FIVE THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND ACROSS THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL

The ‘bread and butter’ of league football that has kept our weekends alive and our eyes glued to the TV screens providing sensational entertainment reaches its climax as major leagues across Europe enters its final stretch this weekend. For most of these leagues like The Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, the winners have already been sorted but the La Liga is going down the wire whilst Juventus can add the Serie A title to the Coppa Italia they won midweek with a game to spare. Here are five things to expect from the weekend action across the league with the NPFL also making a return.

The NPFL returns: After an extended break that saw all outstanding matches settled, the NPFL resumes this weekend but this time only on the pitches and not on our screens, the LMC are yet to sort out the issue of live broadcasting of games (this has to be resolved sooner rather than later) but the league still has to go on. League leaders Plateau United will be hoping to continue their strong hold at the top of the table away at Katsina United. 2nd on the log MFM could go top at the end of the day as they host 5th place Akwa United whilst defending champions Rangers of Enugu who are witnessing some rejuvenation welcome Gombe United. It is a reversal of the last round of fixtures from the last day of the first half of the league, here is the full list of Match-day 20 games;

Sunshine Stars VS Lobi Stars

Shooting Stars VS FC Ifeanyi Ubah

ABS F.C VS El-Kanemi Warriors

Rivers United FC VS Nasarawa United

MFM VS Akwa United

Remo Stars VS Enyimba

Enugu Rangers VS Gombe United

Wikki Tourists FC VS Abia Warriors

Katsina United VS Plateau United

Kano Pillars VS Niger Tornadoes

Madrid on the verge: Just a point separates Zinedine Zidane’s team from clinching a first league title in 5 years, Real Madrid are away at Malaga with Barcelona hosting Eibar. The Los Blancos secured a 4-1 victory over Celta Vigo midweek placing them firmly on top of the table with 3 points ahead of Barcelona and needing just a point from their final game of the season to clinch the league. Apparently in a game that promises many twists, a prominent one has been noises especially from the Barcelona supporters that Malaga who really have nothing to play are supposedly not going to be putting up much of a fight due to a clause in midfielder Isco’s contract when he was signed for Madrid which will see Malaga getting up-to 1 Million Euros in variables if the midfielder helped Madrid win a league title in his first five seasons. Even without this twist, Madrid have done enough to deservedly win the league having won the most games, lost the fewest number of games and second only in goals total to Barcelona and with the run in hitting top form yet again, goals are bound to rain in this one. Atletico Madrid who have secured third place host Athletic Bilbao whilst Villarreal are way at Valencia.

Photo finish for the Top Four in England: Tottenham Hotspurs routed Leicester City on Thursday night to rubber stamp their 2nd place finish on the table, putting gloss on what has been a fine season for the London side, Harry Kane grabbed four goals to put some gap at the race for the golden boot with 26 goals, but all eyes this weekend will be at the Emirates where Sanchez on 23 goals leads the gunners against Lukaku’s Everton with the Belgian on 24 goals, the game however has an higher stake as the gunners hope they can somehow still secure a top four finish at the end of this weekend’s round of fixtures. The matter is however out of their hands as Liverpool who are ahead of the gunners by a point are home to West Ham, Jurgen Klopp’s men have struggled at Anfield recently with the last being a goalless draw with Southampton but should do enough to get past the finish line. For Manchester City, a draw away at Watford is enough to secure Pep Guardiola’s men their place in the Champions League next year and paper what has generally been a disappointing season for the team. I expect the three teams to all secure the much needed victories with Arsenal losing out at the end of the day and settling for the Europa League.

Juventus to clinch the Serie A at home?: This is the penultimate weekend to the end of the Serie A but defending Champions, Coppa Italia winners and Champions League finalist Juventus could clinch their sixth consecutive Scudetto and the second title of their treble hunt with a win over visiting Crotone, Max Allegri’s side have one job and they will be looking at getting this job done in time to focus on the Champions league final with Real Madrid, win and you are Champions but the job may not be as easy as it looks as they are up against an inform Crotone who have picked up 17 points from their last seven games and are a point behind Empoli in 18th position as they struggle to avoid the drop. Roma and Napoli who have secured their automatic places in next year’s Champions league are up against Chievo Verona and Fiorentina respectively with Lazio hosting Inter the other key fixture this weekend in Italy.

Another Hamburger escape? Is this the season that Hamburg SV finally gets relegated from the Bundesliga? The team which since the creation of the league in 1963, have never tasted football outside the top division having survived three playoffs in their last three seasons may finally have their luck run out when they play Wolfsburg who are a position ahead and also fighting relegation. With one game to go, Hamburg lie 16th on the log, two points from safety but are without a win from their last five games,  if you consider that they are finding scoring goals difficult to come by and have recently lost to Darmstadt and Augsburg, then this may just be fourth time unlucky. Another battle in the Bundesliga is that of the final automatic Champions league position as Borussia Dortmund who lies third are tied on points with fourth place Hoffenheim, both teams are at home this weekend as Dortmund host 8th place Werder Bremen (who have done really well this season) with 14th place Augsburg visiting Hoffenheim. Bayer Leverkusen who can yet be dragged in the relegation battle following a run of uninspiring performances are away at Hertha Berlin.

FOOTBALL MID-WEEK REVIEW featuring the Manchester Derby

As the leagues in Europe begin to hit home stretch, we have been served with top and feisty matches across the top leagues, there is still a lot to fight for especially in Spain and England where the battle for the winners is not yet done and dusted, the DFB cup was in the forefront in Germany whilst France saw the clash of the best two teams in the land, here is a review of all that happened across Europe in the last few days alongside the preview of the Manchester Derby coming up tonight at the Etihad.

