This Weekend (12/12/14)

So the men have been separated from the boys in Europe’s premier club tournament, so also in the Europa League; so no European distractions till February, 2015. The domestic campaign returns this weekend with many tasty ties to keep us glued to our Television sets, not least David Moyes’ first taste of the Basque Derby. As always we take our other trips to England; where the biggest game in English football will take center stage, France, Germany and Italy as we preview all the big games for this weekend.

 

Real Sociedad v Atletic Club Bilbao

Two clubs from the same city but with different ideologies; whilst Real Sociedad have adapted a more global approach attracting players from all over the World and also having a Scots man at the helm as manager; Atletic Club Bilbao have adopted a much more reserved and inward looking approach with the policy of signing only players of Basque origin. You would say the both clubs have had varying degrees of success in times past with Sociedad coming close to winning La Liga missing out to Real Madrid by two points in the 2002-2003 season; whilst Bilbao qualified for two cup finals in the same season (Copa Del Rey and the Europa League Final) under the tutelage of Marcelo Bielsa but lost both; interestingly both teams substituted themselves in 4th place in the last two seasons and struggled in the league whilst competing in the Champions League.

Basque-Derby

To the  135th League encounter between both clubs; Real Sociedad are under new management and have continued to struggle; in the four games under David Moyes; its been two draws, one win and a hammering loss against Villareal last weekend. Bilbao on the other hand, struggled in combining the rigors of Champions League football and domestic football at the earlier part of the season, although they surprisingly lost at home to Cordoba, but got a moral boosting result against BATE Broisov.

Bilbao will definitely go into this one as favorites; owing to their better form with four wins from their last six games; however Sociedad has had the better of the last six encounters between both side; but as we all know we derbies there is nothing like the form book.

A feisty, rugged, all action awaits us.

 

Halftimeng Prediction: A Bilbao win looks the more likely.

juventus-sampdoria

Juventus v Sampdoria

Juventus are still top of Serie A, look quite comfortable there as their rivals continue to refuse to take advantage of their slip ups. Juventus would be one relieved club that they do not need to worry about Europe till February having come under immense scrutiny for their continued timid performances in the Champions League. Sampdoria started the season on fire and have handled the set of games against the big clubs quite well and losing only one game all season.

Both teams have lost one game each this season, but Sampdoria under Sinisa Mihajlovic just like Juventus are undefeated in their last six games. The games come thick and fast now as the Serie A would take a well earned Winter Break, hence we may see Juventus tinker with the side a little especially with the injuries that have hit the squad recently.

Juventus would be expected to get a win to potentially increase their lead at the top as Roma travel to high flying Genoa; but then it is easier said than done as the spoils have been shared equally between both teams over the last six games with two wins each and two draws.

Halftimeng Prediction: A Juventus win

 

AC Milan v Napoli

Napoli have been consistently inconsistent this season with the pressure mounting on Rafa Benitez especially with the rumoured  return of former manager; Walter Mazzarri. Milan, on the other hand continue to search for consistency in their line up especially defensively, where they have been hampered by injuries, suspensions or loss of form; hence regular changing of the back four. In midfield, its an issue of not having the requisite personnel that can provide creativity in that central position hence they dependence on brawn and grit.

On current form you could go for Napoli as favorites as they are undefeated in their last six games with four of these six games ending in draws; as draws continue to be the Achilles heel of this expensively put together squad. Interestingly, Milan have only won two of their last six matches and winless in the last six games against Napoli.

Halftimeng Prediction: A score draw looks more likely

 

Augsburg v Bayern Munich

Lets look at this game from this context; Bayern Munich v Augsburg would never be a top clash at anytime of the season; but then 2014 is coming to an end and it has been an intriguing year to have Augsburg lying in 3rd spot in the Bundesliga with the winter break approaching is really a big deal. The credit for this gigantic rise goes to Markus Weinzierl; who has drilled this side to quite solid defensively and ruthless on the counter attack.

