The Big Weekend Preview

After some breathless midweek action, football fans will be treated to some more high octane league action around Europe over the next couple of days, here is our take on this weekends biggest games.

Tottenham v Liverpool

Can Harry “Houdini” keep the Spurs revival going?

The league leaders travel to White Hart Lane in a game that will have football fans salivating in the build-up, thanks to the incredible 4-4 north London derby on Wednesday.

It has been a crazy week at Tottenham, starting with the firing of Juande Ramos, Gus Poyet and Damien Commoli last Saturday night. The arrival of Harry Redknapp has re-invigorated the club starting with a win over Bolton and then an unbelievable comeback at the Emirates.

Whilst Spurs’ defensive frailties clearly still remain, the form of David Bentley has significantly improved under ‘Arry Redknapp. The former Portsmouth boss has also produced the best form in England so far from Luka Modric by playing him higher up the pitch and Tom Huddlestone also appears to be reveling in a return to the first team.

Liverpool will not be short of confidence themselves as they lead the Premier League table and this looks like the year when they will finally make a long-awaited title challenge. The win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, marking the first time the Blues had lost at home in 86 games, was a terrific result which has spread confidence throughout the club.

The Reds continued their good form in recent weeks with a narrow win over Portsmouth at Anfield on Wednesday night that further enhanced the feeling that they can win the title this season.

And to add further spice, to what is usually an entertaining fixture anyway, is the return to White Hart Lane of Robbie Keane. The all-time top goalscorer for the Republic of Ireland scored over 100 goals for Spurs and made a shock move to Liverpool in the summer.

After many years of service to the club, Spurs fans should be expected to give Keane a good welcome although his departure is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why Spurs have struggled in the early part of the new season.

Above all, this promises to be another hectic Premier League encounter, with points so crucial for both teams it could well be another classic.

101gg predicts: Tottenham 2 – Liverpool 2

Cardiff v Wolves

First takes on third in the Championship, in a game that will go a long way to deciding the fate of both teams this season.

Wolves lead the division and Mick McCarthy’s side look talented enough to make a return to the Premier League. After conceding five three games ago at Stoke, Wolves have returned to form seeing off Watford at Vicarage Road in a 3-2 thriller and beating Swansea at home.

The main strength for Wolves is their attacking play and with 33 league goals so far they have scored the most in the division. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake is having a great season, bagging nine goals including a brace against Swansea. And Chris Iwelumo (he of the shocking miss for Scotland) has chipped in with seven goals.

Cardiff will be no pushovers and it is clear Dave Jones is making further progress after last season when the Welsh club made it through to the FA Cup final. They currently sit in third in the Championship with the third best defensive record in the division.

There is quality throughout the side and Joe Ledley and Peter Whittingham could well follow the lead of Aaron Ramsey and join a Premier League club if Cardiff don’t gain promotion. They haven’t lost in five games and at Ninian Park are always a difficult side for away teams to face.

Wolves will be aiming to confirm their title credentials, whilst Cardiff are looking to join the race for an automatic promotion spot, ensuring this game should be one of the best to be played in England this weekend.

101gg predicts: Cardiff 1 – Wolves 2

NAC Breda v FC Groningen

Two of the surprise sides in Holland, both of whom are riding high, meet for what will be seen as a straight shoot-out between two of the best strikers in the division.

NAC are first, two points behind AZ Alkmaar and their success can undoubtedly be put down to the goalscoring exploits of Ghanaian Matthew Amoah. The 28-year-old striker has scored nine goals in eight games this season and attracted interest from all around Europe.

The free-scoring forward has welcomed the attention commenting: “I have always dreamt about playing in England, as a young boy, I always liked Arsenal. But when I look at what other teams like Everton and Middlesbrough are doing, I am also flattered.”

In truth, whilst the Dutch league may not be the best in Europe, Amoah owes a big debt of gratitude to his club who have revitalized his career after an unsuccessful spell at Borussia Dortmund.