Barcelona and Madrid secure big wins: After the El Classico over the weekend which saw Barcelona edge Madrid at the top of the log on head to head basis, though Madrid still have a game in hand, both teams featured in mid week fixtures as they continue their chase for the La Liga title.  As expected, Barcelona thrashed visiting Osasuna by 7 goals to one confirming the team to relegation after just one year of returning to the elite division with the highlight of the game being Javier Mascherano’s first goal in his 319th appearance for Barcelona, Madrid however faced a tricky tie away at Deportivo La Coruna and when the team-list was released with the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema and Toni Kroos absent, many feared manager Zinedine Zidane may have taken the gamble a bit too far, but all that was erased barely a minute into the game as Morata opened the scoring in what turned out to be a easy 6- 2 win with Isco starring as the main man yet again. Granada suffered their third defeat with new manager Tony Adams whilst Leganes halted an 8 game streak without a win with a 3-0 victory over Las Palmas to boost their survival chances.

NFF and AITEO 2.5Bn deal: The NFF yesterday announced a 5 year partnership contract worth 500 million Naira per year with oil and Gas Company Aiteo as Official Optimum partner of the football body, the deal primarily ensures that payment of all national team coaches and technical partnership of the national teams are duly covered over the year.

Big results in Cup games: In Germany, something of an upset was witnessed as Borussia Dortmund stunned Bayern Munich by 3 goals to 2 to secure their place in the DFB Cup final for the fourth straight time, Bayern Munich had led by 2 goals to one at a certain stage but two goals in five minutes from Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang and teen sensation Ousmane Dembele ensured that the Bavarians will not be winning a double this season, Dortmund will now face Eintracht Frankfurt in the final. In France, Monaco featured a much changed team and were thoroughly routed by PSG as the boys from Paris scored 5 unreplied goals to secure a final berth with Angers.

The Premier League: Arsenal earned a hard fought 1 nil victory over defending champions Leicester City courtesy a late minute Robert Huth own goal to win back to back games for the first time since February and maintain their hunt for a champions league place, Christian Eriksen’s belter at Crystal Palace also ensured that the North Londoners remain just four points behind league leaders Chelsea who put up a commanding performance in their 4-2 victory over Southampton, Sunderland are all but confirmed for relegation after suffering yet another defeat in the hands of fellow strugglers Middlesbrough.

The Manchester Derby: All eyes will at the Etihad tonight as the two Manchester teams go head to head in a battle not for the title but for a top four place. A win for Manchester United will see them in the top four for the first time this year and they will be jointly tied on 66 points with Liverpool despite having played a game less, for Pep Guardiola, his first season has not exactly gone according to plans as the team will be finishing the season without a silverware and a top four position is paramount to his plans of restructuring the team come next season. Both sides have injury worries as Jose Mourinho has confirmed that 89M signing Paul Pogba will be missing after he picked up an injury in their last game, he joins Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has also been ruled out for the season and Marcos Rojo on the sidelines, for City, David Silva remains a doubt but Sergio Aguero is in contention alongside Gabriel Jesus to feature in tonight’s game. It’s Pep Guardiola against Jose Mourinho yet again, many will be curious to see how tactics are deployed in this game following how United approached their last big game against Chelsea, It’s a game that could be a decider to either teams fortunes as we hit the end of the season and whilst a draw may not be bad for both sides, the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal will be wishing that one of the sides, especially United drop all three points to enhance their Champions League place. The two sides have met twice already this season, City won the first leg of their Premier League fixture whilst United emerged victorious in the EFL cup, this is their third and final meeting of the season and whilst a top four place may be the ultimate prize, the bragging rights for who owns Manchester is also an appeal as two of the best managers in the world seek to make the most of what has been a below par season in comparison with the standards they have set in their careers.

El Clasico Preview

It is that time of the year again; when the biggest rivalry in club football takes center stage; the El Clasico attracts viewership from all over the world with Billions of people glued to their sits to see to of the most successful teams in the world that parade the best players in the world go head to head. The past week has been one of mixed fortunes for both sides; Real Madrid advanced to another Semi Final of the Champions League while Barcelona got shut out in two legs by Juventus.

With Barcelona three Points adrift of Real Madrid who have a game in hand we take a look at how crucial this game could be for both teams.

Confidence – a tale of different levels

Barcelona might have had a win in between their unfortunately sandwiched square up with Juventus over two legs; that labored 3 – 2 win over Soceidad but it’s glaring enough to observe that the players are not on the wavelength their fans expect. Front trio of Messi, Suárez and Neymar have incongruously turned up for most part of the season, defensively porous and lacking some tactical depth.

Without been mirthful, Barcelona’s Achilles heel this term has been their defensive frailties even an outgoing Luis Enrique looks uncertain at finding a solution to it. Piqué looks here nor there, Umtiti is still an apprentice, Jordi Alba not getting a proper look in, Sergio Roberto even a right back.

Belly of the team is another blot entirely on the team. Rakitic and Andrés Iniesta haven’t played with same energy and guile we are all used to – especially if Sergio Busquets is unavailable.

Unlike Catalonia, it’s a more solid and stable environment in the Los Merengue’s Camp in Madrid. This Real Madrid team looks very gallant not overly in terms of quality but owing to a galvanized concinnity that Zizou has imbibed in it. Every player knows their role and stance in the team as we saw when Isco gave a particularly impressive performance against Gijon which forced Zidane’s hands to start him against Bayern which they won after extra time 6 – 3 on aggregate. While Lionel Messi has struggled in big games this season, Cristiano Ronaldo scored five against Bayern over two legs – you can say who is clearly up for the Clasico

Gaffer’s Stake

The stinging difference between Zidane and Lucho is that the former has been assured of his job whatever happens this season why latter has chosen to err on the safe side and can’t handle the pressure the Nou Camp job entails – a summer exit beckons.