FBL-EUR-C1-BAYERN MUNICH-TRAINING

FC Augsburg have definitely punched above their weight, but then looking at their stats and games records it makes for good reading; four straight wins in the Bundesliga with five wins in their last five home matches. Bayern have to be wary here; but then you look at Bayern’s record, despite the injuries; the teams flexibility gives a lot of comfort; whilst Bayern haven’t lost this season; Augsburg have lost six; the signs do not look good when you see that particular negative stat.

Bayern have been quite ruthless this season, but have had to win their last two games by lone goals; hence goals have been somewhat difficult to come bye, even though the Champions League provided a different scenario.

Halftimeng Prediction: Bayern t0 win

 

Bayer Leverkusen v Borussia Monchengladbach

Gladbach had been on a very poor run lately with a draw and three losses from four games (the three losses were in the Bundesliga), however they have picked up well and gained back to back wins against Hertha and Fc Zurich. Leverkusen too have not been in great form with a loss away to League leading Bayern, but got assured Champions League qualification in mid week; these are the kind of games that teams like Leverkusen should be winning against direct competitors for the Champions League slots.

Interestingly, Leverkusen have a great record against Monchengladbach as  they are undefeated in 23 of their last 25 matches against Gladbach coupled with their great home record which has them undefeated in 11 home games.

Halftimeng Prediction: Expect an open game with lots of goals; potentially a score draw.

 

Monaco v Marseille

The Principality v the South; Monaco had a tough start to the season, but have really picked up form lately, topped their Champions League; all be it surprisingly. The team from the principality have built momentum and grown into the season with Dimitar Berbatov finding his scoring boots again.

Marseille under Marcelo Bielsa look a much different team, the early struggles have gone away and a breathe of fresh air in terms of tactics and style of play has crept into Ligue 1 as O’M continue to prove that they are capable of taking the race to the wire with the Parisians.

Marseille have won three of the last five games with the loss been to PSG in Paris; the team has found defensive solidity in the likes of Rod Fanni; the pace of Payet and Ayew continue to worry defenses to supply the ammunition to Pierre Gignac who is only second to Lyon’s Lacazette on the goals scorers chart.

Monaco face a Marseille team full of confidence and ready to take on any one, it would be interesting to see if European qualification would have anything to do with the psyche of the lads from the Principality.

Halftimeng Prediction: Marseille win

utdliver

Manchester United v Liverpool

Historically, this is the biggest game in English football, hate it or Love it, this game brings the best out of the players and the worst out of the fans. This rivalry not only involves the distance in geography between both sides, but the fierce competition for honours and trophies down the years.

Manchester United fans will shout about the 20 league titles they have, which is the highest in the country; Liverpool fans will go on about how United had to catch up to claim this, but point to the haul of five Champions League trophies to United’s three; the rivalry is that fierce. There is also a dispute to how many major trophies the pair have won amongst many other issues which come to the fore when United take on Liverpool.

Image Daniel-Sturridge-and-Luis-Suarez-Liverpool_3017155.jpg

Last season was a disaster United fans have tried to erase from their minds; it was bad enough that Liverpool had a great year and only missed winning the league by a slip from the usually dependable captain. Be that as it may, Liverpool did a double on United last season and gave the Red Devils a hiding at Old Trafford; unfortunately or fortunately depending on what side of the divide two of the architects of that victory are not available to Liverpool.

Manchester United have struggled with injuries but have been able to put a good run of form together to occupy the 3rd position on the log; a run of 5wins on the bounce is bound to enhance  the team’s confidence. Liverpool have also won three in a row, even though in very unconvincing fashion. With exit from the Champions League and passage cleared to the Europa League; the Reds must be down and morale; but what better way to get the belief back than with a victory against their biggest rivals.

Halftimeng Prediction: Manchester United Win

Halftimeng European Team of the week (08/12/14)

Just like in England it was a weekend where the big teams struggles in Italy, but Germany, Spain and France still maintained some level of consistency as the big teams continued to flex their muscles.

So as Bayern, Marseille, Real Madrid and Juventus continue to set the pace in their respective leagues; these are my top performers of the week in a 4-3-3 formation.

