Thank God, the international week is over and of course for the year as well; we can look forward to Club football uninterrupted till the end of the year and there is a lot to look forward to. This weekend part of our preview involves two match ups that really used to matter; this will take us to Italy and England; we would then head to Spain for the big games there with trips to Germany and France ending our preview tour for the weekend.
AC Milan v Internationale
Talk about two previously great teams that every season were always going neck a neck for a crack at the scudetto or at least were always in the title equation every season. Now, both teams are more on a transition, they are unable to spend big and attract the big superstars, with managers saddled with the responsibility of managing the team on a shoe string budget.
This season’s first Milan derby sees the return of Roberto Mancini, a club favouring favourite and one of the few managers in recent history that have had a successful period at the club with Multiple League titles under his belt and the success abroad. It will be interesting to see how well Mancini works with a show string budget at the new Inter, he definitely has his work cut out as the team lacks confidence, defensively it is a shadow of past great inter sides, coupled with the fact that he might have to change the system (3-5-2 formation) which Mancini has had very little success with in time past.
Pipo Inzaghi too has to worry about problems at the back still yet to settle on a central defensive pairing due to injuries, form and suspensions. Going forward; Milan have looked electric at times with Stefan El- Sharawy finding some semblance of the form that made him the darling of many Milanista. Creativity from central positions continues to be a problem for Inzaghi and he has opted for grit and steel in the middle with the use of Essien, De Jong and Muntari as his preferred midfield three with Bonaventura dropping in on few occasions. From a tactical stand point this may work fine combating the likes of Kovacic and Hernanes in the Inter Midfield, it would be an intriguing tactical battle between both managers. However, the game has a stalemate written all over it; but then Inter have a new manager and with such appointments comes the desire of the players to impress the new manager and lay claim to a position in the team.
Halftimeng Verdict: A score draw, too close to call.
Arsenal v Manchester United
A few seasons ago, this would be termed a potential title altering clash; but then both team’s have fallen from grace depending on what side of the divide you belong to. Manchester United have won 5 of the last 8 premier League titles and Arsenal haven’t won the league since 2004; this stat puts the battle between this teams in real context. If there is a game Manchester United fans would not want to lose, its the one against Arsenal and if there is any team Arsenal fans would want their team to defeat its Manchester United; this is taking into consideration that Arsenal have only won one of their last eleven games against United. United fans would point to the fact that the sole victory in question was as United were wrapping up another title triumph and also that despite United’s worst season in ages, the Red Devils still got four points off the gunners last season.
To the game proper, both teams have the worst injury and fitness record of this season, but Arsenal have more encouraging news on the injury front as United continue to struggle with its combinations in defence and of course the continued struggles of Radamel Falcao. Arsenal have the in form player of the Premier League in Alexis Sanchez, who has started life at the Emirates like a house on fire and he would be looking to continue his great vein of form which he also took to the international week.
There are a number of sub plots in this tie, even though both teams lie in 6th and 7th and look more likely to be content with a top four placing than actually competing for the title. Danny Welbeck faces his former side and a lot had been made about his treatment by Louis Van Gaal and that United had lost its soul by selling off one of its academy trained players; he goes into this game with a healthy goals tally, but then has not scored in five games for Arsenal, even though he scored during the international break; consistency continues to be the major problem and he needs to find it to be considered seriously. From the United side, a goal by Wayne Rooney, would give him a record of having scored the most goals against Arsenal in this era. Key battles to consider would be Alexis Sanchez running at whatever central defensive partnership United opt for and Angel Di Maria up against Calum Chambers, rewinding to the torrid time Chambers had against a fleet footed winger in the shape of Jefferson Montero, on Arsenal’s last game before the international break.
Halftimeng Verdict: A 1-1 draw in prospect.
Lazio v Juventus
Lazio seem to have bounced back from their early season struggles, building considerable form before the international break with a run of four wins from their last six games. Massimo Allegri has proved a number of his critics wrong (including me) steadying the Juve ship and giving them better defensive solidity, Juve also have an identical record to Lazio, but have been him solid goal scoring form adding defensive solidity to it with zero goals conceded in their last two matches; interestingly switching to a back four.