Zidane has managed to use every player to their maximum potential and has tried to inculcate a steely part to his game with the emergence and fantastic play of Brazilian Casemiro conjoined with the recruitment of players from the youth ranks – likes of Marco Asensio joining the mix

Lucho can’t boast of that, he recruited badly, it’s almost a paradox. Paco Alcacer, Arda Turan and Denis Suarez have been either a waste of resources or time. Only Alex Vidal could hold his head high after a shaky start to his Barca career but has been cut short due to a broken leg. Tussling between formations 4 – 3 – 3 and 3 – 4 – 3 is another problem, the latter seems to cage their attacks because it gives the MSN limited space to operate.

With La Masia looking like it has lost its mojo; they obviously need to buy big and smart too in the summer.

In it’s entirety, I expect an explosive game, El Clasico is always a personable fixture to watch. Madrid Left back tagged it as ‘a game the world wants to watch’. That’s the brevity of it but for the first time in a month of Sundays, not many will fancy Barcelona on this one.

From, how United cut Chelsea’s lead to four to Olympique Lyon tumultuous time with fans…. 5 things we learned this weekend.

Mourinho still has his rascality

Manchester United probably provided the Blues their sweetest victory this season ; that 4 – 0 seismic drubbing at the bridge last year. Chelsea had built on that to stay at the summit of the log while Mou’s team; unbeaten in the league since then but have struggled to put teams to the sword. On Sunday, revenge was sweet, still a massive 15 points off the log but the Special one made it clear that he still has that gritty and b****y side to his coaching skill.

Evident was sticking Herrera on to Eden Hazard – a decision which got the former sent off in the FA Cup last month – Spaniard had other things up his sleeves this time, like spearing a nifty pass to Rashford for the opener and scoring one himself. Mourinho’s decision to start Darmian, Fellaini, Lingard and Skipper, Ashley Young – largely unfancied personnel in the United squad and went ahead to get the desired results shows how brave he was.

Lyon’s trouble with fans.

What primarily comes to mind when you think about Lyon is how they dominated the Ligue 1 in the recent past. It’s a very decent club which is unctuously ran with Players like Juninho Pernambuhano, Sidney Govou, Gregory Coupet, Sylvain Wiltord or maybe more recently Alexandre Lacazette.

Ironically, they have been in the news for the absurd / wrong reasons owing to crowd trouble. On Thursday in their Europa League game against Beşiktaş was delayed for 45 minutes because both set of fans clashed – a truly horrendous and horrific scene which had to take the Club president Michel Aulas to douse the tension among the crowd. They were subsequently charged for insufficient organization, pitch invasion, blocking stairways and setting off fireworks. Barely 96 hours later, Lyon players got attacked by Bastia fans during their pre match warm up only to be persuaded to play but Bastia fans never look like stopping. The Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), which governs France’s professional leagues, will meet on Thursday to decide what action to take.

It called on Bastia to issue stadium bans to the fans responsible, adding: “The LFP condemns with the greatest firmness the incidents which took place before the game and at half-time of the Bastia-Lyon game.” I hope Bastia get a heavy punishment. Football has no tolerance whatsoever for violence.

Magical Isco

I do not think any offensive player had a better game than the diminutive Spaniard this weekend. In a game where  Sergio Ramos was the only player considered an automatic first-choice for Zidane in his line-up. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro were all rested ahead of the midweek Champions League game against Bayern Munich and next week’s Clasico. Isco still managed to make his mark scoring a brace as they pipped Sporting Gijon 2 – 3 at the Molinon. Like James Rodriguez, I do not think Coach, Zinedine Zidane rates or trusts him for the big games but Isco unlike James has given the gaffer something to mull over.

Bayern needs Lewa

Ancelotti as expected made a barrage of changes to his line up when they faced Leverkusen away from home. They hugely dominated the game with Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman deputizing for Ribery and Robben but couldn’t just get their final balls right, even when they eventually do, Müller just was too rusty to make it meaningful.

In a match that All of Bayern’s outfield players except Rafinha had at least one shot and couldn’t still find the back of the net. That’s appalling to say the least and there is no better time to get Lewandowski back to the team with all his fecund natural abilities especially as they play Madrid at the Bernabeu by mid week.

Mertens, an unsung goal merchant.

Barely one month away to the end of the season and it’s only normal that the big wigs will start to lure, entice and whisk players – Neymars, Griezmanns, Dybalas etc comes to fray but not many have had a look in to Dries Mertens. Belgian has been on fire with Napoli this term scoring his 21st Serie A goal in the 3 – 0 drubbing of Udinese – 27th in all competition – 18th goal in the last 16 games. That’s just great. He clearly doesn’t have the heights but he’s got pace to run in behind defenders to do the damage. My prediction is he might move to Atlético Madrid if Griezmann moves and ultimately Diego Simeone stays at the Calderon.

Halftimeng LA LIGA TEAM OF WEEK 26

After 26 rounds of games, Barcelona are on top of the pile with 60 points – a point ahead of rivals Real Madrid who have a game in hand. Soceidad, pushing really hard for a spot in Europe did a fine job beating Real Betis at the Villamarin 3 – 2 moving them  just a point off the Champions League spot

The Belly of the La Liga table looks the most surprising – Paper Tiger, Valencia, like a dying duck are 13th on the log with a meagre 29 points while newcomers Alaves are 2 points off the top 10.

Bottom three of Granada, Gijon and Osasuna all lost to Leganes, Deportivo and Las Palmas respectively.

Here’s my Team of the week selection from La Liga in a  4-2-4 formation:

Goalkeeper

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Gorka Iraizoz  – Atletico Bilbao

Am particularly relieved to see him get monkeys of his back and put in a workmanlike performance against Malaga after he has been largely dismal in the past three weeks notably against APOEL Nicosia in the Europa League. Even at the twilight age of 35, Iraizoz still had the acrobatics of a teenager keeping Charles and Ignacio Camacho strikes out with very cogent saves.

