The Big Weekend Preview

To be brutally honest, the past week of football has been pretty rubbish bar the game at Fratton Park last night. The Champions League was a big disappointment and one would hope the return of league action this weekend improves things somewhat.

Chelsea v Arsenal, Premier League, November 30, 2008

This clash of two London clubs could well be season defining for Luiz Felipe Scolari and Arsene Wenger.
In the current climate of the Premier League it doesn’t take much for any team to be in “crisis” and a defeat for either side could see the media focus intensify just a little bit more.

After last Saturday’s defeat at Manchester City, Arsenal were the “crisis” team of England. Two league defeats in a row have left them desperately adrift of their title rivals and it would be fair to say that at this stage they simply need to secure fourth position from the challenge of Aston Villa. A defeat at Stamford Bridge would almost certainly extinguish all hope of a title bid as they would be 13 points behind Chelsea.

William Gallas has hardly helped matters and the win over Manchester United now feels like a long time ago. The French defender is in the unenviable position of perhaps being jeered by both sets of fans and how he deals with the in-form Nicolas Anelka will be one of the most interesting sub-plots of the Stamford Bridge showdown.

New Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas has pinpointed this fixture as one the Gunners can win, especially after the morale-boosting win over Dynamo Kiev in midweek. Nevertheless the suspicion remains that all is not well in the Arsenal dressing room with Gael Clichy the latest to come out and claim Gallas’ comments “shattered” the dressing room.

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But despite Arsenal’s poor form, Chelsea are not the automatic favourites, especially with their home form this season not in the same league as it was under Mourinho and Grant.

Scolari’s side have struggled in the last two home games against weak opposition, losing to Burnley on penalties in the Carling Cup and then being held 0-0 by Newcastle. They also failed to convince in France with a 1-1 draw at Bordeaux that means they are still not confirmed through to the Champions League knockoutstages.

Above all, despite Scolari’s flowing start to the season, Chelsea have not beaten any of the big teams they have faced in the Premier League. They lost to Liverpool and drew with Manchester United – both games were at Stamford Bridge.

The clash with Arsenal presents the perfect opportunity for Chelsea to cement their title challenge and heap further pressure on Wenger and Arsenal.

101gg predicts: Chelsea 2 – Arsenal 1

Manchester City v Manchester United, November 30, 2008

There have been numerous derby matches between these two sides, but this one will have supporters licking their lips in anticipation. City’s new found riches mean that amazingly United are not even the richest team in Manchester and players like Robinho could swing the tide towards the blue half of England’s second biggest city in years to come.

Wayne Rooney summed up the rivalry earlier this week, saying: “It is a massive game, especially after what has happened at City with the takeover. It will be nice to show them who the Kings of Manchester are.”

Despite Robinho and Stephen Ireland being in great form, City have won just once in four Premier League games and such is their away form that they will be chuffed to be hosting United.

But, Mark Hughes are sure to raise their game against their bitter rivals and the fans will expect nothing less than a win after doing the double over United last season. The form of Micah Richards has been patchy so far this campaign and if plays like he has done in the past, City definitely have the attacking talent in midfield to win the game.

United have been boosted with the return of Dimitar Berbatov who at the minimum will be on the bench. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have failed to score in their previous two games and there is a nagging suspicion that they miss the focal point in attack that the Bulgarian provides.

Ferguson will also be wary of falling further adrift of the league leaders Chelsea and Liverpool, especially as Rafa Benitez’s side face West Ham at home on Monday night. Whilst the Champions are extremely strong at home, their away form has been patchy and this has to be improved if United are to reclaim their title.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Robinho and Dimitar Berbatov were sharing the headlines on the final day of the August transfer window, now, injury permitting we should see them take part in a full-blooded Manchester derby.

Ultimately though, they may be overshadowed by players more familiar with English football and the unique atmosphere of a Manchester derby at Eastlands. For that reason, Stephen Ireland and Wayne Rooney could be the likely match winners.