Juve have the mid week distraction of the trip to Malmo in the champions league to worry about, this may play into Lazio’s hands, but then the Bianconerri have the squad depth to ensure they are solid all through. Lazio would go into this game supremely confident with five wins in their last six home games, but would have it at the back of their minds that they have only defeated Juve once in their last six meetings.
Halftimeng Verdict: Another score draw in prospect
Barcelona v Sevilla
Barcelona bounced back from back to back defeats in La Liga with a hard fought victory away to Almeria just before the international break. If you ask me, I strongly believe Luis Enrique has not settled unto his preferred back four coupled with his handling of the much experienced guys in the team like Xavi and Iniesta; then there is the Messi issue. The quest to break the all time La Liga seems to be weighing on Lionel Messi and it seems to have started weighing on the team, so the sooner he breaks it the better.
Sevilla, have had a great start to the season and are only two points off Barcelona in fifth place, but have a dreadful record against the Catalan team with five straight losses and the last time they recorded a victory was in 2002; this is coupled with Unai Emery’s poor record against Barcelona, it basically has Barcelona as clear favourites. Ivan Rakitic faces his former club side with him yet to fully settle at the Nou Camp, but with a point to prove if given the nod to start against the Andalusia club.
Halftimeng Verdict: Barcelona win
Levante v Valencia
The Valencia Derby provides us one of the derbies where both teams are more or less equal in their current form in the derby. Valencia are the more illustrious team of the two, multiple league titles, champions league final appearances, UEFA cup victory have been the hall mark of Valencia in the recent past, even though they may have fallen from grace recently as they continued to sell their best players every season. Levante on the other hand, until a couple of seasons ago were more suited to the lower leagues, building a reputation has a team that acts as spoilers to the more illustrious club in La Liga.
Valencia have had a great start to the season under new manager, Nuno Espirito Santo; Valencia are undefeated in 11 of their last 12 games in La Liga with defeat coming away to Deportivo La Coruna with an impressive performance against Atletico Madrid. Levante have struggled this season with only one win from their last six games, so go into this game as clear under dogs, but as you know with the derby the form book is thrown out the window.
Halftimeng Verdict: Valencia win
Bayern Munich v Hoffenheim
Bayern remain undefeated so far in the Bundesliga, but have quite a growing list of injuries; but would be fine by virtue of the squad depth the Bavarians possess. Hoffenheim lost back to back games just before the international break after such a good start to the season.
Bayern are in immaculate form, conceding only three goals so far winning their eight home games and are undefeated in twelve games against Hoffenheim. You cannot look beyond Bayern to get the result here, their depth and strength in all positions, sets them apart from the other teams in the Bundesliga.
Halftimeng Verdict: Bayern comfortable win
Marseille v Bordeaux
Marseille have experienced a major slump from their earlier great start to the season where they went on to winning streak of eight games and looked immaculate at times, but two defeats in their last three games to two major title rivals must really hurt Marcelo Bielsa, but they need to snap out of it and ensure a victory against another potential title rival.
Bordeaux have also had a great start to the season and led the league at the early stage of the season, but injuries have taken its toll ion the team, but Willy Sagnol has done a great job so far with the club and will expect to finish in the European places.
The tie promises to be a tactical spectacle as both sides play three at the back; although both teams have shown flexibility and ability to switch it around in game to a much more steady back four as the situation may arise. Marseille are undefeated in their last 7 meetings against Bordeaux and have won their last 5 home games; this makes Marseille clear favorites, but this is a key clash that L’OM cannot afford to drop points as PSG have gone two points clear at the top with their victory at Metz.
Halftimeng Verdict: Marseille win
Worthy of mention
This weekend signals the MLS Conference finals as New York Red Bulls take on the New England Revolution with the L.A. Galaxy also taking in Seattle Sounders. All these sides consist of top ex premier league players who have really lit up the league this season with the likes of Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry, Brandley Wright Phillips, Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey to name a few who have brought their experience and clout to elevate the league and make this years title chase quite intriguing.
Also, worthy of mention is David Moyes first game at Real Sociedad as they visit the Riazor to tackle Deportivo La Coruna.