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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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