Groningen who are second in the Eredivisie have their own master finisher in Marcus Berg. The Swedish striker has six goals in eight games and like Amoah has also attracted attention from the big clubs in Europe.

Whilst Klaas-Jan Huntelaar takes up many of the headlines in Holland, there are some very fine striking talents in Holland, in particular Mounir El Hamadoui is on a stunning streak of goals at the moment, and this game will be a showpiece for Amoah and Berg to plunder yet more goals.

101gg predicts: NAC Breda 3 – Groningen 2

AC Milan v Napoli

The Sunday evening game in Italy promises to be a real cracker as a rejuvenated AC Milan take on new pretenders for the Scudetto, Napoli.

Both sides come into this game in great form and if Udinese fail to win at home to Genoa either team could go top.

After losing their first two games of the season, the Rossoneri have rebounded by winning all their games bar one including a win over Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan side that has infused the whole club with the confidence that has been lacking in recent seasons.

Ronaldinho was the match winner against Inter and he repeated this feat against Sampdoria whilst Kaka has also come to the fore, scoring in midweek against Siena after claiming a crucial late winner against Atalanta last weekend.

Napoli come into the match also full of confidence having won their last three games, a run that began with an impressive victory over Juventus. The 1-0 win over fellow surprise high-fliers Lazio kept the run going and in midweek they beat Reggina 3-0.

The man of the match on Wednesday night was Argentinean striker German Denis who claimed a hat-trick, taking his tally for the season to seven goals in 13 games. It has been a mixed start for the 27-year-old striker who hasn’t always started this season.

Napoli are a youthful team brimming with quality and Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik and Brazilian-born defender Fabiano Santacroce in particular have stood out. AC Milan’s old guard are in for a real test in this one.

101gg predicts: AC Milan 2 – Napoli 0

Al Ahly v Coton Sport

Egyptian giants Al Ahly will be playing their fourth successive African Champions League final on Sunday, when they host Coton Sport of Cameroon in the first leg of the competition. The five-time champions will be supported by 80,000 home fans in the Cairo International Stadium, but the reds coach, Manuel Jose, believes that playing at home doesn’t guarantee a win.

“When we play at the Cairo Stadium my players are always under pressure from our supporters,” said the Portuguese coach, who thinks Ahly have a great opportunity to claim a sixth victory in this competition.

“Away from home when we’re not under pressure, we perform well. We put on a good display when forcing a goalless draw against Enyimba in Aba despite playing on a terrible pitch.”

Nevertheless, Jose believes that his side has the advantage ahead of the final: “We will do our best to win the first leg in Cairo to make our task of overcoming them easier. Ahly have the best footballers in Africa so we should go for a win whenever and wherever we play.”

Coton Sport, on the other side, will try to become the first Cameroonian club to win a continental trophy for 28 years. But despite that and the fact that this is the first time Coton is playing in the final, they are not short of confidence. Baba Ousmaila , who was man of the match when the team won against Aigle Dschang 4-2 in the Cameroon Cup Final at the weekend, says the players are ready to make history.

“The victory over Aigle was important, but it is now in the past for us,” Baba told the club’s official website. “All the players can think of now is the Champions League final. We know Al Ahly are a very big club and a very good team, but now Coton Sport’s time has begun. This is the moment we will gain our first Champions League trophy, we all firmly believe that.”

But the preparation for the game on Coton’s side could be much better. Upon Coton’s arrival to Cairo, the team refused to stay in the hotel Ahly allocated for them and opted to check in to the Olympic village in Ismailia instead. They took a bus provided by the Cameroonian Embassy and Egypt and headed straight to Ismailia, in a move that made big headlines in Egypt.

This just might only increase Ahly’s players’ motivation towards winning the first leg. The reds, who lost last time out against Tunisian club Etoile du Sahel, know that Coton haven’t lost a continental competition match on home soil since March 2002. On Ahly’s side, everyone is fit and ready to play.

Such is the magnitude of the game, even Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is expected to be in the VIP room of the stadium.

101gg predicts: Al Ahly 2 – Coton Sport 1

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