This Football Saturday
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.