 Perin

Mattia Perin (Genoa)

When in his element, he is potentially one of the best young goalie in Europe; kept Milan out to earn a clean sheet and move Genoa to third in Serie A.

fabinho

Fabinho (A.S. Monaco)

Solid full back performance, combined attacking and defending well; got Monaco a Penalty to seal the game.

tabanou

Frank Tabanou (Saint Etienne)

Another Ligue 1 player fills the other full back slot after a resolute performance against Bastia.

rodriguez

Gonzalo Rodriguez (Fiorentina)

Stood tall as the Viola kept the rampaging Bianconeri at bay to force a stalemate.

Hummels

Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)

A more than welcome return to the Dortmund team and what a way to make a return than to get a victory and keep a clean sheet.

Cheryshev

Denis Dmitriyevich Cheryshev (Villareal)

David Moyes would have nightmares of this guy, keeps showcasing his potential and must be catching the attention of his parent club and Carlo Ancelotti.

Alonso

Xabi Alonso (Bayern Munich)

Personifies the perfect fit, poise, control and intelligence.

Barbosa

Cedric Barbosa (Evian)

A stunning free kick and a well taken goal, capped a wonderful performance for the veteran as Evian ran Lyon very close.

 

The Hat Trick Heroes

Moting

Choupo Moting (Schalke 04)

Schalke are fourth in the Bundesliga thanks to his hat trick following a brace from last week.

Cristano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

If one can do it, I sure can match it. If he breaks a record today, I will ensure I surpass it or break another record. That is the story of these too extra ordinary footballers, we can only sit back and enjoy it.

ancelotti

Manager of the Week

Carlo Ancelotti (Real Madrid)

Record is now at 18 straight wins, has achieved a strong balance in the team and the entire squad. What’s to say the run cannot be extended further.

 

 

Halftimeng EPL Team of the Week (08/12/14)

If there is something about the 24th game and St. James Park for Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, then the mystery that continues to surround Arsenal freezing at windy Britannia (Stoke City) can only be unraveled by how much Manchester City will cope without their in form lethal striker; Sergio Aguero.

In a strange weekend where, Chelsea and Arsenal lost to their supposed bogey teams; Manchester United continue their 11 year winning streak against the Saints, Manchester City close the gap at the top to three as West Ham gate crash the top four, these are my top performers of the week in a 4-4-2 formation.

mcgregor

Alan McGregor (Hull)

Saved a penalty to ensure the spoils were shared and keep a clean sheet in a barren draw with West Bromwich Albion.

hutton

Alan Hutton (Aston Villa)

Lucky to finish the game and not get sent off, but scored a really good goal.

ward

Joel Ward (Crystal Palace)

Good solid performance, kept Spurs duo on the right side; Lamela and Dier at bay.

fazio

Federico Fazio (Tottenham Hotspurs)

Solid, strong performance in another Nil Nil game.

oshea

John O’Shea (Sunderland)

Led the black cats well and by example as they got a share of the points at Anfield.

colback

Jack Colback (Newcastle United)

Maligned for his move from Sunderland to Newcastle, held his own in midfield amongst illustrious company in the Chelsea Midfield.

fer

Le Roy Fer (Queens Park Rangers)

Commanding performance in midfield and has added goals to his game in the relegation six pointer against Burnley.

nasir

Samir Nasir (Manchester City)

Cool, calm and orchestrated performance to drive the citizens to within three points of leaders Chelsea.

walters

Jonathan Walter (Stoke City)

Arsenal could not live with his intense running and industry; a super performance capped with a goal and an assist.

carroll

Andy Carroll (West Ham)

We all probably asked, how does he fit into this team based on how they have been playing. His two goals showed just how and why he is important to West Ham going forward.

bojan

Bojan Krkic (Stoke City)

Intelligent runs on and off the ball, late runs into the box; another player Arsenal could not live with; Bojan rolled back the years.

 

Manager of the Week

Sam Allardyce (West Ham)

Has got the Hammers playing some good stuff and into the Champions League Places

 

This Weekend (05/12/14)

On the strength of the events over the last one week or so, we truly have a title race back on in England, whilst we continue to worry about the fall from grace of Borussia Dortmund and the out of this world domination of Bayern in Germany; we are on the edge of our seats in Italy as Roma and Juventus continue to serve up a title race to savor and in Spain; the three power houses, take positions in the top three as the games come thick and fast; there is a minor bleep for the top two in France. A number of interesting match ups for us to take a look at this weekend, especially in Germany where there seems to be top matches everywhere you turn.

