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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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