Defenders

Diego Rico –  Leganes

Looked ridiculous when Leganes spent €1 million to get a left back from CD Burgos back in August 2016 but it’s clearly looking like a comme il faut buy. Still only 24, Leganes got themselves a defender who clearly might not be as talented as Marcelo or Felipe Luis but this boy is a hard worker.

His positional play against Granada was impeccable, combining well with Szymanowski along the byline. Manage to get 7 crosses into the opposition’s box – highest by any defender in the La Liga last weekend.

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Samuel Umtiti – Barcelona

Cameroonian-Born French Defender has received some stick recently which I think is unjust. He’s just been made a patsy to save face for senior players like Piqué.

His performance against Celta Vigo was what he needed, and it will improve his confidence greatly. Marshalled things well, never went extravagant, did the simple things effectively. Iago Aspas will want to forget playing against him.

Given his only 23, with over 150 games under his belt in France before moving to Spain, I think he’s got it.

Alejandro Arribas – Deportivo La Coruna

Not the quickest but he’s ability and knowledge of reading the game and snuffing out danger is tremendous.

Left Sevilla two seasons back after a lack of game time where he won the Europa League. He has been a stalwart for Deportivo and he proved that against Gijon keeping Carmona quiet for largely most part of the game.

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Šime Vrsaljko – Atlético Madrid

Atletico Coach Diego Simeone opting for speed and vigor rather than Juanfran’s know-how and experience against Valencia. It paid off and handsomely too.

With both right backs having 34 appearances between them this season (17 a piece) it difficult to ascertain which he prefers but Vrsaljko has made a statement of intent with his solid performances that he’s ready to keep Juanfran on the bench. His telepathy with Saul Niguez was magnifical.

Midfield

Gabi – Atlético Madrid

Another classy performance from the Skipper after only last week saved Fernando Torres from the grasp of death.

Am I the only one who still does not understand why he never played for the Spanish Senior Team. Not one cap? Really? His level of persistence and enthusiasm at 33 is extremely good.

His tactful approach to his gameplay and helping younger wards like Koke flourish makes him a maverick.

Casemiro – Real Madrid

For me  the best thing that ever happened to the defensive midfield position of Los Merengues since Makelele left. Not saying he’s better – don’t get it in the wrong box.

Since he became a regular last season, he has given Real Madrid a good stead of solidity and stability. Against Eibar, he played with a body language that says ‘Modrić and Kroos, go do the the damage while I stop any attack coming through’. He did not disappoint.

Forward

Antoine Griezmann – Atlético Madrid

Good Speed, Intelligent runner, Bodacious awareness, it is very difficult to pin a lassitude to the Frenchman’s game not when only recently has formed a delicious partnership with countryman Kevin Gameiro.

Should have easily had a hat trick but eventually got a brace from well threaded passes from Koke and Thomas Partey. Winning the La Liga looks a tall order but they look to have their Champions League spot back on track.

Lionel Messi – Barcelona

Against PSG, 3 weeks ago, he looked disinterested, unperturbed and nugatory. Since that Black Valentine Day in Paris, Messi has scored 6 goals in 4 games including a brace in the 5 – 0 win at the Nou Camp on Saturday

One quirky move and you are left for dead – Celta Vigo defenders will tell you that for free. I always say there is no tactics to keeping him quiet when he’s in full throttle.

Now there is a palpable atmosphere in Catalonia that they can cancel a 4 goal deficit and qualify against PSG to defy odds.

Karim Benzema – Real Madrid

He has struggled for form and injuries has also had a fair share. Just 7 League goals this season is poor in relation to his prolific standards but getting a brace against Eibar will surely pump up his confidence.

Madrid needs all the fire power they need to push for the League title and Champions League.

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Jese Rodriguez – Las Palmas

Las Palmas smacking 5 past Osasuna was always going to happen but Jese Rodriguez scoring a brace was slightly surprising plus he had a superb game. Graduated from the Madrid Youth ranks with huge prospects but things haven’t really worked out for him even when he moved to PSG only to be loaned out to the Canary Islands club. I really hope this helps kick start his career.

**Pictures coutesy UEFA.com; mundodepotivo.com; pulse.ng; getty images and dailymail.co.uk

Who takes the Catalan Hot-seat?

Surprised? No I wasn’t; I saw it coming just like i saw it in Pep’s eyes prior to his sabatical. The criticisms after the PSG game were immense; enough to make a grown man cry; but like they say this is Football, anything can happen (I can’t believe I just quoted on particular DJ like that). In reality; football and its fans can be quite ruthless especially as the saying goes ” you are only as good as your last game”; for a man that won a treble and double in this first two seasons; I think it was a little extreme to criticize him as he was. Well the search for a new manager begins now at the Nou Camp and we at Halftimeng.com are always willing to help; here are 5 Possible Replacements for Luis Enrique as the search for a new manager next Summer begins.

Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino

Although, the Spurs manager has made the it clear severally that he’s got no intentions whatsoever of leaving London – he has been very good taking them from a mediocre side to one who competed for the Premier League last season. His intensive howbeit onerous type of play would be highly welcomed at the Camp Nou. Pochettino’s lack of silverware as a manager won’t be a cause of worry too. Barcelona have made many a managers trophy winners in time past.

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman

Ronald Koeman

The Dutchman has had a decent managerial career since his first stint with Vitesse in 2000. His reputation has been enhanced since his move to the the Premier League, helping Southampton push above their weight; now at Everton. Been an Ex Barcelona player, Dutch and knowing the inner workings of the Nou Camp could be a massive influence or a penchant reasoning to hand him the job.