Bayern Munich v Bayer Leverkusen

Bayern continue to dominate the Bundesliga with as much impunity as you would expect from a Military dictator, but then you cannot blame them for been this good when the rest of the so called teams in the League continue to implode, the least that’s said about the likes of Dortmund the better. Bayern would go into this game still undefeated in the league with only three goals conceded in 13 Bundesliga games and a totally commanding record against this weekend’s opponents; Bayer Leverkusen.

hakan Bayer

Fourteen wins in their last Seventeen home matches against Leverkusen with a minimum of two goals scored in those 14 wins and ten points behind on the table gives Bayer Leverkusen absolutely no chance; but then with players like Hakan Calhanoglu you will be forgiven if you gave Leverkusen a chance especially with their current run of three wins from their four league games coupled with the brilliant performance against Cologne last week. Bayer Leverkusen have the unfortunate distraction of the Champions League, even though already through to the knockout round, there is a small matter of who tops the group, so expect some changes to their usual line up.

Halftimeng Prediction  : Bayern to win comfortably

Borussia Dortmund v Hoffenheim

Can you believe Dortmund are bottom of the Bundesliga? If I was told this at the beginning of the season I would have taken it as a big joke and laughed it off; why because I had consider them as title contenders, I even picked them to win the league at the beginning of the season, so I have egg on my face for the second season running. I was reading the popular Bundesliga website (Bundesligafanatic.com) and they suppose the well has been poisoned in Dortmund. Hoffenheim on the other hand, started the season quite well; but have gone off the boil conceding goals freely; 14 goals in four matches which has seen them slide down the table to seventh.

klopp

Dortmund need to find their mojo back to bring about a major turn around in their form, they need to forget their quest to top their Champions League and be content with qualification to the group stage and focus on their incredibly terrible Bundesliga form especially with the game been on Friday reduces the pressure and gives them an extra day to prepare for mid week. The Jurgen Klopp legacy is very much at risk, on the strength of the great work he has done at Dortmund, he is been linked with a number of prominent jobs outside Germany, it would be best he doesn’t destroy his good work with his own hands.

Dortmund are yet to get a result in nine of their last 10 games, whilst Hoffenheim are yet to win in nine away games; that stat has a funny ring to it and makes you feel we may be heading for a stalemate here.

Halftimeng Prediction: Dortmund must get a result here.

Fiorentina v Juventus

Fiorentina are a team that just love to hate Juventus, the bitterness between both teams has a long history and was potentially strained even further as the “Divine Pony Tail” Roberto Baggio was transferred to Juventus for a World record fee in those years. Fast forward to 24years later, the hatred fro Juventus still burns at the Viola and last season’s 4-2 victory remains fresh. However, circumstances have changed; Guiseppe Rossi who scored a Hat trick (first player to do this since 1941) in that game is out injured; La Viola are a different team so far this season with injuries all over the place and inconsistency the bane of a side filled with potential.

montella

Juventus had Andrea Pirlo to thank for last week’s heroics in a derby that more often than not are expected to win, so having another feisty encounter to navigate with the distractions of the Champions League in mid week places Juventus in a position where they are available for the taking, this is also taking into consideration that the gap at the top is barely three points. A win in Friday’s game is critical to heap pressure on Roma who do not play till Saturday.

Both teams love to play three at the back, even though Juve under Allegri have changed to a back four especially due to the injuries in the defensive side of the squad. Juve remain firm favorites to take this but it would be tight affair as Fiorentina are on a two game winning streak just as Juve have won four in a row. Juventus have notoriously been quite at the back in games against La Viola, with clean sheets in five of their last 7 games and have only conceded two goals away from home.

It would be interesting to see where Massimo Allegri’s priorities lie.

Halftimeng Prediction: Looks like a draw, but then stranger things have happened in this tie in times past.

