We are all set for one of the most exciting weekends of the season with some mouth-watering fixtures which will decide the outcome of nine months sweat and toil and in some cases change the course of a club’s history.
Elsewhere, Newcastle’s fate will be eagerly watched on Sunday by all neutrals whilst the Toon army cope with the realisation that years of decline could come to fruition at Villa Park. Bordeaux have a great chance to win Ligue 1, Besiktas could go a long way to securing the Turkish title with a victory over Galatasaray and in Egypt the top two face off in a winner-takes-all play-off.
Aston Villa v Newcastle, Premier League, May 24, 2009
Following years of mismanagement off the pitch and poor performances on the pitch, the future of Newcastle United will be decided by 90 minutes at Villa Park on Sunday.
To stay in the Premier League Newcastle must secure a better result than Hull who are at home to Manchester Unitedâ€™s reserve team or the Toon Army will pray that Alan Shearerâ€™s side secure a victory and arch rivals Sunderland lose at home to Chelsea.
Newcastle fans have had to endure the season from hell and watched four managerial changes as their squad of highly-paid players have underperformed on an almost weekly basis.
Even under their new Messiah, Newcastle have looked disjointed and have picked up just five points in his previous seven games. And in truth they have only really played well in the 3-1 home win over Middlesbrough and considering their league position this doesnâ€™t tell us much about Alan Shearerâ€™s managerial prowess.
With so much on the line this is the time for the Newcastle players to play for the club, the fans and some respectability for themselves. Mark Viduka (11/4 to score) has looked a little like his former self in recent weeks and has added some bite to the attack whilst Nicky Butt is one of the few players to come out with any credit this season.
French defender Sebastien Bassong will miss the match following his red card last week and Aston Villa will be confident of scoring goals against a Toon defence that has shipped 58 goals in total this campaign.
They could well hit four as they did in this corresponding fixture last season, helped by a John Carew hat-trick (Carew is 66/1 to repeat the feat). Whilst Shearer and Newcastle have happy memories of the fixture in December 2002 when the former number nine scored the only goal of the game in the 82nd minute. A late goal and victory in this game could well keep Newcastle in the Premier League.
Martin Oâ€™Neillâ€™s side donâ€™t have a whole lot to play for, fifth place is up for grabs (rivals Everton are away at Fulham) but they will be in the Europa League either way next season. The worry for the former Leicester and Celtic manager will be that the poor form at the end of this season (one win in 15 in all competitions) will continue into next season.
Villa should have secured fourth place this season, they may never get a better chance to catch one of the â€œBig Fourâ€ and this is only underlined by the fact that this will surely be Gareth Barryâ€™s last game in a Villa shirt.
The Aston Villa fans and players however, will be keen on sending Newcastle down and there will no doubt be a large number of twists and turns on â€œSurvival Sundayâ€ before the tears come for fans of the two teams who drop to the Championship.
Can Newcastleâ€™s players finally put in a performance worthy of their fans and their huge pay packets? Probably not. The best hope lies in a draw and the United reserve team being too strong for Hull.
101gg predicts: Aston Villa 2 â€“ Newcastle 2 (12/1)
Full match odds here.
Girondins Bordeaux v AS Monaco, Ligue 1, May 23, 2009
With two games remaining of the French season, Bordeaux need to win this match and if Marseille fail to win at Nancy, Laurent Blanc and his players will be celebrating the clubâ€™s first championship since 1999.
After Lyonâ€™s amazing victory in the Stade VÃ©lodrome last Sunday, it is all up to Bordeaux, and on this Sunday in the Stade Chaban Delmas, they can celebrate their sixth championship.
Although Monaco have nothing to play for in 11th place, this team is made up of some good young and talented players such as: Lukman Haruna, Yohan Mollo, Juan Pablo Pino and it should be an interesting game.
Much like Wolfsburg in Germany, Bordeauxâ€™s likely title success is tainted by the fact that it will likely see a number of star players leave in the summer. Several players have already been quoted that this will be their last season at the club, especially if they win the championship.
“To leave the club as a champion would be great,” said midfielder, Fernando. “Saturday’s game against Monaco might be my last at the Stade Chaban-Delmas,” added the Brazilian.
Striker Marouane Chamakh said: “leaving is something I envisage doing if we’re champions. I’ve lived through some beautiful times here, some less beautiful times too. I’ve been a professional with Bordeaux for seven years and winning the title would be a great way of closing the circle.”
Chamakh, has had an amazing season with 13 goals this season – eight with the head and he is the Ligue 1 player to have scored the most headers this season.
And finally, maybe the best player of the season, not only in Bordeaux, but in all of France, Yoann Gourcuff, still hasnâ€™t decided about his future. The talented attacking midfielder, is loaned to Bordeaux from AC Milan, but Bordeaux has the rights to buy the player for an amount of 15 million euros.
Bordeauxâ€™s win last week against Le Mans was their ninth win in a row and gave them first place in the table for the first time this season. They are yet to lose at home in 2008/2009 season and have won 13 and drawn five in front of their home support.
For a team with a rich history, AS Monaco will be unhappy with their performance this season and this Saturday will be a good chance to prove they are still a big team.
Alexandre Licata opened the season with a lot of promise and until January he scored seven goals, but an injury to his right heel in March stopped his progress. Another player that has developed well this season is Juan Pablo Pino.