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Jorge Sampaoli

This fearless charismatic tattooed to bucking Bronco of a manager looks to fit the bill so far in his first managerial job in Europe with Sevilla having previously coached in South America ranging from Sporting Cristal in Peru to Emelec in Ecuador and Notably Chilean National Team where he won the Copa America. Sometimes, homespun, his high pressing tactics which got him compared to Marcelo Bielsa could see him grab the job at Barcelona. Snapping him off the hands of Sevilla, will be Barcelona’s biggest coup.

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Unai Emery

Might sound like a long shot (Currently with PSG on a two-year deal) but it is also nowhere near impossible if the price is right and having a chance to manage an elite team like Barcelona. Unai Emery, a very detailed and diligent gaffer. Having had experience in oodles coaching Los Che and Sevilla in the La Liga ultimately winning a treble of Europa League trophies with the later,he’s a winner and Barca need a winner.

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Arsene Wenger

Another long shot but again, in Modern Football, anything can happen.
Monsieur looks to be under fire like never before this season and for once his position as the manager of Arsenal looks very crotchety. Barcelona could be a sort of leeway for the under-performing Frenchman, has a chance again to win trophies at the highest level and also get the best players because Barcelona won’t allow him Penny-pinch; his bread is buttered on both sides. Can the Professor be motivated for such a Big Challenge?

5 THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND

This week saw some exciting football and shocking results as the European championships featured across various grounds mid-week, we saw Barcelona stunned, Napoli’s unbeaten run ended by Madrid, Arsenal mauled and the Pogba brothers sharing more hugs than tackles. The bread and butter of league football however makes a return this weekend but in England, the Premier League fades to the background this weekend as the FA cup takes center stage. You can be forgiven for thinking all other leagues are also on break but that is wrong as league football continues across all other countries, here are the top 5 highlights to look out for this weekend across the world.

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1. The NPFL enters Week 9- The Nigerian Professional League which took a break from midweek football returns this weekend with some juicy ties across the centers. Remo Stars new manager Fatai Osho has to hit the ground running as his team lie bottom of the log, they host 8th place Lobi Stars and know that only three points will do the Ogun State based team a world of good. League leaders Plateau United host Niger Tornadoes as they seek to bounce back from their first defeat of the season, other fixtures include, Abia Warriors at home to El Kanemi Warriors, Katsina United VS Shooting Stars, Gombe United VS Akwa United and Sunshine Stars away at Nasarawa United. The likes of MFM, ABS and Enyimba have had their games postponed as their opponents all have continental engagements.

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2. Barcelona seeks to bounce back: After the shocking defeat the Catalan giants suffered in Paris during their Champions league tie, under pressure Luis Enrique will be seeking for some form of response from his team as they welcome Leganes to the Nou Camp Sunday night, league leaders Real Madrid who enjoyed better fortune in Europe will welcome Espanyol as they seek to maintain their top position on the log whilst third place Sevilla host Eibar in a game they just need to win so as not to stay too far off the top two teams. Villareal who got battered in the Europa cup are away at Real Sociedad while Athletico Madrid will take on Sporting Gijon in some of the key fixtures.

3. Upsets in the FA Cup?: The FA cup has always had the glory of major scalps being taken over the years even though we have seen the big teams taking it bit more serious of late as the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United are recent winners. There is no really mouth watering tie in this round as the top sides have been kept apart but don’t rule out an upset from any of the grounds.
Key fixtures: Wolves VS Chelsea, Millwall VS Leicester City, Fulham VS Tottenham Hotspurs, Blackburn VS Manchester United and Monday night football where Sutton United welcome Arsenal.

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4. Across other leagues: In Germany, Bayern Munich who are 7 points clear on the log and off the back of their annihilation of Arsenal in the Champions league making the second leg more or less a formality are away at Hertha Berlin, second place Leipzig are also away at Monchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund host Wolfsburg. In France, the race is on as PSG who are in a fine vein of form are just three points away off leaders Monaco, whilst Monaco who have been free scoring are away at Bastia, PSG hosts Colosseum. Third placed Nice are also away to Lorient. In Italy, runaway leaders Juventus host Palermo, Roma host Torino, Napoli are away at Verona whilst the Milan teams, Inter and AC takes on Bologna and Fiorentina respectively.

Arsene

5. Lights out for Arsene Wenger?- All eyes will be on the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger this weekend following his teams defeat in the hands of Bayern Munich and the voices calling for his exit seemingly more united than ever over the last few days. Luckily for him, it is a little matter of Sutton in the FA cup on Monday night and this should give the team a chance to at least restore sanity with a convincing win. Arsene Wenger has been in the news since Wednesday night as pundits, fans and analyst have had their say on his career and the time for him to finally call it quit. However, for fans of football, especially followers of the Premier league, how best do you think Arsene Wenger will be remembered? The manager that re-defined the style of English football, the man who helped them make that move from Highbury to the Emirates, the manager who has failed to win the league in 13 years, the manager who has seen his team knocked out in the second round of the Champions league for the last six years (maybe seven) and who has never won the big trophy, how best will fans remember the French man if he does eventually reject the new contract offered and call it quit at the end of this season?

**Share your thoughts below in the comments section.

Halftimeng La Liga Team of Week 11

A La Rosaleda thriller set off a fascinating weekend in the La Liga
where Malaga edged past Sporting Gijon 3-2,Real Soceidad did the
unthinkable when they smashed in two against a rudderless Atletico;
Real Madrid are still unbeaten in the league and are now top of the La
Liga table beating Leganes 3 – 0.

Deportivo La Coruna,Granada,Osasuna still languishing somewhere at the
foot of the table not doing much to keep their survival hopes alive
even though its still early days.

Here are my selections for the week:

Goalkeeper – Geronimo Rulli (Real Soceidad)

Latitant at his progress since he joined Real Soceidad two years ago
from Argentina, i still cant comprehend how he never gets a senior cap
for his country. Commanded his defence well and when they failed, he
was brave to deny Greizmann with a finger tip save. Rulli probably
not in the category of the Neuers or De Geas but when you realize that
the Argentine number 1 only gets games at Manchester United only when
Fleetwood or Dover Athletic are the opponents, then players like ‘Nimo
Rulli really need to get a look in.