 

Barcelona v Espanyol

If the Turin derby is one we need not to have worried about until last week, this derby also falls in that category. The Catalan derby between Espanyol and Barcelona has been a one side affair for many years as Barcelona continue to dominate World football and their neighbours fight for La Liga safety.

catalan derby

Barcelona have won 26 of the last forty matches between both teams with the last Espanyol victory coming in 2011 in a friendly; you would have to go back to 2009 to see an Espanyol victory in La Liga. With Barcelona’s current form in La Liga; you just cannot look beyond them sealing this comfortably as they probably would have eyes for the more tasty tie of Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League.

Halftimeng Prediction: Barcelona win

Paris Saint Germain v Nantes

PSG remain undefeated in Ligue one and continue to pile the pressure on table topping Marseille; but slipped up in mid week losing a chance to go top of the table. This encounter however offers, the Parisians a chance to go two points clear at the top for at least a day; but they face a Nantes team that at some point had the best defense in the league and have won three of their last four away games in Ligue1.

Laurent Blanc, Paris Saint-Germain coach

With the Champions League in mind, PSG are expected to flex their squad depth a little as I expect Laurent Blanc to potentially prioritize the Champions League game against Barcelona with topping the group up for grabs and PSG having the advantage with their home win earlier in the season.

Nantes have only scored two goals in their last six visits to the Parc D’ Princes; so you just cannot look beyond PSG getting the expected win.

Halftimeng Prediction: PSG win

 

Newcastle v Chelsea

Newcastle had a torrid start to the season with calls for the head of Alan Pardew ringing loud round St. James Park, but some how the Magpies found some form and went on a run of six straight victories in all competitions. Chelsea are in immaculate form, still undefeated, scoring goals a plenty and still keeping it tight at the back; even though they may miss two catalysts of that impressive rear guard action in Nemanja Matic, who is suspended and Gary Cahill, who limped out against Spurs at mid week.

Matic

Newcastle have defeated Chelsea on their last two visits to the St James Park coupled with the fact that Chelsea struggles to a 0-0 draw against Newcastle’s cross town rivals Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. The Magpies are winless in their last two games, Chelsea on the other hand do not have any clear cut weaknesses and most had awarded them the Premier League title, but the fact that the chase by Manchester City now seems quite real will spur the blues to maintain their undefeated record and shrug off their supposed North East hoodoo.

Halftimeng Prediction: A Draw to make the title race interesting.

 

Worthy of Mention

The MLS Cup Final

Although, I wanted the New York Red Bulls and the Seattle Sounders to get to the title game; for Thierry Henry to have a great Swan song, my connections to the Red Bulls through family in New Jersey and Obafemi Martins deserves to win something after such a great season.

L.A. Galaxy have the championship experience heading to this match and are currently the most successful club in MLS history with four titles and four loser’s medals; a win on Sunday will mean the Galaxy have won three of the last four MLS Cup finals, demonstrating their domination of the American Soccer scene. New England on the other hand have been in this position so many times; especially in the Steve Nicol era; the former Liverpool player and current ESPN FC analyst ensured the team from Massachusetts became a household name in the MLS, unfortunately they ended up with the unwanted tag of been the Buffalo Bills of the MLS as they failed to win a single title despite reaching four finals (2002,2005,2006,2007).

robbie and Landon

To the game proper, L.A Galaxy will enjoy home advantage in this final and have probably two of the most experienced players in the League in their ranks in Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan; so experience wise; L.A. are stacked with it. With such an enviable record of going 18 games at home without defeat and five clean sheets in their last seven home matches, you really cannot look beyond L.A. Galaxy coupled with Robbie Keane been crowned the League’s MVP.

New England Revolution would not be push over as they put together quite an impressive play off campaign winning five of their last six play off matches with the only draw coming in their second leg against New York Red Bulls. In terms of their head to head; New England has the better of the head to head winning two of the last three encounters; but L.A. have been better in their last six meetings overall and we can expect a high scoring game between both sides.

Halftimeng Predictons: LA Galaxy should win due to their championship experience.

 

****Stats courtesy www.whoscored.com