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

With no international football until March, the domestic season now enters its most crucial stage. The resumption of club football sees plenty of great fixtures. Here are ten enticing games in Europe this weekend.

Friday, November 18

Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig

The underachieving hosts welcome the surprise joint leaders of the Bundesliga. Bayer Leverkusen must look at RB Leipzig and wonder why they can’t be at the summit with all the talent in their squad. Roger Schmidt’s men seem to be getting some momentum however, with two wins and a Champions League victory against Spurs before the international break. Despite Leipzig being unbeaten, Leverkusen will always look to dictate the tempo when playing at home. The problem is that Leverkusen have already conceded 15 goals and their attacking system will always give the visitors a chance on the counter. Ralph Hasenhüttl has shown that there aren’t many better exponents of the counter than his team. Expect goals in this one!

Saturday, November 19

Manchester United vs Arsenal

For so long the defining clash of the Premier League era, Manchester United vs Arsenal brings it with new antagonism this time around as Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger lock horns in the Premier League’s early kick off. There is a lot of pressure on Mourinho as United are yet to win against another big team in the league this season. Arsenal have started better, just two points off the top, but have dropped points in their last two home fixtures. Mourinho has never lost to Wenger in the league and despite United’s lack of fluency in the league, Arsenal’s mental demons at Old Trafford present a tough obstacle to overcome. Will the hosts finally kickstart their league campaign or will the visitors lay a marker in the title race? We wait with bated breath for the action to start at Old Trafford.

Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich

The top dogs of the Bundesliga face off in what has become German football’s biggest clash this decade. Thomas Tuchel would ideally have liked to be closer to Bayern in the standings, but a six-point margin is not insurmountable at this point of the campaign. In fact, the hosts have actually scored more goals than the champions so far, but defence has once again been the achilles heel for Dortmund. Injuries have denied Tuchel consistency of selection, but their home record means they always start as favourites. In the other dugout, Carlo Ancelotti has faced difficult questions despite being unbeaten at the top of the league. Bayern have dropped points uncharacteristically and have yet to display the intensity of the Pep Guardiola era. Despite their problems, both Dortmund and Bayern have enough high quality players to make this a memorable match. Both teams need to answer questions. Will Dortmund join the title race or will Bayern pull further away? Tune in to the Signal Iduna Park to find out.

Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid

Another top of the table clash this weekend in which both teams come in to the game facing questions. A month ago the Madrid derby would have featured two teams in full flow playing great football. However, Atleti have lost their last two away fixtures and come in to this game six points behind their rivals. Meanwhile Real have had to deal with a raft of injury problems. First Casemiro, then Luka Modric. Just as Modric returned, Toni Kroos got injured. That’s just the midfield. At the back, both Sergio Ramos and Pepe are currently out. That Real are still leading the league is down to the talismanic form of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. Can Real’s attacking talent breach Atleti’s stingy defence away from home? It’s a tough ask. At the other end of the pitch, will Diego Simeone encourage his players to take more risks against a Real defence missing key players? History would suggest the answer is no. The team that manages to play above itself will likely find the right answers in what is bound to be a cracking atmosphere for the last Madrid derby at the Vicente Calderon.

Sunday, November 20

Zulte Waregem vs Anderlecht

The top two face off in Belgium as surprise leaders Zulte Waregem host Anderlecht. Both teams have scored an equal amount of goals but it is the upstarts tighter defence that has led to a five-point gap at the top. Essevee have played excellent football in this campaign so far, but Anderlecht are Belgium’s most storied club and will come in to town wanting to make a statement and cut the deficit to the top. The hosts will remain in first place even if they lose, but a win against Anderlecht would lay down a marker and put Zulte Waregem in a great position to win their first ever league title. The stakes are high in this crucial table-topping clash.

Atalanta vs Roma

Fifth welcomes second in this match between two teams who have both won five of their last six matches, drawing the other. Seeing AS Roma in such a scenario is no surprise, but Atalanta’s name so high in the table has caught many in the punditocracy off guard. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men are in their lofty place on merit as their good run has included excellent wins over Napoli and Inter. They face their toughest test against Luciano Spalletti’s in-form Roma team. The Giallorossi have been irrepressible going forward, with Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko in scintillating form. The league’s highest scorers will need to take their chances if they are to maintain the pressure on Juve. Any complacency on Roma’s part will surely be punished by an Atalanta team looking to add another big scalp to their list of impressive wins this season. Plenty of intrigue in this one.