Defender – Diego Reyes (Espanyol)

Mexican on loan from Porto looks like he’s finally finding his feet in
Catalonia. Was massive against Bilbao last weekend,shielded the ball
well when he had to,distribution was effortless as he looked very
comfortable on the ball; ultimately i think Quique Sanchez Flores has
worked superbly on his positioning. Bilbao didn’t have any shot on goal,
Reyes was that effective

Defender – Javier Mascherano (Barcelona)

That leaky Barcelona defence needed to be reinforced after a
lugubrious performance against City last midweek in the Champions
League; Argentine was beastly at Sevilla on Sunday night notably his
timely lunge on Vitolo and Vietto. Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan is always a
very difficult place to visit but Mascherano rose to the occasion and
did extremely well. Samuel Umtiti should be chuffed to bits for having
to play alongside him

Defender – Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

The Lille born defender has had a quiet start to the season,
understandably so, having to miss the Euros through injury and having
to contend with Sergio Ramos, Pepe and more recently Nacho for a spot
in the Centre Back position but looks like the Leganes games was ideal
for him, snuffed out dangers well,distribution was good,at times tried
to initiate attacks. Varane is tailor made for great things,needs to
just get his confidence growing,he will transform from a potential to
the real deal

Defender – Marcelo (Real Madrid)

This lad is the best left back of his kind in the world, you will
probably agree with me if you dont like “cagey” football. Yes,his
performance was very fulgent against a lowly Leganes but he has a way
of just making a chance for himself and teammates. Incase you want to
bring the ” he is a defender” argument here, he made the most
interception in La Liga last weekend

Midfielders – Ignacio Camacho (Malaga)

In a season where Malaga has been quite tepid and skittish, Camacho
has been quite consistent and was very instrumental in their win
against Gijon. He is more or less the pulse of the team; goes about
his business on the pitch quietly and effectively too.

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Midfielders – Marcos Llorente (Alaves)

Things havent really gone well for Alaves since that famous win at
the Nou Camp getting a paltry five points out of a possible 21 making
the visit to Osasuna vital. Christian Santos got the important winner
but Marcos Llorente was flawless, given he is only 21 i think he will
be a star,his technique and all round awareness is exceptionally
superb .

Midfielders – Roberto Soriano (Villareal)

Not many a times do you see a goal like Soriano scored against Betis. Soriano was sublime all through, making the yellow submarines tick; he was available to pick and recieve a pass, his
artistry and soothing performance, places Soriano as one to admire.

Forwards – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

This crinigerous Argentinean hirsute is the bravest footballer in the
world. Enough said….

Forwards – Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)

When you just sign a $22m per year deal which runs until 2022, you
have got no choice but to start repaying the trust that got you the
deal in the first instance. Bale is doing just that caping an absolute
belter in Warsaw on Wednesday with a brace against Leganes. You can’t
just fault his form.

Forwards – Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

Highest goal scorer in the league,only behind (Of Course) Lionel
Messi, with 8 goals, 3 assists, averaging a goal every 103 minutes, 57%
chance conversion rate. He is the best striker in the Primera Liga in
my opinion, we can only enjoy his obvious talent and pray he doesn’t
bite anyone anytime soon.

This Weekend (04/11/16)

Its the weekend before another International break to give room for World Cup qualifiers across the various continents; so we football fans have to milk this weekend to its fullest. This weekend we will take trips to Germany, Italy, Spain and finally England; where we have to big clashes that may shake the existing structure in the Premier League.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspurs

The North London derby provides us an interesting match up as Electric Arsenal take on a dogged Tottenham Hotspurs side that are the only undefeated team in the Premier League. In years past Arsenal have dominated this fixture with commanding performances showing and proving to be the preeminent team in North London; however, Spurs have somewhat closed the gap and we have had really close clashes between both sides; case in question the games between both sides last season which ended in draws and overall Spurs are undefeated in their last four games against the Gunners.

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Arsenal are undefeated in their last 15 games in all competitions especially since the opening day defeat to Liverpool which was at the Emirates, the Gunners have been playing some fabulous stuff so far and have shown an uncharacteristically strong mental resolve in games which ordinarily Arsenal have been known to crumble when the pressure is at its peak. The form of Ozil, Sanchez and the reemergence of Olivier Giroud have given the Gunners a different edge; coupled with the defensive understanding demonstrated between Mustafi and Koscielny.

So, we have a team thats scoring for fun, but may concede a few goals on one side and then a team struggling to score goals, but are able to keep it tight at the back. This gives an indication that we may be heading for a draw, but Spurs current poor form both in the Premier League and Champions League, tilts the tie in favour of the Gunners.

Prediction: Arsenal Win (Betting Punt: Under 3.5)

Chelsea v Everton

Chelsea come into this tie boasting a four game winning streak without conceding a goal, confidence is restored to the blue side of London; some balance has been achieved with the way the team is set up and some players have been reborn in the last few weeks. Everton on the other hand look like a team built to frustrate the big teams, expecting to punch above their weight, cause a stir every now and then, but disappoint when one of the lesser lights come calling.

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Idrissa Gueye has been one of Everton’s stand out players this season, sadly he will be missing out through suspension, which leaves a huge gap for the Toffees to fill; thereby taking away the intensity, interceptions and industry Everton have demonstrated thus far this season. Already the Toffees have shown they can compete with the big boys with the solid performance at the Etihad.

