The Football Podcast with Wasim Parkar welcomes its first guest as renowned football journalist Philippe Auclair joins Wasim to preview the 2017 Coupe de La Ligue final between Monaco and PSG. Philippe and Wasim also talk about football journalism and the general state of affairs in Ligue 1.
With the Champions League Round of 16 behind us, Wasim looks back at fine wins for Leicester and Monaco, while posing questions for Guardiola and Sampaoli. Plus, Juve and Atletico are the two teams nobody wants to draw in the quarterfinals.
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Champions League Matchday 5 is often the most defining day of the group stages. There’s a good chance we’ll know most of the qualifiers for the round of 16 after these matches, as well as the group winners. Keeping various permutations in mind, these six games are likely to be the most decisive in this round.
Tuesday, November 22
Monaco vs Tottenham
Monaco lead the group, four points clear of Tottenham and hence, can even afford to lose this game and still control their destiny. Leonardo Jardim is unlikely to tolerate that outcome as Monaco will want to avoid needing anything from their last game away at Bayer Leverkusen.
Anything other than a win and Spurs could exit the competition if Leverkusen win in Moscow. After waiting so long to make here, an early exit would be quite underwhelming for Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino can take solace in the fact that Tottenham haven’t lost away from home in this Champions League campaign, but his men will need to be switched on from the first whistle if they want to stay alive in the competition.
Sporting Lisbon vs Real Madrid
Sporting need to win this match to keep their hopes of progression alive, but even that may not suffice as Real have a cushion of five points. The Portuguese were so close to winning at the Bernabéu on Matchday 1. They will need to rely on the those same levels and then some to get their desired result this time around.
Real have inexplicably dropped away points, so it isn’t a foregone conclusion that they will get the three points in Lisbon. While a draw or loss won’t be terminal for Real’s hopes, it will almost certainly result in a runner-up finish considering Dortmund are hosts to Legia Warsaw.
FC Copenhagen vs Porto
On the balance of play, an argument could be made that Copenhagen have been the best team in the group, yet they find themselves in third place. Copenhagen dominated the reverse fixture and if they could finish the chances they create, they can leapfrog their opponents with their last game against an eliminated Club Brugge. A draw would suffice for Porto as it would keep them second with their last game at home against a Leicester side that is likely to have already qualified for the round of 16.
Sevilla vs Juventus
The group leaders face off in what should be a cracking encounter at the Sánchez Pizjuán. Sevilla have the advantage, leading by two points after Juve conceded a late equalizer at home against Lyon. The Bianconeri will have to take the game to the hosts as they will want to avoid finishing second and drawing a big team in the round of 16 like last season. If Juve win, Sevilla could yet find themselves in trouble with a visit to a Lyon team that could still be in contention come the final matchday.
Wednesday, November 23
Arsenal vs Paris Saint-Germain
Two teams that have made a habit of finishing second in the group stages now play each other with a golden chance of finally winning a group and getting better odds in the round of 16. A better opportunity might not present itself, so will Arsenal or PSG rise to the challenge or will nerves get the better of them? We’ll find out at the Emirates.
Besiktas vs Benfica
Were it not for the concession of two late equalizers at home, Besiktas would already have a place assured in the last 16. As it happens, they are a point behind Napoli and Benfica and need to get maximum points in their last home fixture against the Portuguese champions. If they lose, the Turkish champions could be knocked out if Napoli beat Dynamo Kiev. Benfica on the other hand, will be alive even if they lose, but a win would guarantee qualification and keep them in the hunt to win the group.
Another international break is over and it’s time to get back into the groove of domestic football. On Friday, we see the clash between second and third in the Bundesliga, while four of the top five face off in France.
Toulouse vs Monaco
Fourth hosts second in Ligue 1 as Toulouse welcome Monaco to the Stadium Municipal. While Monaco’s place in the upper reaches in the league is no surprise, this is rarified air for Toulouse. After saving them from relegation last season, Pascal Dupraz has gone from strength to strength, cementing the self-belief in the squad and encouraging his players to express themselves on the pitch. The visitors meanwhile are playing with greater fluency than last season. Rightly renowned for his defensive organization, Leonardo Jardim has found a way to get more goals from his men without compromising the shape of the side. The historic 7-0 win at Metz last time out means Monaco are well clear of anyone else in the goals scored chart. A repeat of that score is highly unlikely on this trip however, as Dupraz will want his men to replicate the form shown in Toulouse’s last home game when they beat champions PSG 3-1. This game has all the ingredients to be a very good match.
