Debuts for Lacazette, Morata, Lukaku, Salah and Neymar

After a whole series of technical mishaps and dealing with contractors in the background, I finally managed to produce the new season’s first episode of the Football Podcast with Wasim Parkar. With the Premier League and Ligue 1 the two active leagues amongst Europe’s top five this weekend, I provide predictions for every match that takes place this weekend.

Of the top six in the Premier League, I believe Arsenal, Liverpool and United have the trickiest fixtures, while a managerial battle between Frank de Boer and David Wagner provides novelty as Crystal Palace host Huddersfield.

Meanwhile in Ligue 1, excitement abounds ahead of Neymar’s debut in a tricky away match for PSG at Guingamp. It’s also going to be interesting to see if Rudi Garcia and Marcelo Bielsa can replicate good starts for Marseille and Lille respectively, away from home.

There are also league debuts for Morata, Lacazette, Salah and Lukaku. Lots to look forward to this weekend and the Football Podcast with Wasim Parkar has you covered!

 

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The Europa League is back!

The return of European football gets most fans excited about the Champions League. With the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, PSG and others involved, it is of course natural that Europe’s secondary club competition gets overlooked. However, this writer always looks forward to the Europa League knockout competition. Jurgen Klopp recently called the tournament a “Mini-Champions League”. Looking at the calibre of the remaining teams and some of the fixtures in the round of 32, his suggestion is not far off the mark. Some of these matches could quite conceivably be seen in next season’s Champions League, while others are ties between some great historic clubs.

Here are some ties that should the whet the appetite for all football fans:

Anderlecht (3rd in Belgian Jupiler League) vs Olympiakos (1st in Greek Super League)

Borussia Dortmund (2nd in Bundesliga) vs Porto (3rd in Portuguese Liga)

Fiorentina (3rd in Serie A) vs Tottenham (2nd in Barclays Premier League)

Saint-Étienne (4th in Ligue 1) vs Basel (1st in Swiss Super League)

Villarreal (4th in La Liga) vs Napoli (2nd in Serie A)

Galatasaray (5th in Turkish Super Lig) vs Lazio (7th in Serie A)

Marseille (11th in Ligue 1) vs Athletic Bilbao (7th in La Liga)

Shakhtar Donetsk (1st in Ukrainian Premier League) vs Schalke 04 (5th in Bundesliga)

Sporting Lisbon (1st in Portuguese Liga) vs Bayer Leverkusen (3rd in Bundesliga)

Marseille 1 Paris Saint-Germain 2

Another cracking Le Classique between these two great rivals. The match between Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain followed the template of the meeting at the Parc des Princes earlier in the season, which in turn was very similar to the two encounters last season.

Marseille were relentless throughout the match, pressing incessantly and bypassing PSG’s much-vaunted midfield at will. Lassana Diarra was the standout player in midfield, with 87 touches of the ball, 86 % passing accuracy with his 67 passes and four tackles. Diarra’s form this season makes him a shoo-in for the French national team at this summer’s Euro. A special mention also goes to Remy Cabella, who had an outstanding game. Cabella scored Marseille’s equalizer after an excellent run and arguably should have had a couple of assists but his teammates failed to finish the chances he created.

For all of Marseille’s excellence though, they were once again caught out by the quality of the champions on the break. PSG had three shots on target and scored twice. Ultimately the superior individual quality of Les Parisiens told. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in Le Classique once again and then provided the assist for Angel di Maria to rifle in a superb finish on the break. While Ibra and di Maria will take most of the plaudits, credit also has to go Thiago Silva and Serge Aurier who made several excellent tackles and last-ditch clearances to keep PSG in the game when Marseille were overrunning the midfield.

While PSG were second best for most of the match, Laurent Blanc may feel that such an intense and difficult match was ideal preparation for the resumption of the team’s Champions League campaign. This level of football is what PSG are going to have to overcome to go deep on the continent (although many would say this season’s iteration of Chelsea are not much better than Ligue 1’s mid table sides) and coming through such an intense clash with a win bodes well for the capital club.

Meanwhile Marseille themselves may be better off making a good fist of their Europa League campaign. A team of their talent should be able to make up the five-point gap to third, but the consistency simply isn’t there, especially since they can’t buy a win at home. The last time Michel’s men took three points at the Velodrome was in October, a staggering and unacceptable fact for a team of Marseille’s stature. Despite playing some of the most exciting football in the country, another season of underachievement beckons for L’OM.

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