Chelsea are undefeated in their last 22 home meetings against Everton in all competitions, but something tells me something would change here and the Toffees may just get something from this one. Lukaku is a beast of a striker at the moment, just the way Diego Costa is and both would bully the best defences anywhere in the world. I particularly like the way Everton set up, been able to mirror their opponents formation and been ready to mix and match things. Chelsea have found an unlikely balance in their defense with Azpilicueta playing as part of the back three; although i am still of the belief that it is a disguised back three; just watch Chelsea with out the ball and see the quick adjustment from a back three to a back four.

All in all Chelsea, look good enough for a fifth straight win, but Everton could nick a point; although Gueye would be a big miss in their grand scheme to conquer Stamford Bridge.

Prediction: Chelsea to Win (Betting Punt: Both teams to score)

Napoli v Lazio:

Napoli gave a good account of themselves on their visit to the Old Lady last week and I liked the look of their front three of Callejon, Insigne and Mertens; but we all know how these things work, an ex player always finds a way to drill the final nail in his former employers coffin. Lazio have been impressive this season despite the madness caused at pre-season with the premature resignation of Marcelo Bielsa and the eventual shock appointment of Simone Inzaghi.

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Lazio currently have the best ongoing streak in Serie A which has them undefeated in their last six games and playing some decent football along the line. This is a battle between the inexperienced and coaching first timer in Inzaghi versus the experienced Maurizio Sarri; two managers with different paths to big jobs with established Serie A teams.

Napoli have a good record at home with ten wins out of their last eleven Serie A matches, so Lazio have it all to do as Napoli would be keen to bounce back from that defeat against table toppers Juventus to keep in touch with the title race.

Prediction: Draw (Betting Punt: Both teams to Score)

Bayern Munich v Hoffenheim

Bayern Munich remain undefeated in the Bundesliga, but have stuttered and looked less convincing in recent weeks. This week they come up against another team that are also undefeated in Hoffenheim, who are tutored by a young coach who’s stock is rising on a daily in European football.

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Bayern remain top of the table with a slim two-point advantage over Leipzig, despite not been in the best of form lately under Carlo Ancelotti. Hoffenheim have been impressive reaching third spot at the moment and have not lost in the league this season. Julian Nagelsmann has led Hoffenheim to probably their best start in recent seasons, with the team winning five straight matches and could prove to be a solid test for FC Hollywood, hopefully their European exertions wouldn’t affect them; we can expect Bayern to dominate possession with Hoffenheim seeking to catch them on the break.

Prediction: Bayern to win (Betting Punt: Over 2.5)

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Sevilla v Barcelona

Barcelona come into La Liga’s biggest game of the weekend on the back of two underwhelming performances; the one-nil victory last weekend in the League and the defeat in the Champions League against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Sevilla have had a good start to the season under the new guidance of Jose Sampaoli; at the start it seem like it may be a failed experiment, especially as they conceded a lot of goals as the season began, but they have been able to steady the ship and have turned on some really good performances both domestically and in Europe.

Last week’s draw must have destabilised the Andalusian club, but they bounced back emphatically in the Champions League. At the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan; Sevilla have built a fortress, you just need to look at their record at home; 19 wins from their 22 games at home speaks volumes.

Barcelona need to snap out of it, we must admit that they do miss the genius of Andreas Iniesta and two of their established back four out as well, you must start to worry for the Catalans. However, with an away record that reads 7 wins out of 8 away games and  been undefeated in the last 16 games of 17 matches against Sevilla, must be a boost for Barcelona.

Prediction: Draw (Betting Punt: Both Teams to Score)

 

This Blockbuster Weekend (21/10/16)

I do not think there will be many weekends where you have so many blockbuster games across all the big leagues in Europe all rolled up in on weekend. There’s the La Classique in France, Chelsea v Manchester United, Bayern face their boggy side, Monchenglabach in the Bundesliga; Barcelona go visiting Cesare Prandelli’s Valencia and in Italy; there’s ”The Derby della Lanterna” (The Genoa Derby) and the small matter of Milan v Juventus.

PSG v Marseille

Without a shadow of a doubt; this is the biggest game in French football; yes there is obviously a huge gap in the quality of the two sides and the fortunes of both sides over the last few years. Whilst the Parisians have continued to conquer all before them domestically, the sea-siders have struggled with their football, managers, fans and every other thing you can think about.

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Paris Saint Germain under Unai Emery are a different proposition from the last three seasons; there seems to be an air of caution at the Parc D’ Princes and they don’t seem to have that fear factor any more especially with the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Marseille come into the Classique with former Lille and Roma Manager; Rudi Garcia taking over the reins of one of France’s sleeping giants. Its imperative for Garcia to get things going quickly; he has inherited a proper poison chalice and with new owners and expectations of transfer funds, pressure will be at its highest.

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There’s a lot of optimism from the Marseille going into this clash has to concluded take over and the arrival of Rudi Garcia; Marseille will expect to be the ones to run PSG closest once they are able to strengthen their squad. Unai Emery seems to be finding some consistency now; with four straight wins in all competitions and the chances of a fifth straight are quite bright with PSG having won their last 11 games against Marseille in all competitions.

Prediction: PSG to Win

Chelsea v Manchester United

No matter what you think or feel about Jose Mourinho; he is without doubt the greatest manager in the history of Chelsea Football Club; as the saying goes ” men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t”. In the case of Jose Mourinho; the trophies and honour brought and won by Chelsea Football Club under is guidance distinguishes him from the long list of Managers Chelsea have had over the Roman Years. I expect him to receive a warm reception from the Stamford Bridge faithful, once the formalities are over, I expect a keenly contested battle between both sides that would even resonate to the stands.

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Chelsea for Manchester United are the only club with a better head to head record since the Premier League era; visiting Stamford Bridge has been one of United’s toughest test season in season out; with only one win in twelve visits to West London; it paints clearly the picture of how strongly Chelsea have held the Red Devils in the Jugular. Sunday would not be any different; Chelsea under Antonio Conte are gradually finding some form of stability of late; but I worry about the set up of their so called back three and I still feel it is a back four in disguise; it just depends on the perspective and position you seek to view it from; all its needs is one of the big hitters to come to town and dismantle the supposed defensive base Chelsea has now; it is firmly there for the taking.

