The Big Weekend Preview

Although there are no stand-out games in England this week, Germany will witness the first ever meeting between Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim tonight which jumps out as potentially a real cracker. It is also a big weekend for Paul Ince, West Brom and Brazil.

Blackburn v Liverpool, Premier League, December 6, 2008

Paul Ince faces one of his former clubs at Ewood Park, in desperate need of some points to stem the tide of criticism coming his way from Rovers fans.

Blackburn are really struggling at the moment, they haven’t won in the league since the end of September and they have slid down the table on an almost weekly basis with the supporters in particular voicing their displeasure at Ince’s decision making.

During their 5-3 Carling Cup defeat at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, Blackburn fans chanted “you don’t know what you’re doing” and “we want Incey out.”  This marked their fourth successive defeat and Ince did not meet the press after the game. The former central midfielder, known as the “Guv’nor” in his playing days, will be hoping that he fares a little better against another of his former clubs.

The job faced by Ince was always going to be difficult following the success Mark Hughes achieved at the club. The loss of David Bentley and Brad Friedel hardly helped and Ince has struggled to inspire his players in the same way his former team mate at United managed.

The Blackburn defence looks particularly suspect and they have let in the most amount of goals in the Premier League. Whilst Paul Robinson has made some impressive saves, their poor defensive record does not reflect well on the former Spurs custodian.

They also failed to supply their forwards with the necessary ammunition to lift them up the table, Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz are good strikers but are not receiving the same service that they did when Hughes was in charge.

It is more than likely that Ince will be given funds in January to make the necessary improvements, something he asked for this week. But, poor results up until January could mean that Rovers are too far adrift so this home game with Liverpool is massive if they are to stay up.

Thankfully for Blackburn, Liverpool’s attacking play is not as formidable as it should be if they are to win the league. Fernando Torres is out for a month and Robie Keane has failed to get amongst the goals since his summer move from Spurs, scoring just two, both against the bottom club West Brom.

It is of course easy to point at individuals when a team is failing in one department but in truth Rafa Benitez does not set his team up to score many goals. The full backs rarely find themselves in attacking positions and the signing of Albert Riera was the latest in a long line of functional, but not title winning wingers.
The five teams below Liverpool have scored more goals than the Reds and this is the perfect opportunity for Benitez’s side to prove that they are worthy of a title challenge.

101gg predicts: Blackburn 0 – Liverpool 2

Bayern Munich v TSG Hoffenheim, December 5, 2008

The German Bundesliga’s surprise package TSG Hoffenheim will face its toughest opponent so far when it meets giants Bayern Munich away this Friday.

Hoffenheim can ensure it leads the table into the winter break in case of a victory, but the defending Bundesliga champions are three points behind Hoffenheim in second place and are planning to showcase their ability in Germany’s biggest clash of the season so far in front of a sellout crowd at the Allianz Arena.

And Hoffenheim do not lack confidence ahead of this match. The “village team” has scored a league-high 40 goals in 15 matches having claimed 11 victories. “We are going there to win three points,” midfielder Tobias Weis said. “We are going to rely on our strengths. Bayern can be beaten. If anyone can beat them, we are the ones.”

Ralf Rangnick’s side have strength in attack. Hoffenheim usually field no less than three strikers – young Nigerian talent Chinedu Obassi, Senegalese Demba Ba and Vedad Ibisevic who has scored 17 goals to lead the league scorers table.

Hoffenheim are a team that can press the opposition and surge forward at lightning speed once it wins the ball. Bayern will have to be prepared for this kind of tactic.

If Bayern win by four goals they would overtake Hoffenheim on goal difference. And if taking into consideration that Hoffenheim’s three losses so far have come against the other top teams in Germany, Bayern are definitely the favorites in this match. Bayern, who had a humiliating start to the season, has since been boosted by the return of Frank Ribery who came back from injury to lead the team into a winning streak of seven of its last eight league games.

Ribery seems more than ready for the clash. “The whole of Germany’s waiting for this match. I hope we give a decent account of ourselves and win again,” said the Frenchman, “I know they’re a good team who score plenty of goals and we’re taking them very seriously.”

101gg predicts: Bayern Munich 3 – Hoffenheim 3

West Brom v Portsmouth, Premier League, December 7, 2008

Whilst many pundits have pointed out just how tight the Premier League is, Tony Mowbray’s side are in great danger of being left adrift at the bottom of the league and returning to the Championship after one season.

The Baggies have scored the least goals in the top division in England this season and this is the reason they find themselves in such dire straits. Ishmael Miller may have the physical qualities to succeed in the Premier League but his finishing lets him down. Roman Bednar has also struggled to consistently score goals.

It is undoubted that the Baggies play good football, much of their approach play is good, but they may need to invest in some top class strikers in January. They also have the second worst defensive record in the division and really cannot afford to continue on this poor run.

Tony Mowbray’s side have not won since a 1-0 victory over Fulham in October and against a Portsmouth side who could be tired from their European adventure on Thursday they will see this as a winnable game.

It must have been difficult for Portsmouth fans to watch Harry Redknapp work his magic at Spurs, but Tony Adams is beginning to bring yet more stability to the club. Pompey played very well against AC Milan and were also worth their win at home to Blackburn despite the fact that at 2-2 it looked like the away side would take the points.

After a shaky start under Adams, they are now five games undefeated (before the fixture with Wolfsburg on Thursday) and are in touching distance of challenging for a UEFA Cup place through the league. Of course, much will depend on which players depart in January and how Adams responds to any other setbacks.

This game promises to be tight; WBA can no longer rely on other teams they have to start putting points on the board.
101gg predicts: West Brom 1 – Portsmouth 0

The final day of the Brazilian season, Campeonato Brasileiro, December 7, 2008

The Campeonato Brasileiro is all-set for a thrilling climax as Sao Paulo and Gremio fight it out on the final day of the season to claim the title.

Sao Paulo blew their opportunity to win the league when they could only draw 1-1 with Fluminense last week and although they have a three point lead at the top of the table, if they lose and Gremio win, the Porto-Alegre team will claim the title on games won, the deciding factor.

Gremio claimed a 4-1 win over Ipatinga last week and having led the league for so long and then fallen away they may feel that this is an opportunity that they never thought would come. They host Atletico Mineiro and will be gunning for the victory that could give them the title whilst Sao Paulo face Goias who are seventh in the league.

The Gremio team have requested that they do not hear score updates from the Sao Paulo match as they will simply concentrate on their own game.

To add yet more tension to a final day that has gripped the nation, earlier this week Gremio protested against a ruling that would allow Sao Paulo to play their final away game at a neutral ground.

Gremio were furious after Goias were handed a two-match home stadium ban for crowd trouble and ordered to play their game in Brasilia. They argued that Sao Paulo have a large fan base in Brasilia and will effectively be at home, giving them an advantage as they look to claim their third successive title.

Since Sao Paulo have been in stunning form in the last part of the season, they haven’t lost for 18 games, it is more than likely they will get the point they need and Gremio will be left waiting to lift their first title since the days of Luiz Felipe Scolari in 1996.

The final day in Brazil also sees the race for a Copa Libertadores place and the battle against relegation.

101gg predicts: Last day drama is not such a common occurrence in Brazil so it could be special.