After another intense week of continental football, we turn our attentions back to a jam packed weekend of domestic action. In a break from tradition on the Through Ball, 12 matches in stead of the usual 10, are highlighted on this football weekend.
Saturday October 22
Hertha Berlin vs Cologne
That this is a match between second and fourth in the Bundesliga feels surreal even at this early stage of the season. The reality is that both teams occupy their high places in the table on merit. In Pal Dardai and Peter Stöger, both teams have inspiring intelligent managers at the helm. Both teams also possess prolific goal scorers. Vedad Ibišević has scored five goals for the capital side, while Anthony Modeste has gone two better for the visitors. Who comes out on top in the battle of in-form strikers could well be the decisive factor in what should be a tight battle amongst two well-organized high-flying sides.
Valencia vs Barcelona
Always one of the most anticipated fixtures in the Spanish calendar, Barcelona with an injured back four, visit Cesare Prandelli’s Valencia. The Italian won his first game in charge last weekend away at Sporting Gijon and will be looking to win over the faithful at the Mestalla on his debut in the home dugout. While the league table would suggest an easy win for the champions, Prandelli will certainly pose a test for Luis Enrique with his tactical flexibility. Expect a cauldron-like atmosphere at this game.
Bayern Munich vs Borussia Mönchengladbach
An intriguing match between two of Germany’s Champions League representatives awaits us at the Allianz Arena. While the champions are six points clear of their visitors, this fixture hasn’t been kind to them in recent years. Bayern’s displays in the Bundesliga have been well below par in the last few rounds and as we saw in the Champions League this week, Gladbach are not a team to be trifled with. Carlo Ancelotti will want his team to impose their game on one of the Bundesliga’s poor travellers, and with the Foals suffering from injuries in defence, Bayern can expect to see a lot of opportunities. However, André Schubert has his own attacking weapons in Andre Hahn and the underrated Lars Stindl, who will certainly relish the spaces that Bayern’s defence are wont to give, even when dominating a game. Will Bayern finally make a statement and pull clear?
AC Milan vs Juventus
There is a lot of excitement and anticipation ahead of, what until recently was one of Serie A’s marquee matches. Milan’s fall from grace in recent seasons had reduced the aura of this fixture, but with the Rossoneri unbeaten in five games with four wins, a rise up to third in the table gives this clash the stature it deserves. In totality, Juve are clearly the superior team, but Massimiliano Allegri has seen his team stutter on both fronts this past week despite ultimately prevailing with wins. Allegri was the last manager to win the league for Milan, and while Vincenzo Montella is unlikely to repeat the feat, he has certainly brought renewed optimism to the San Siro. Nothing can further cement that goodwill like a win over Juve, but to do so he’ll need Carlos Bacca and M’baye Niang at their very best. However, the home side’s porous defence face a stiff challenge themselves in the form of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain. The stakes are high in this game. If the hosts win, they’ll find themselves just two points behind the champions, surely putting Montella way ahead of schedule. The Old Lady however, will want to put the pretenders in their place and pull away from the chasing pack. An intriguing battle awaits.
Sunday October 23
Manchester City vs Southampton
Unless there are a whole slew of upsets on Saturday, Manchester City will enter their home game against Southampton having relinquished their lead at the top of the Premier League. While fans are still on board, there is no doubt that the critics are sharpening their knives after a tough month for Pep Guardiola. A few weeks ago, a home game against Southampton would have been the ideal opportunity to get three points and regain momentum. However, Saints are playing some terrific football at the moment, as Claude Puel has retained the solidity of Ronald Koeman but garnished it with flair and fluency in midfield. With three wins in their last four, Southampton are no mugs. Pertinently, Puel has exactly the kind of in form vibrant attackers that won’t hesitate to take the game to City’s increasingly vulnerable defence. Guardiola will hope that his forwards are more ruthless at finishing opportunities after they wasted so many chances in their last home match against Everton. City are favourites, but by no means is this match a foregone conclusion.
Feyenoord vs Ajax
It’s not often that you see two teams taking on each other on six-game winning streaks, but that is the case in the clash of the Eredivisie’s top two. It speaks volumes about Feyenoord’s start to the season, that they are already five points ahead of Ajax despite the aforementioned streak. That’s because Feyenoord’s streak includes no losses or draws since the beginning of the season. De Kuip is bouncing like the good old days as Giovanni van Bronckhorst has inspired his men to play some scintillating football on the way to collecting maximum points. Ajax themselves have picked up their form in the past month after a horrible start to the season, with Davy Klaassen and Hakim Ziyech in excellent form. Whether the Amsterdam side will have enough in defence to cope with the threat of an inspired Nicolai Jørgensen at the other end is another matter. Who will come out on top in the battle of irresistible force and immovable wall?