Borussia Dortmund vs Hertha Berlin
The match between second and third in Germany, with Dortmund surprisingly a place below the capital side. After losing their last game against Bayer Leverkusen, Thomas Tuchel’s men need to make a statement as the room for error is minimal if they are to seriously challenge Bayern Munich for the title. The challenge facing Tuchel is a mounting injury list. BVB’s squad depth is going to be challenged against Pal Dardai’s well-organized unit. Dortmund will expect to play on the front foot, but they always give their opponents some chances on the break. With the likes of Mitchell Weiser and Genki Haraguchi creating chances for an in form Vedad Ibisevic, an upset can’t be discounted. Expect goals and an intense tactical battle between Tuchel and Dardai.
Nice vs Lyon
There is a different vibe at the Allianz Riviera nowadays. After being in the shadows of rivals Monaco and Marseille for so long, Nice are currently leading the pack not only in Southern France, but ahead of every other club in Ligue 1. Last season saw the rebirth of Hatem Ben Arfa at Les Aiglons, but this season has seen an even more remarkable renaissance in the form of Mario Balotelli. The temperamental Italian’s goals have fired Nice to the top, but credit is also due for new manager Lucien Favre. The Swiss tactician has tightened things at the back and this discipline will be needed against Lyon’s crop of young attackers.
Bruno Genesio will be having a rueful look at the table. Lyon really should be the team to take advantage of PSG’s inconsistent start. In stead Les Gones find themselves seven points adrift of their hosts after some shambolic losses. Injuries have dogged the squad, but there is good news with Alexandre Lacazette’s return to training. Nabil Fekir and Corentin Tolisso have been the shining lights for Lyon, and it is upon this duo that Genesio will pin hopes of getting a point or three in the south of France.
Balotelli, Fekir, Ghezzal, Tolisso, Belhanda, Seri and other mercurial talents will be on display in this top of the table clash. Should be a barnburner!
For the first time in ages, the Derby de la Côte d’Azur had a lot riding on it in terms of league position and points. In a season where PSG have just run away with the league, Monaco and Nice have come closest in terms of establishing some sort of consistency. It’s not often that this has been a game of second vs third, hence there was a lot of excitement heading into the game.
Unfortunately, the match didn’t live up to expectations. Monaco won 1-0 despite playing with ten men from the 48th minute onwards. Joao Moutinho’s excellent floated free kick found Tiemoué Bakayako’s head for the winner in the 81st minute. It was a classic sucker punch from a team that has mastered the art of winning functionally. Deprived of the cash and superstars that originally accompanied them on their return to Ligue 1, Leonardo Jardim has done well to find a system that is efficient and brings the results and accompanying points to the Stade Louis II.
As far as Nice are concerned, Claude Puel’s men missed an opportunity to make a statement. Despite being the away team, Nice had more supporters in the stadium than their hosts. Win, and they would jump above their rivals in second place. In stead, Les Aiglons put in a feeble performance. Other than getting Danijel Subasic to pull off one world class save in the first half, Nice just didn’t create any clear-cut chances. Most disappointingly for Puel, his three stars of the season — Hatem Ben Arfa, Valère Germain and Jean Seri — failed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, even when they had the man advantage.
With a six-point lead over Nice and Saint-Étienne, Monaco are now clear favourites for direct qualification to the Champions League. They are the most consistent team after the champions and also have the experience of finishing the season well, something that the other teams in Ligue 1’s chasing pack don’t possess. Nice on the other hand, are right in the mix of one of the most competitive races for third in the league’s history. Level on points with Saint-Étienne with an improving Lyon just three points behind, Nice will have to show greater verve and stronger fortitude in the run-in to ensure the efforts of a promising first half of the season are not wasted.