The Big Weekend Preview

It has undoubtedly been said before that “this weekend coming up looks like the best ever,” but over the next two days we could witness the most mouthwatering games so far this season. Of course, “The Clasico” will hog a lot of the headlines, but Berbatov’s return to Spurs, Gianfranco Zola back at the Bridge, Juve-AC Milan and a top two clash in France will all be worth a butchers.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United, Premier League, December 13, 2008

Through a quirk of the fixture list this season, Manchester United have already played their hardest away games in the Premier League season.

Just five days before their first game at the FIFA Club World Championship, Sir Alex Ferguson will know that if his team can negotiate a tricky fixture at White Hart Lane, they have the quality to make it count when the big teams come to Old Trafford in the second half of the season.

United struggled at Spurs last season until the very last seconds of the fixture when Carlos Tevez came up with a late goal which characterized United’s charge for the title. The Red Devils only just overcame Spurs at home in the league thanks to a goal from Nani.

These two teams could also likely play out the Carling Cup final so this game could have a major bearing come late February. To add further intrigue, this marks the return of Dimitar Berbatov to the club he made his name at in English football and the Bulgarian recently admitted that he still follows his old club avidly.

Since losing at Arsenal at the beginning of November, United have put in some impressive form in the league, winning three out of four and the 1-0 win at Manchester City was a major signal to their title rivals.

Although United are favourites to win, this game will be no pushover with the Spurs fans preparing a frosty return for Berbatov and a team riding the crest of the wave known as the Redknapp revolution.

Since Harry “Houdini” came to Tottenham, the Lilywhites have lost just two games in 12 games and the wins at Watford and West Ham in recent games have shown that Spurs can still beat the weak teams.

This season though, they have also fared well against the “Big Four.” Liverpool have been beaten twice and two creditable draws have been gained at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates.

Spurs will no doubt make life difficult for United but there is a nagging suspicion that Pavlyuchenko and Bent find it tough against the very best. Much will also depend on Michael Carrick, a player Tottenham have arguably never replaced.

It should be a cracking match, expect United to lay another marker down for their title rivals.

101gg predicts: Tottenham 1 – Manchester United 2

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid, Primera Division, December 13, 2008

After starting his reign at Real Madrid with a comfortable victory over Zenit in the Champions League, Juande Ramos will try to lead Real Madrid to victory on Saturday against the most exciting team in the world right now, Barcelona.

Ramos was pleased after the win in the Champions League (“The best thing is that we have gained some confidence in ourselves which will help against Barcelona.”) but he knows that his side is far from really overcoming all its problems.

Barcelona’s midfielder Xabi said that “Real’s situation is not as serious as it seems. I do not believe they are in a crisis.” And it’s up to the whites to prove it on Saturday without the injured Pepe, Gabriel Heinze, Miguel Torres, Mahamadou Diarra, Ruben de la Red and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

In addition, Royston Drenthe and Wesley Sneijder are doubtful, while Marcelo and Arjen Robben are suspended. Real Madrid must have the longest injury list in world football and it is unlikely any manager could have kept them in the title race in these conditions. In comparison, Barca will be without just Gabriel Milito, Andres Iniesta and Alexander Hleb for the “Clasico.”

It seems Wednesday’s match was a good tactical preparation for Real ahead of the game. German center back Christoph Metzelder played for his first time ever at the club as a right back, where he might be deployed on Saturday. The German played in this position during his time with Borussia Dortmund, but he may well suffer in one-on-one situations down the flank, where Frenchman Thierry Henry is expected to play as a left forward.

On the left side of Real’s defence, veteran Michel Salgado will somehow try to stop Leo Messi. Salgado played as a left back in the first half on Wednesday and is no stranger to this position despite being right footed. His speed might help him against the Argentine dribbler, but since he is way past his prime, Barcelona could take advantage of him in this flank, where Messi will play as a right forward.

Target man Samuel Eto’o, who was one of eight first-choice players who were rested in Tuesday’s Champions League loss to Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, will start the game. Real’s center backs – Sergio Ramos and Fabio Cannavaro – will have their work cut out to stop him. The Cameroonian hit man has scored 14 goals in a blistering start to the La Liga campaign.

It seems that Juande Ramos will continue with his diamond-type tactical array. Fernando Gago and Guti will play in the middle of the park, Rafael Van Der Vaart will occupy the left flank, and the right flank of the midfield might be filled with Sneijder (if fit). Raul and Gonzalo Higuain will lead the attack against the almost-fully fit Barcelona squad.

101gg predicts: Barcelona 4 – Real Madrid 2

Chelsea v West Ham, Premier League, December 14, 2008

When Luiz Felipe Scolari arrived at Chelsea in the summer, he must have hoped to follow the home records set out by Jose Mourinho and Avram Grant. Unfortunately for the Brazilian not everything has gone according to plan at Stamford Bridge this season with defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal as well as an embarrassing defeat to Burnley in the Carling Cup with a full team.