Guingamp vs Bordeaux

A match of significance for Jocelyn Gourvennec. The astute manager played a vital role in taking Guingamp from provincial anonymity to winning the Coupe de France and a great campaign in the Europa League. He got his just rewards by becoming manager of a historic club like Bordeaux. Bordeaux have shown greater steel than last season, but have still not played particularly fluent football. Meanwhile, Gourvennec’s old club seem to have got better under the intelligent stewardship of Antoine Kombouaré. The former PSG manager has instilled a winning mentality at Guingamp, toughening up the defence while retaining the flair that Gourvennec cultivated. As a result the hosts sit in fourth, four places above their more storied visitors. Will Guingamp pull further clear and put some pressure on their former manager, or will Gourvennec mastermind a win that will put Bordeaux back in the hunt for European football? It should be a fascinating tactical battle between Kombouaré and Gourvennec.

Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray

The biggest Istanbul derby of them all, as Fenerbahce welcome Galatasary for the first Intercontinental Derby of the season. It feels surreal that this match is not at the top of the table, as the two giants of Turkish football are struggling in comparison to the capital’s other sides, Istanbul Basaksehir and Besiktas. After a shaky start to the season, Fener have picked up their form, winning their last three matches in the league and getting a Europa League triumph over Manchester United. Galatasary though, are going in the opposite direction, losing their last two home matches to fall six points off the summit. If Fener win, they’ll have the added bonus of going above their hated rivals and putting Galatasary under greater pressure. This is always one of the most heated fixtures in European football and though neither team is currently in the title race, the stakes remain high in what is bound to be a charged-up atmosphere.

Athletic Bilbao vs Villarreal

Seventh hosts third in this battle between two La Liga teams that always perform above their means. The Basques haven’t won in three games, but are just four points off a Champions League place. They have been banging in the goals at home, but welcome the best defence in the league this weekend. The visitors are flying high in their usual understated fashion. Villarreal will harbour hopes of qualifying for the Champions League again. Coming away unscathed from San Mamés will be crucial in that respect. For Athletic, they’ll be looking to get back to winning ways in front of a crowd that always gets louder when a leading team visits. Should be a gripping game featuring plenty of good players on both sides.

AC Milan vs Inter

The first Derby della Madonnina of the season as both Milan sides go through cultural and playing transitions. As things have turned out so far, the red side of Milan have done better this season thanks to the freshness of youth and the attacking philosophy of manager Vincenzo Montella. The Rossoneri sit pretty in third, in large part down to the contribution of youngsters Gianluigi Donnaruma, Manuel Locatelli, Suso and M’Baye Niang. The defence however remains vulnerable. It is that defensive weakness that Inter’s new manager Stefano Pioli will look to exploit. Inter have had a terrible start to the season, leading to the sacking of Frank de Boer as manager. Even amongst the craziness however, the Nerazzurri have enough quality in their squad to suggest an upturn in fortunes if they are led well. Whether that happens will be down to Pioli and while the pressure of the derby is not ideal, it also presents Inter with an opportunity to kickstart their season. Inter have the better players, but Milan have the form. Who will prevail between two of Italy’s unpredictable teams is anybody’s guess. Expect a lot of drama at the San Siro!

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

There’s some great action as another football weekend dawns upon us. Here are 10 matches in Europe that should be really exciting.

Saturday October 1

1. Bayern Munich vs FC Cologne

A match between first and third in the Bundesliga. Not many would have written that sentence with FC Cologne in mind. Like Bayern, Cologne are undefeated in the Bundesliga this season. While not many domestic rivals can dream of points at the Allianz Arena, Peter Stöger’s Billy Goats will go in to this match with nothing to lose against a Bayern side that have been below their best in recent weeks. An interesting tactical battle awaits.

2. Paris Saint-Germain vs Bordeaux

The pressure is on Unai Emery as PSG continue to bumble through the opening phase of the season, both domestically and on the continent. While they still remain clear favourites for the title, the champions are clearly struggling to find the fluidity they had under Laurent Blanc. In the opposite dugout, Jocelyn Gourvennec has had a positive impact at Bordeaux, though they are prone to concede just like the entertaining Guingamp side he managed before moving in the summer. Only goal difference separates the two sides. This used to be a marquee fixture and the sense is Bordeaux are moving in a direction to make it so again. A game at the Parc des Princes that should challenge the champions.

