The Big Weekend Preview

England’s 2-1 win in Berlin will be the focus until the Premier League returns along with all the other domestic games in Europe. There are some high quality fixtures this weekend, with Saturday night looking particularly tasty as there is the Aston Villa-Manchester United clash followed by Inter Milan-Juventus or as some are billing it Mourinho v Ranieri.

Aston Villa v Manchester United, Premier League, November 22, 2008

Last week’s 2-0 win at the Emirates may have signaled the start of Aston Villa’s challenge to break up the so-called “Big Four” in England and secure a lucrative place in the Champions League.

The 2-0 win at Arsenal was an almost faultless performance from Martin O’Neill’s men and if Ashley Young had put away his first-half penalty, Villa could have won much more comfortably. O’Neill, a manager not known for hyperbole, commented after the game that his  team had been “brilliant” and they need to produce further performances in the same vein if they are to pip Arsenal to fourth place.

Whilst many pundits predicted Aston Villa could be the team to challenge the four dominant teams in England at the start of the season, they have tailed off a little in recent weeks. Surprisingly losing away at Newcastle and then at home to Middlesbrough.

Villa have quality throughout the side and in particular Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor have the pace, talent and hunger to lead them to a Champions League place. O’Neill also made some astute signings such as Carlos Cuellar and Brad Friedel who could provide the defensive steel and experience necessary for a successful league season.

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In recent days O’Neill has been reportedly preparing for a spending spree in January and their form up until the transfer window could be crucial for their hopes of qualifying for the premier club competition in Europe. Besides another game with Arsenal on Boxing Day, this looks like the hardest game Villa will face before the end of the year.

United will of course come into the game as favourites and will be wary of the quality in Villa’s side. Sir Alex Ferguson wrote in his programme notes for the home game with Stoke last week that following defeats this season to Liverpool and Arsenal, the Premier League champions cannot afford to slip up again this season.

It has been a mixed week for Cristiano Ronaldo who claimed his 100th and 101st goals for the Red Devils but was then part of a Portugal team that were thrashed 6-2 by Brazil. Whilst there is an injury doubt surrounding Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand did not play for England in midweek and Carlos Tevez was voted man of the match in Argentina’s win in Scotland.

This game will go a long way to showing the quality of the Aston Villa squad and whether they can compete with one of the most talented teams in world football. United have a great record against Villa in recent times and youngsters such as Young and Agbonlahor will be eager to produce another performance that makes the rest of the Premier League take note.

101gg predicts: Aston Villa 2 – Manchester United 1

Inter Milan v Juventus , Serie A, November 22, 2008

This clash between two of the biggest clubs in Italy is a match of interest for many reasons. The Bianconeri travel to the San Siro in fine form just three points behind leaders Inter and this game is being billed as a direct battle between Claudio Ranieri and the man who replaced him at Stamford Bridge – Jose Mourinho.

Claudio Ranieri was sacked as manager of Chelsea in 2004, the self-proclaimed “Special One” took over and led the West London club to two Premier League titles and an unprecedented period of success in the team’s history.

Despite the fact Ranieri is not as controversial as Mourinho, he is greatly respected in world football and has led Juve to seven consecutive wins in recent weeks just as it looked that his job was on the line. Both managers don’t see eye to eye and have publicly quarreled in the Italian press this campaign which will only add further spice to the match.

Inter’s defence has not been as strong as Mourinho would have liked this season and the strike force of Amauri and Del Piero will be confident of scoring in the San Siro such is their form at the current time. Del Piero in particular is deadly from free-kicks and he is in arguably the form of his life. Their cause will also be aided by the fact that Ivan Cordoba is suspended for the home side.

And Juve are also facing a striker who is putting his name forward as one of the best strikers in world football with some brilliant displays. Zlatan Ibrahimovic single-handedly saw off Palermo last week with two brilliant strikes with his right foot. The Swede was rested for Sweden’s friendly with Holland during the week and yet again could decide the destination of the Scudetto.

Ibrahimovic and Patrick Vieira will be facing their former club, both players joined Inter after the Calciopoli scandal which since Juve’s return from Serie B has also added extra spice to a game billed as “the derby of Italy.”

This match has it all. Individual battles (Ranieri v Mourinho, Del Piero v Ibrahimovic), a top-of the-table clash and two teams who are in good and in Juve’s case great form. Juve will fancy their chances whilst Inter will see this as a crucial game if they are to hold on to the Scudetto.

101gg predicts: Inter Milan 3 – Juventus 2

AZ Alkmaar v Ajax Amsterdam, Eredivisie, Novermber 23, 2008

There are four teams vying to be top in the Eredivisie this weekend and two of them meet in a Sunday afternoon game that should be yet another fine advert for Dutch football.

Last week Ajax beat their great rivals PSV to take first position in the league, although they are level on points with NAC Breda and are just two points ahead of FC Groningen and their hosts for this match AZ Alkmaar.

All four teams have attacking players which marks them out as four of the top five attacking teams in Holland. Ajax even produced a fine attacking display without the service of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who is currently out for six weeks with an ankle injury.

Under Marco van Basten, this Ajax side are playing some fine attacking football. Luis Suarez continues to display his burgeoning talent, bagging nine goals in 14 games as well as four assists. Left back Urby Emmanuelson also showed his ability last week by providing two assists in the win over PSV.

Whilst Ajax’s quality shines from throughout their squad e.g. Miralem Sulejmani came off the bench and scored last week, AZ Alkmaar’s main threat clearly comes from one source: Mounir El Hamadaoui.

The Morrocan international has scored 13 goals in 11 games this season and has also provided three assists. El Hamadaoui failed to score in his club’s most recent game (a 1-1 draw with AZ Alkmaar) prior to that he had scored 12 in just seven games.

Ajax will be confident in the knowledge that if they can keep El Hamadaoui quiet they have a real chance of extending their lead at the top of the Eredivisie, most pleasing of all if they can keep going they will be well clear of PSV and Feyenoord and will be facing a number of teams with little experience of fighting for the title.

101gg predicts: AZ Alkmaar 2 – Ajax 1

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