Incredibly, Chelsea’s away form has set new records and when one looks over their form so far they seem consistently able to see off the weak teams but are consistently failing against their “Big Four” rivals.

As a result this match should provide them with a further win to aid their title challenge. West Ham are looking like relegation candidates and Didier Drogba will be confident of adding another goal to the crucial winner he bagged against Cluj in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Much has been written about Scolari in recent weeks, what remains undeniable is that he has instilled a new flair and style into the Blues and they will be there or there abouts come the end of the season.

Gianfranco Zola is sure of receiving a great reception from the Chelsea fans after lighting up Stamford Bridge for so many years. The diminutive Italian does though have a major job on his hands to keep the Hammers in the Premier League. They have scored just four goals in his 10 games in charge and were outplayed by Spurs on Monday – another club who are in the relegation mix.

West Ham desperately miss Dean Ashton and all the transfer rumours surrounding the club cannot be helpful. Lucas Neill’s desire for higher wages will also have rocked a club seemingly racked by uncertainty.

Chelsea will be confident of winning at a canter to put their London rivals deep in trouble and to strengthen their own title bid.

101gg predicts: Chelsea 3 – West Ham 0

Olympique Lyon v Olympique Marseille, Ligue 1, December 14, 2008

Undoubtedly the game of the season in France as perennial French champions Lyon host Marseille who are just three points behind and are looking for their first championship since 1992.

With last year’s second-placed team Bordeaux a further two points behind OM, this represents a major game for Lyon as they look to hold on to their dominance of French football.

Marseille, who clinched a place in the UEFA Cup knockout rounds with a 0-0 Champions League draw with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, are in second, three points behind Lyon and would go first on goal difference with a win at Stade Gerland.

Lyon have struggled for form in recent weeks in the French league, in their last three matches they have gained just one points after two defeats to Nantes and PSG and a draw against Valenciennes. Marseille have failed to take advantage of Lyon’s poor form and in the last four league matches they have themselves gained just five points.

In many ways this has been the story of French football in recent times, Lyon have undoubtedly been the best team in the league, but their title rivals have never taken advantage on the few occasions when they have slipped up.

Lyon coach Claude Puel has plenty of injury worries with defenders Francois Clerc, Anthony Reveillere and Mathieu Bodmer all out injured but can at least count on French striker Karim Benzema, who is fit again after nursing a sore thigh muscle. Benzema picked up an injury in the last two weeks but is expected to be fit after playing and scoring in the Champions League game against Bayern.

Marseille Striker, Mamadou Samassa, will be fit for the game after he received a blow to his head in the Champions League game against Atletico Madrid. Eric Gerets will be hoping his  attackers can take advantage of the players missing in the Lyon defence. OM will need big performances form Lyon old boy Hatem Ben Arfa and Bakary Kone if they are to win and set up an intriguing race for the title in the second half of the season.

101gg predicts: Lyon 2 – Marseille 2

Juventus v AC Milan, Serie A, December 14, 2008

Whenever these two giants meet, it is always a classic, and now, for the first time in many years it is also a Scudetto match, with both of these clubs chasing Inter Milan and deep in a title challenge.

The two best teams in Italy during the 1990’s have not had a showdown such as this in recent years, partly due to the Calciopoli scandal and because of AC Milan’s focus on European competition. Both teams are six points behind leaders Inter. The winner of this match will go into the winter break as the number one challengers to Jose Mourinho and co., a draw will be avoided by both sides.

Tactician Carlo Ancelotti has many problems ahead of the match-up. Gennaro Gattuso is Probably out for the rest of the season after a knee injury and Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf and Ronaldinho are doubts.

“We will recover several players over the course of the week and we really need them, especially in midfield, as otherwise we cannot try to be competitive against the Bianconeri,”  said Ancelotti, who is expected to play the same 4-3-1-2 formation he prefers to with a hard central midfield which includes three tireless midfielders and one player behind the two strikers. Another interesting aspect of the match is that Ancelotti, Gianluca Zambrotta, Cristian Abbiati and Emerson will all face up to their former club.

Juventus have their own injury worries. They will be without David Trezeguet, Tiago, Jonathan Zebina and Dario Knezevic, while Mauro Camoranesi might be fit in time to play, and if not Marco Marchioni will take his place on the right flank.

Alessandro Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta are expected to return after being rested for the last Serie Amatch against Lecce as a precautionary measure. Talented youngster Sebastian Giovinco will return to the bench after a week where he claimed his first Serie A goal and them missed a penalty in the Champions League.

Claudio Ranierri will continue with his classic 4-4-2 formation, with two hard working midfielders in the center of midfield, and two wingers and the dangerous pair of Amauri and Del Piero up front.

Forget the usual stereotypes of stifling Italian football; this is usually a high scoring game, with 114 goals for Juve and 89 goals for Milan in 73 top flight meetings.

101gg predicts: Juventus 1 – AC Milan 2