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.

This Football Weekend

Another bumper weekend of football action is upon us. Here are the 10 most interesting matches to look forward to.
 
Saturday September 24
 
1. Manchester United vs Leicester City
 
The point that won the championship for Leicester last season. Then there is Mourinho vs Ranieri. When it comes to the football, this match should enable us to get a clear picture of where these squads lie and somewhat determine their realistic aims for the season.
 
2. Eintracht Frankfurt vs Hertha Berlin
 
Fourth vs Fifth in the Bundesliga. While it’s unlikely that these two will hold their current positions, both clubs have played some quality football so far, which should make for a good watch.
 
3. Arsenal vs Chelsea
 
Contrary to the vibes in pre-season, Arsenal come into this game looking more settled than Chelsea. Will the wise head of Wenger prevail against the new energy of Conte? A fascinating watch awaits in this London Derby!
 
4. Athletic Bilbao vs Sevilla
 
Their Europa League quarterfinal last season was a classic. Emotions from that tie linger. Athletic are finding their form while Sevilla are second in the table. Will the Basque side get their revenge? Will the side from Andalusia finally get an away win??
 
5. Besiktas vs Galatasaray
 
The Istanbul Derby needs no introduction. The stakes are high this time around, as the two rivals are unbeaten and on the same points, with only goal difference keeping the hosts ahead in second.
 
6. Las Palmas vs Real Madrid
 
The team from the Canary Islands have been a revelation in 2016. This was one of Zinedine Zidane’s toughest away matches in his first campaign. Should be a close match again as both teams look to move on from disappointing midweek results.
 
7. Napoli vs Chievo
 
Napoli underwhelmed in their goalless draw at Genoa, but will look to get back on track against Serie A’s surprise team so far in Chievo. The intricate passing of Marek Hamsik and Valter Birsa should be a delight to watch as they try to give their teams the advantage.
 
Sunday September 25
 
8. Hoffenheim vs Schalke 04
 
Four games and four draws for Hoffenheim. Four games and four losses for Schalke 04. Both teams are desperate for their first win. Nagelsmann and Weinzierl are under pressure and something has to give! Nerves will play a part, but expect goals the way these two defences have operated so far.
 
9. Cologne vs RB Leipzig
 
Peter Stoger’s men are second in the table, playing some excellent football as witnessed in their midweek win at Schalke. The Leipzig momentum had a bit of a stutter as a result of their home draw in midweek. Nevertheless, a chance to join their hosts at the higher end of the table should make for an exciting match between two counter attacking teams led by understated managers.
 
10. Fiorentina vs AC Milan
 
This is always one of Serie A’s must see fixtures and it should be no different this time. Milan are finding some form after two wins and two clean sheets, while La Viola need a win to join the race for Europe. The Artemio Franchi is always bouncing and never more so, than when one of the big teams visit. Should be a cracker!

Football Today

The football calendar rolls on with more action in the middle of the week after another thoroughly entertaining weekend of goals and upsets. Here are my picks for the matches that you should keep an eye on today.

Wolfsburg vs Borussia Dortmund

Not many teams in the upper echelons of European football win matches 6-0, let alone twice consecutively across the Champions League and their domestic league. That’s precisely what Dortmund have done this past week in dispatching Legia Warsaw and SV Darmstadt. Most encouragingly for Thomas Tuchel, the twin thrashings featured excellent performances by the club’s youngsters – both, newcomers and academy graduates. The likes of Raphael Guerreiro, 22, Julian Weigl, 21, Ousmane Dembélé, 19, Emre Mor, 19, and Christian Pulisic, 18, put in sparkling displays as Dortmund pulled their opponents apart.

Wolfsburg though, are a different class of opponent. The Wolves have yet to concede a goal in the new Bundesliga campaign, as the defence has automatically improved with the departure of Dante. Up front however, they have scored only two goals, this despite Mario Gomez and Julian Draxler missing a host opportunities in the last match against Hoffenheim.

Last season this fixture was a tremendous match that was decided in favour of the visitors thanks to an injury time winner by Shinji Kagawa. We’ll be in for a treat if we get half as good a match this time around.