The Colombia attacking midfielder is only 22-years-old and has shown some sparks of a great player, he is however a doubt for this game. Bordeaux will also have to keep an eye on Park Chu-Young. The 23-year-old Korean striker has only scored five goals this season but two of them came in the last month and for sure this technical and speedy player can cause a lot of problems.
The previous game between the teams was maybe the best game of the season in France. Bordeaux won 4-3 after Monaco was leading 3-0 until the 52nd minute and 3-2 until the 87th minute. If this match contains half of the drama of the previous encounter it will be worth watching.
101gg predicts: Bordeaux 3 – Monaco 1 (11/1)
Full match odds here.
Besiktas v Galatasaray, Super Lig, May 24, 2009
Two rounds to go and the Turkish Super Lig is heating up with a match that might decide the fate of the entire season. Leaders Besiktas are in the pole position to win the league, and will play a crucial derby on Saturday, as it welcomes Galatasaray at the Ä°nÃ¶nÃ¼ Stadium.
With a two point lead on Sivasspor, a win would guarantee the title for Besiktas. Sivasspor will play at home against GenÃ§lerbirligi and will hope for some help from Galatasaray, whose players are in pretty good shape, especially in terms of attacking and scoring ability.
So, Besiktas knows it has to win in this derby.Â The win over archrivals Fenerbahce in the Turkish cup final gave Besiktas a confident step toward a trophy double. In its last three matches, Besiktas played confident attacking football and will be aiming to do so again on Saturday.
The hottest player currently in Besiktas is Brazilian striker Bobo. The 23-year-old international player scored two goals in the last game (a 3-1 win against Ankaragucu) and overall five in the last three games, concluding an excellent season.
With Bobo being supported by the extremely talented Filip Holosko, it is very hard to stop both of these fine strikers. Attacking midfielders Rodrigo Tello, Matias Delgado and Yusuf Simsek all are in excellent form, providing Coach Mustafa Denizli many choices up front.
Also, Fabian Ernst who arrived in January from FC Schalke has integrated very well into the team, helping to stabilize its midfield and giving it much more defensive strength and balance.
Galatasaray is also an attacking minded team, whose power lies more in its striking force than its defensive work. With Brazilian Lincoln, Arda Turan and Milan Baros up front, the team is capable of providing magnificent attacks but also to concede many goals (36 so far this season).
So both teams have fine attacking players, but the defensive superiority of Besiktas and the fact that they need the win so much might decide the match. The atmosphere in the Ä°nÃ¶nÃ¼ Stadium will surely be amazing, and we should also expect a fierce battle on the field between two very good and attractive teams.
101gg predicts: Besiktas 3 – Galatasaray 2 (25/1)
Full match odds here.
Al Ahly v Ismaily, Egyptian Premier League play-off, May 24, 2009
The Egyptian Premier League title will be decided in a sole playoff match on Sunday, when champions Al Ahly meet contenders Ismaily for the final showdown of the season.
Both teams finished the season level at the top of the table with 63 points, and according to the laws in Egypt, a single playoff match will be held between the two to determine the winner.
The much anticipated match will be held in the Max Stadium in Alexandria, on neutral territory. Foreign referees will handle the match, which will be held under a crazy atmosphere in the small (23,000 places) stadium. Fans of both teams have clashed several times in previous years (and also this season in Ismailia) so the Egyptian police will take special security measures ahead of the match.
Ahly is coming into the match in disarray. Portuguese tactician Manuel Jose, a godlike figure to Ahly fans, is set to leave the club after the game. The team has been ousted surprisingly from the CAF Champions League and barely managed to beat El Geish in the last round, with two injury-time goals giving it a 3-1 victory.
But Ahly is still a much more experienced team than Ismaily. Its firepower of Angolan striker Flavio Amado and his national team partner, winger Gilberto, backed by influential magician Muhamed Abu Treika and experienced captain Ahmed Hassan make Ahly a team which is always dangerous.
Ismaily is a team comprised of a very talented crop of players, but it is much better in attack than defence. With their attacking abilities, Ismaily may very well be able to score against the shaky red defense. Ismaily will miss winger Omar Gamal who underwent a knee operation and will be out for around six months.
But even without Gamal, Ismaily has excellent wingers. Young Mohab Said and Ahmed Samir Farag are two extremely talented players on the flanks, capable of playing in Europe. In the center one can find leader Mohammed Homos who is a very reliable, impressive player. And in the attacking midfield position we have Abdallah Al Saied, perhaps the most talented playmaker in the country.
Ismaily’s line of attack is usually comprised of Iraqi international hitman Mustafa Karim and the gigantic target man Mohamed Abu Greish, while young Nigerian John Jumbo (who might get a call from his national team soon) can come off the bench and change the game. With at least five players attacking in every move, Ismaily is a great offensive team.
Ahly will play its usual 3-5-1-1 formation with Gilberto and and Ahmed Fathi playing as wing backs, who will have a very important role in trying to prevent Ismaily taking control of the game through their wingers. Ismaily usually play a 4-4-2 system, which is more modern, but it remains to be seen whether its young players will be able to bear the pressure and take the title, since just several months ago, they themselves didn’t believe this was a possible feat.
101gg predicts: Al Ahly 1 – Ismaily 2