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In the space of a week, Manchester United have shown two sides to their game; a gritty and hard fought performance at Anfield to a more fluid and free flowing performance in the Europa League; this is what you can expect from a Jose Mourinho side. I do not expect United to play like at Anfield at Stamford Bridge; expect a more positive, but cautious approach; Chelsea’s pace especially in wide areas remain a big threat.

Prediction: A Draw (Betting Punt: Both Teams Score)

Valencia v Barcelona

Valencia are on of the teams that almost cost the Catalans the League title last season with their win at the Nou Camp during Barca’s six game winless streak towards the final stretch of last season. This is a different Valencia Side; they have finally matched their ambition with the appointment of a proper coach and not the experiment of a Arm chair critic. Cesare Prandelli has arrived at the Mestalla and the attitude in the dressing room as changed and livened up; which resulted in a first win last weekend that has got Fans of the club buzzing.

Italian head coach Cesare Prandelli speaks during a press conference at Casa Azzurri in Krakow, Poland, 05 June 2012. The Italy national team is preparing for the Uefa Euro 2012 soccer championship. ANSA/MAURIZIO BRAMBATTI

Barcelona would obviously be in very confident mood after scoring four in mid week; taking their tally to eight in two games; injuries to Pique and Alba are major worries for the Catalans and it would be interesting to see how they line up at the Mestalla.

I still worry about Valencia from a defensive position; the pairing of Mangala and Garay still hasn’t gelled and this is not the kind of game you expect to build team chemistry. Valencia haven’t kept a clean sheet in five games; so this is an area Prandelli has to work is magic. Barcelona are undefeated in their last ten visits to the Mestalla; expect the Catalans to get a least a draw; because of defensive inadequacies of their own.

Prediction: Barcelona Win (Betting Punt: Over 2.5 goals)

Bayern Munich v Borussia Monchengladbach

All through the three year stint of Pep Guardiola at the Allianz Arena; this was the one team that gave him the most grief; he just couldn’t find a way to beat them. In comes Carlo Ancelotti; renowned veteran and one of the leading lights of world football; will the Gladbach nuisance be allowed to continue or would the Italian quickly put them to the sword to lay down a marker.

Back to Back draws in the Bundesliga has finally given way to a resounding victory in Europe; so expect confidence to be high now at FC Hollywood. A few changes are expected as Ancelotti continues to understand his side; maintain freshness and giving others a run out; Gladbach have a series of injury doubts coupled with a poor away record of late with only one win in 14 away games in the Bundesliga; their win away to Celtic in the Champions League should give them the desired leap.

Can Ancelotti finally silence the beast called Borussia Monchengladbach? Tough proposition; no Bayern win in their last six games against Gladbach.

Prediction: Bayern Win (Betting Punt: Over 2.5 goals)

Sampdoria v Genoa

The Derby della Lanterna or the Genoa derby, if you are not too familiar with this tie; is probably one of the most keenly contested derbies in the Calcio. Interestingly; Genoa have had the edge in the derby of late and have also had better fortunes as regards participation and finishing positions in the league. This season hasn’t been different Genoa are ahead of their city rivals and look more like the team that would have a better all round season.

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Sampdoria have received a timely boost of two consecutive draws which followed four consecutive defeats; with their suspect performances they come against the team with the sixth best defense in Europe’s top five leagues which has only conceded 5 goals in 7 games. Genoa are not just all about their defensive solidity built by the impressive Ivan Juric; who was responsible for Crotone’s promotion to Serie A; but possess a promising youngster in their ranks in Giovanni Simeone (Diego Simeone’s Son); who has scored in back to back starts with the rest of Serie A and Europe taking note.

Genoa must be considered as favorites; as Sampdoria have only won two of the last eight derby matches at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris; especially with Samp’s current winless streak that’s at six matches.

Prediction: Draw (Betting Punt: Halftime Draw)

AC Milan v Juventus

The Serie A these days is a measured along the lines of Juventus and the rest; so great is the domination of the Turin Giants; that they could afford to have a less than convincing start last season, but still rally to win the Scudetto comfortably. Contrast this to the sleeping giants in Milan; Berlusconi’s Rossoneri to be precise; every day its a different news headline on the laundry list of prospective investors looking to breathe life into the red and black club; this Milan sale most enter the Guinness Book of Records as the most protracted and longest club sale negotiation in the history of Football Business.

In spite of all the issues on the financial front; AC Milan under Vincenzo Montella have climbed up the table to a very impressive third position; only behind second place on goals difference (even though its head to head results that determines finishing positions). Montella has done a very steady job and has worked well with the resources at his disposal; especially considering how young and inexperienced their back line is. Juventus have a number of injury concerns; that may lead to a shuffling of the pack,there might a surprise inclusion or two as well.

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Milan have been in good form lately; expect Carlos Bacca to make a return to boost their striking options; undefeated in their last five games with four of those games ending as wins; unfortunately Juventus are a different proposition; it would be interesting to see how they recover from their hard fought victory at Lyon in mid week. The Old Lady are undefeated in their last nine meetings with the Rossoneri; you may have to go back to when Allegri was manager at Milan for their last win against the Bianconeri.

Despite Milan’s regeneration from within; you have got to say Juventus are in a league of their own and are definitely a different kettle of fish; Juventus to take this for me despite the fact that their defense in aging, suffering from injuries and also they have already lost at the San Siro this season.

Prediction: Juventus Win (Betting Punt: Both Team to Score)

 

**Pictures courtesy goal.com, 101greatgoals.com etc