AC Milan vs Lazio

Two of Italy’s historic clubs have already participated in entertaining matches in this nascent season. Games featuring have AC Milan and Lazio have seen 13 goals each in just four rounds of action. Lazio have regained their attacking verve under the tutelage of Simone Inzaghi, with Felipe Anderson in particular displaying the form that made him a hot property in the 2014-15 season.

Meanwhile Vincenzo Montella still hasn’t got all the parts moving together at the San Siro, with the defence still vulnerable to soft goals. However, with a striker like Carlos Bacca, Milan can win matches without even playing reasonably well, as was witnessed in their 1-0 win over Sampdoria on the weekend. Whether that will be enough against a fluid Lazio attack remains to be seen.

Leicester City vs Chelsea

On their list of priorities for the season, I doubt Claudio Ranieri and Antonio Conte have winning the League Cup EFL Cup at the top. Nevertheless, there is a fair amount of intrigue around the marquee tie of the round. Will Ranieri actually make a better fist of cup competitions this time around as league success is unlikely to be replicated? Will Conte rotate his first eleven and give some of his bench players a chance to stake a claim after two disappointing league results? These and many other questions will be answered in what is bound to be a cracking cup tie at the King Power Stadium.

Sevilla vs Real Betis

The Derbi Sevillano is always must-watch football. The two hated rivals face off at the Sanchez Pijuan and adding to the occasion is the presence of two new South American faces in the dugout.

Jorge Sampaoli has brought his brand of pressing to the Europa League winners, resulting in an unbeaten start, though Sevilla have yet to cure their away day hex in the Liga. Sampaoli has shown that he is a versatile tactician. At times, Los Rojiblancos have been irresistible going forward with as many as six attackers on the pitch, as witnessed in the crazy season-opening 6-4 win over Espanyol. On the other hand, their stalemate away to Juventus in the Champions League was an exhibition in defending from the front.

Gus Poyet on the other hand has encouraged his men to take the attack to the opposition, although this has led to Betis conceding few too many goals. Veteran striker Rubén Castro continues to belie his age as he racks up the goals and assists. Whether Poyet can come up with a tactical alteration to stifle Sevilla will probably end up being the key factor in the derby.

Sampaoli’s tactical nous and the backing of a vociferous home crowd should see Sevilla take the three points, but anything can happen in a derby, especially with a poacher like Castro in the opposition.

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!

Roma 2 Sampdoria 1

Roma continued their mini-revival under the auspices of Luciano Spalletti, winning their third consecutive game in Serie A. What looked like a routine home win turned into a nervy 2-1 win over Sampdoria. With Fiorentina and Inter both stuttering, the Giallorossi have stormed back into contention for the last Champions League spot on the back of nine points in their last three games.

Starting with the positives, Spalletti’s men really should have buried the game in the first half. There was some fabulous interplay between Mohamed Salah and the pair of new signings, Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy. At least three clear chances were wasted before Alessandro Florenzi grabbed the opener on the stroke of half time. Perotti then scored an excellent second early in the second half. In stead of seeing the game out, Roma then suffered their traditional bout of nerves. Sampdoria got one goal back courtesy of a Miralem Pjanic deflection and then the home side’s midfield lost the plot completely. The visitors piled the pressure and only a trio of brilliant saves by Wojciech Szczesny ensured the capital side took the three points.

While Roma are gaining some sense of momentum, la Samp remain mired in the relegation battle. Vincenzo Montella’s men seem to play at a high level for about 40 minutes in each match, but their poor phases of play are being ruthlessly punished by their opponents. Montella has to get the team focused from kickoff to the final whistle. It may be easy to dismiss their relegation fears on the basis of the team being too good, but a rut at this stage of the season can be irreversible. It is only the inadequacies of Carpi, Frosinone and Hellas Verona that separate Sampdoria from the relegation zone. There is undisputed firepower in the team with Luis Muriel, but Montella needs to tighten up at the back immediately so that Sampdoria can at least salvage a lower mid-table finish. If not, it’s going to be hard to see Montella managing at the Marassi past the end of the season.