loss at the San Siro to Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the opening game of their Europa League campaign. The knives are already out for new manager Frank de Boer, despite the fact that he was hired only a week before the new season started. A positive result at home to Juve would certainly buy him some time.

While Juve are clearly the favourites, the Nerazzuri will have a point to prove. Make sure to watch the battle between the two orchestrators – Pjanic and Ever Banega, while also keeping an eye out on the intelligent runners – Sami Khedira and Joao Mario. Then of course, there are the Argentinean forwards going against each other, Dybala and Higuain for Juve, Icardi for the home side. Need I say more?!

Fiorentina vs Roma

Another Serie A game between two teams that underwhelmed in Europe. Clashes between these two rarely disappoint thanks to their commitment to playing attacking technical football. Outside of the calamity that was the Champions League playoff, Luciano Spalletti’s men have actually started quite well in Serie A with seven points so far.

La Viola had their matched rained off last weekend, and hence, should be fitter in this contest. However, Paulo Sousa is another manager who is starting to feel the pressure as Fiorentina have failed to push on in 2016. The Portuguese will hope for the crowd at the Artemi Franchi to give his players full backing in what is bound to be a tough assignment.

Watch this match for the quality of passing and attacking, but more importantly, watch it for Francesco Totti, who continues to defy time by delivering peerless performances from the bench.

Marseille vs Lyon

In an ideal world this would be a top of the table clash between two of PSG’s most viable challengers. In stead, the clash of the Olympiques sees two inconsistent teams who are still trying to sort themselves. The 2014-15 season when they ran PSG so close now seems like an eternity ago.

Nevertheless, before QSI set up shop in Paris, this was the big match in Ligue 1 and for fans of both teams they aren’t many games that are bigger. Both sides conceded three goals last weekend and everything suggests there will be defensive jitters in this game as well. Combine that with the attacking prowess of Cornet, Ghezzal, Tolisso, Gomis, Thauvin and Cabella, and we should get to see an entertainer.

Monday, September 19

Braga vs Benfica

If there is one team in Portugal that manages to make a dent amongst the big three of Benfica, Sporting and Porto, it is Braga. The 2011 Europa League finalists are playing some good football, following on from their cup win to end last season.

Despite being unbeaten so far, Benfica are still to hit the high notes from last season. However, Rui Vitoria’s men live for the big games, and an early season test welcoming a Braga side that are ahead of the Eagles only on goal difference should get the juices flowing at the Stadium of Light. Throw in to the mix Benfica’s purchase of Rafa Silva from Braga and there’s bound to be plenty of intensity and animosity in this top of the table clash. The Estádio da Luz will be the place to be on Monday night!

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