101gg predicts: Manchester City 2 – Manchester United 3

Bayer Leverkusen v Bayern Munich, Bundesliga, November 29, 2008

Bayern Munich travel to play Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday in the game of the weekend in the Bundesliga. This will be no easy clash for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side as Leverkusen will be looking to push away from the champions as both teams are locked on 28 points.

But for the form of Hoffenheim, Leverkusen would have received many more headlines this season for an excellent start and the potential to win the German championship or at the very least claim a place in the Champions League.

Undoubtedly the star man for Leverkusen this season has been 24-year-old striker Patrick Helmes. The summer signing from Cologne has scored ten goals in 13 appearances this season and has also claimed two assists.

Alongside Helmes, Stefan Keissling, also 24, has had an impressive campaign. The 6.4ft striker has six goals to his name and a very impressive five assists. But, probably the fulcrum of the Leverkusen side is Simon Rolfes, a class act in central midfield who will be relishing the battle with the biggest club in Germany.

Leverkusen will be aiming to bounce back after their shock 2-1 defeat at Arminia Bielefeld last week, prior to the defeat they had won four of their previous five games. Without any European engagements to worry about, Leverkusen are well poised to continue with the form that will keep them at the upper echelons of the Bundesliga for the rest of the season.

Of course, any game with Bayern Munich is a benchmark for almost every club in Germany and this, thanks to Munich’s recent form should make for an intriguing game and if it is in line with the Bundesliga, promises a hatful of goals.

In modern football, it is dangerous to put too much emphasis on one player but Franck Ribery has completely turned Bayern’s season around. Klinsmann’s side struggled without the Frenchman in the early stages of the season but since in the 11 games he has played, Bayern have lost just once.

Ribery set up two in the midweek win over Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League and the goalscoring exploits of Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose largely rest on the former Marseille winger.

In the last six games, Ribery has guaranteed at least a goal or an assist, Leverkusen know where the danger will come from, but can they stop the player who recently appeared in the “Pink Panther” adverts?

101gg predicts: Bayer Leverkusen 3 – Bayern Munich 1

Inter Milan v Napoli, Serie A, November 30, 2008

The last week has summer up perfectly the state of Inter Milan over the past few seasons.

On Saturday night they saw off Juventus in the “derby of Italy” and in truth 1-0 flattered Ranieri’s side with Inter controlling much of the play. Jose Mourinho’s side followed this up with an enormously disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Panathanaikos.

These two results encapsulate why Inter brought in the “Special One,” since whilst they have dominated domestic Italian football they have struggled in the Champions League. Despite the defeat on Wednesday night, they did qualify from Group B and can now concentrate on furthering their lead at the top of Serie A.

Mourinho has outlined how he wants his side to play against the team who are fourth in Italy’s top division: “After this result we have to present ourselves at our stadium against Napoli on Sunday with the right drive and with anger to play a different match from the one we deservedly lost to Panathinaikos,”

Napoli continue to improve and if they can claim a shock win they will be just three points behind Inter. They have had a couple of disappointing recent results (a 3-1 defeat to Atalanta and a 2-2 draw with Cagliari) and this could be a perfect time to announce their challenge for the Scudetto.

At the beginning of November, Napoli lost 1-0 to AC Milan in the San Siro and produced a good defensive display as they were down to ten men for the whole second-half. In particular, Argentinean striker German Denis will be looking to make up for his own goal late in the game that gave the Rossoneri the win.

Undoubtedly, the Azzurri’s star player this campaign has been Slovakian central midfielder Marek Hamsik. From the middle of the park, this 21-year-old has claimed six goals and two assists in 15 games and is swiftly becoming the talisman of the side.

Another player to impress for Napoli this campaign is diminutive Argentinean striker Ezequiel Lavezzi, who has scored three times and provided three assists in 12 games.

Napoli have plenty of quality players and will be looking to get over some difficult results themselves, with both teams having much to play for this could be the game of the weekend in Serie A.

101gg predicts: Inter Milan 2 – Napoli 0

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