3. Bayer Leverkusen vs Borussia Dortmund

The clash between two of Germany’s Champions League regulars is always a must-see game. This season’s first meeting between Leverkusen and Dortmund should be a marker for the club’s seasons. While Dortmund are the superior team at the moment, Leverkusen will want to make a statement as their campaign hasn’t really kicked off. Dortmund have so many options in attack, but their defence will always give the opposition a chance. Funnily enough, the same can be said about Leverkusen. This game really should have a lot of goals.

Sunday October 2

4. Valencia vs Atletico Madrid

While Valencia may be struggling at the bottom end of the table, hosting Atleti is always a big deal at the Mestalla. There is some optimism building up for the hosts after two consecutive wins and the news of Cesare Prandelli taking over. The Italian won’t be in the dugout for this one, but the players will be keen to make a good impression. Atletico come into the game having found form, with the victory over Bayern displaying all the hallmarks of a great Diego Simeone performance. Expect this one to be tight, cagey and feisty.

5. Tottenham vs Manchester City

Second vs First. Mauricio Pochettino vs Pep Guardiola. Tottenham vs Manchester City. The best defence vs the best attack. This fixture has provided lots of entertainment and drama in the last five years and with two excellent managers at the helm, there is even more reason to be excited this time around. Will Tottenham be the first team to take something off City in the Premier League? Can City break through the league’s best defence without Kevin De Bruyne? Will Pochettino’s pressing tactics ruffle Guardiola’s high line? So many questions to be answered and so much excellent talent on the field. I can’t wait for this one to kick off at White Hart Lane.

6. Real Madrid vs Eibar

After three consecutive draws, Real Madrid will be looking for a win this weekend to get their momentum back. The problem that Zinedine Zidane faces is that Eibar are going to be no walkover. The Basque side continue to confound expectations as they sit in eighth place. Despite losing leading scorer Borja Baston in the off-season, Jose Luis Mendilibar has found goals in his team, including from other team’s cast-offs like Bebe and Pedro Leon. The best thing about Eibar is that even on the road, they won’t hesitate to attack, which should result in a cracker at the Bernabéu.

7. Schalke 04 vs Borussia Mönchengladbach

This is usually a match that has ramifications for the race to the Champions League, but this time around Schalke welcome Gladbach to Gelsenkirchen with the hopes of getting their first point or win of the domestic season. Paradoxically, Schalke have won both their games in Europe, while the visitors have lost both of theirs. André Schubert’s men are not the best of travellers, so this is a great opportunity for the hosts to get off the mark and release some of the pressure on Markus Weinzierl. Expect goals in another game featuring creaky defences.

8. Standard Liege vs Anderlecht

This is currently Belgium’s biggest and most intense rivalry. The stakes are higher this time as the teams sit on second and third at the moment, separated only by goal difference. Both will want a win to catch surprise leaders Zulte-Waregem. Les Rouches will depend on their stingy defence to thwart the visitors prolific attack. Tension abounds in what is likely to be an acrimonious atmosphere.

9. Roma vs Inter

Two of Serie A’s titans go in to this game still seeking consistency. As is typical with Roma, there have been flashes of play where they have been irresistible going forward but at the same time almost comedic in defence. Meanwhile, Frank de Boer has shown green shoots of recovery with some promising results, but two horrible performances in the Europa League have undermined the progress. There have been plenty of classics between these two and with Francesco Totti still setting up chances and scoring at the age of 40, we should get to see some moments of genuine quality in this battle of big-hitters in Rome.

10. Lyon vs Saint-Étienne

The Derby Rhonealpin is one of the must-watch games of the French football calendar. Usually this match is about local bragging rights, but currently Les Verts are ahead of Lyon in the table. Bruno Genesio’s men have tailed off after an impressive start, with recent outings reminiscent of last season’s disjointed performances. Scoring against Christophe Galtier’s defence is a tough ask, and given Lyon’s problems up front, it is not inconceivable for Saint-Étienne to cause an upset. This match should be played out in a cracking atmosphere.