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.
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 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.
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
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.
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