Torino vs Lazio
Two teams with identical match records and points, separately by a goal difference of just two. Fourth-placed Torino, having one of their finest starts in recent history welcome sixth-placed Lazio, who have started the season well themselves. Siniša Mihajlović and Simone Inzaghi played with and against each other in their footballing prime, but now pit their wits against each other as managers. Both teams strengths lie in attack. Torino may have garnered all the headlines due to Joe Hart’s arrival, but it is up front where the real excitement lies. New Italy international Andrea Belotti has been firing in the goals, ably supported by the trickery and pace of wingers, Iago Falque and Adem Ljajić. Just behind the front three, captain Marco Benassi has also contributed alongside the imaginative Daniele Baselli. For Lazio, the goals have been boosted by a reinvigorated Ciro Immobile, who has been thriving on the service provided by Felipe Anderson. Anderson himself looks like he has regained the form that made him such a star two seasons ago. The battle of these multi-dimensional attacks should make for an entertaining spectacle at the Grande Torino.
Sevilla vs Atletico Madrid
Third welcomes first in what should be a fantastic game at the Sánchez Pizjuán. Atletico lead La Liga, with Sevilla only a point behind. Whether this game will feature a lot of goals is debatable, as both Diego Simeone and Jorge Sampaoli have already shown this season that they can shut up shop when they face big teams. Atletico’s defence are notoriously difficult to break down, so Sampaoli’s creative magicians, Franco Vazquez and Samir Nasri will have to be at their absolute best to get the points. Too close to call in this top of the table clash in La Liga.
Chelsea vs Manchester United
As if a meeting between Chelsea and Manchester United needed further context. This match always has plenty of talking points but the hype around Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge as manager of Manchester United is unprecedented. Add in the fact that it will be the first managerial tussle between Antonio Conte and Mourinho, and you get an extra layer of intrigue to this match. In truth, clashes between the two don’t always turn out to be fun, with very few meetings remaining etched in the memory of neutrals. It would be no surprise to many if Mourinho repeated the same template he used in getting the draw at Anfield on Monday. Conte himself will not necessarily go in all guns blazing, even though there are genuine signs of fluency with his favoured formation featuring wing backs. Ultimately though, the narrative in this one will be about the managers. Will Mourinho prove Chelsea made a big mistake in firing him? Or will Conte prove that Chelsea made the right choice in choosing him to deliver success? We’ll find out at least part of the answer on Sunday at Stamford Bridge.
Villarreal vs Las Palmas
The Yellow Submarines saw off one dangerous mid table team at El Madrigal in Celta Vigo last weekend and they welcome another one in Las Palmas this weekend. Always defensively solid, Fran Escribá’s men are now finding the net regularly as witnessed in the 5-0 demolition against the Galicians. With Nicola Sansone, Alexandre Pato and the just returning Cedric Bakambu all in good form, Villarreal will be confident of another win. The visitors from the Canary Island are not to be underestimated however, having already drawn against Real Madrid and beaten Valencia this season. With the likes of Roque Mesa, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jonathan Viera in good form, Las Palmas could easily cause an upset if Villarreal are below top form.
Real Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao
A match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao is always intense and with both teams starting the season well, plenty of fireworks can be expected. Though Athletic are sixth in the table, they are only three points behind Real in second, after winning five of their last six games. Both teams have goals in them, while they are equally vulnerable in defence. Real will always attack at the Bernabéu and the odds are that the trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will help their team find the back of the net. However, there are issues of balance in midfield and defence in light of recent injuries, something Athletic will look to expose with the goalscoring threat of Aritz Aduriz and Iñaki Williams. Goals are the order of the day in this one.
Paris Saint-Germain vs Marseille
While this rivalry has increasingly gone only one way since PSG became the richest club in France, Le Classique remains must watch football for fans of the beautiful game. Both teams have had inconsistent starts to the season in relation to their aims. Being second at this stage of the season is no disgrace, but PSG are judged by different standards in light of their recent dominance in France. Unai Emery hasn’t got his team playing consistently and even worse there have been reports of disharmony in the dressing room. Disharmony is a common theme at Marseille, but there is a rare sense of optimism for the L’OM faithful after American Frank McCourt bought the club last week. Subsequently McCourt appointed Rudi Garcia as manager, boosting the morale of the fans that extra bit more. PSG have been winning their last few matches despite not convincing, but could easily be ambushed by the new manager bounce if they are below their best in Ligue 1’s biggest game.