Wow! Milan’s amazing run under Gattuso continues. Mental demons for Roma though. Big time. Serie A just gets better with each passing week! My thoughts below.
As most of you know in the midst of last season, I launched a dream project that I have wanted to do for so long – my own football podcast! Launching in the middle of the season ensured that I had the liberty to try many different things with the podcast while enabling me to learn a lot about the processes of a podcast. I still have a lot to learn and by no means is the podcast perfect. However, with the launch of the new European season only a matter of days away, I am excited to resume the podcast. There is only one benchmark that I am going to use this season – consistency of releasing episodes. I want 2017/18 to be remembered not only for being a great football season, but also a campaign where the Football Podcast with Wasim Parkar provided great analysis and perspective that is genuinely unique and insightful.
With that being said, I have released a short tease of an episode for all of you, outlining my goals and vision for the podcast this season.
Mina Rzouki joins the podcast to talk about Juve’s successful season and look ahead to the big Champions League final in Cardiff. Mina and Wasim also reflect on the Serie A in general and revel in Crotone’s remarkable escape from relegation.
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.Embed from Getty Images
It’s the first of March and it’s time to get the Through Ball back in overdrive with posts, video and audio about my thoughts on the beautiful game!
Along with a site redesign, I am also launching a new podcast today. Have a listen to the prologue below and let me know your thoughts. It’s just a small sample of what’s to come!
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)
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)
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!
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.
Saturday sees another day of frantic football action all over Europe. Here are my picks for five of the continent’s best games.
Wolfsburg vs Bayer Leverkusen
Looking at their current predicaments in the lower half of the Bundesliga, it is hard to believe that Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen have been fighting each other for Champions League qualification during the last three seasons. It is quite remarkable that this match is being previewed with the hosts in 16th and the visitors in 11th.
There is no denying the fact that the sales of Kevin De Bruyne and Ivan Perisic have had a huge impact on the Wolves, but a team featuring Julian Draxler, Mario Gomez, Luiz Gustavo and Ricardo Rodriguez should be doing so much better than being in the relegation zone. Manager Dieter Hecking had to pay the price with his job but interim boss Valérien Ismaël couldn’t have asked for a worse display on his debut in a humbling 3-1 defeat at Darmstadt. Wolfsburg haven’t won since the opening round and a massive turnaround will be needed to win this match.
Bayer Leverkusen had their own humiliating loss, losing on penalties to the ten men of third division side Sportfreunde Lotte in the DFB Pokal. While Roger Schmidt has a lot of credit in the bank, his tactical naivety has led to a middling start to the campaign, consequently increasing the pressure on the manager. Leverkusen followed up an impressive win over Borussia Dortmund before the international break with two inept performances after the resumption of domestic duty. Not unlike their opponents, Leverkusen are stacked with enough quality to merit being higher than 11th.
Will nerves and pressure lead to a tense occasion? Or will a moment of magic by one of the many star players light up the match? Either way, with talented individuals and high stakes, this match is must-watch football!
Tottenham vs Leicester City
Last season’s top two take on each other with the champions unlikely to be involved in an exhilarating race, as was seen last season when Leicester and Spurs duked it out for the title. Leicester have lost every away match in the league this season and come into the game as huge underdogs. Spurs are the last remaining undefeated team in the Premier League, but they have drawn more than they have won. Mauricio Pochettino’s men have dominated games without being ruthless in front of goal. The Foxes have been blown away in the first half in all their losses. Spurs will have to capitalize on this early travel vulnerability. However, if Spurs don’t take their chances, the likeliness of falling to a counterpunch only increases. It may be only fifth versus twelfth, but intrigue abounds at White Hart Lane in what should be a cracking game.
Toulouse vs Lyon
One of the French League’s surprise stories takes on one of the season’s underwhelming disappointments as Toulouse welcome Lyon. Pascal Dupraz’s men have lost only one of their last six matches, a run that has seen them outplay PSG and Monaco, resulting in comprehensive 3-1 victories at home to against Ligue 1’s top dogs. Meanwhile last season’s runners-up have lost three out of their last four matches, leaving Lyon languishing in 10th. Bruno Génésio needs a win badly. Having Nabil Fekir and Alexandre Lacazette back together will certainly boost Génésio’s hopes but an increasingly porous defence will face their own challenge dealing with the red hot form of Martin Braithwaite and Ola Toivonen leading Toulouse’s attack. This should be an entertaining and open game for neutrals. Will Lyon finally kickstart their season or will Dupraz lead Toulouse to another win against of Ligue 1’s big teams? Tune in to find out.
Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke 04
The Ruhr Derby would have a different story if it was held a month ago. In stead we see two teams moving in opposite directions as Borussia Dortmund host Schalke at Signal Iduna Park.
While Dortmund are still tied for most goals in the league alongside Bayern Munich, defensive weaknesses coupled with a crippling injury crisis have stunted Thomas Tuchel’s men in the past month. Tuchel could be without as many as 10 starters in a big match against their rivals. Winless in three, Dortmund really have to keep some semblance of pressure on Bayern.
Many pundits thought Markus Weinzierl would be the first manager to lose his job in the Bundesliga after the league campaign started with five straight defeats for Schalke. The tide has turned in the last month or so as the Royal Blues gained seven points from their last three domestic games while maintaining a perfect record in the Europa League. Yevhen Konoplyanka seems to have found his groove, while most impressively, Nabil Bentaleb has come to the fore, scoring goals from midfield.
Derbies always have a story of their own. Whether the heroes of this particular story will be the injury-stricken Dortmund or the improving Schalke remains to be seen. Goals should feature in this derby.
Juventus vs Napoli
Last season’s clashes between Juve and Napoli were intense affairs, with the Bianconeri’s win at Juventus stadium proving to be the decisive turning point of the title race. This time around, Juve lead Napoli by four points and the sense of occasion is not the same, but this is still a big match in the Serie A calendar.
While Juve have lost on their visits to the San Siro, they have looked impregnable at home. They shook off some of their October rust with a 4-1 thrashing of Sampdoria, with Miralem Pjanic becoming more influential with each passing game. Napoli seem to be finding some semblance of form after a rough stretch of form saw them lose three on the bounce at home and in Europe. Maurizio Sarri’s solution to Arkadiusz Milik’s long-term injury seems to be the use of a false nine alternating between José Callejón and Dries Mertens. As dangerous as that fluid forward line can be, it’s another challenge altogether against Juve’s famed back three.
The champions should come out on top at home, but expect Napoli to test them all the way in the battle between first and third.