The Big Weekend Preview

After a breathless week of European football, we move on to the bread and butter of the league and whilst the title race could well include three teams by Saturday night the relegation battle look intriguing. Elsewhere Seattle will look to continue their 100% record in the MLS and there are derbies in Rome and Moscow.

Stoke v Newcastle, Premier League, April 11, 2009

Alan Shearer’s second game in charge of Newcastle is the definition of a six-pointer and is arguably the most important game for both club’s in recent years.

The bottom line for the troubled Toon is that if they lose at the Britannia, as the likes of Arsenal and Aston Villa have this season, they will be eight points behind their hosts with just six games remaining.

Shearer has rightly pointed out the qualities needed at Stoke, asking in his press conference: “We know what’s coming at us so can we handle it? Can we be organised enough? Can we be brave enough? Strong enough? Physical enough to handle what they throw at us?”

And there have to be grave doubts whether Newcastle can deal with the likes of James Beattie and Ryan Shawcross (18/1 to score the first goal) and Rory Delap’s famous throw-ins. Fabricio Coloccini was at fault for the first goal conceded to Chelsea last week and is thought to be unlikely to start at the Britannia and the likes of Habib Beye and Jose Enrique are players Stoke will feel they can “rough up.”

Stoke have real momentum and after starting the season as one of the favourites for the drop are now almost certainties to be playing Premier League football next season. They have lost just one game in six and are aiming to win three top flight matches for the first time in a quarter of a century and bag their first win over Newcastle in the top division for 35 years.

On paper, it is very difficult to see Newcastle bagging the all-important three points at Stoke, they just don’t have enough players who will relish the battle and heed the words of their new Messiah.

The Toon army will also be listening for news from the Riverside as Middlesbrough take on Hull in another six-pointer and if Sunderland pick up a result at home to Manchester United, this could be one of the most depressing days to be a Newcastle fan as they head down to the Championship.

101gg predicts: Stoke 2 – Newcastle 0 (10/1)

Full match odds here.

Lazio vs. Roma, Seria A, April 11, 2009

It’s been a while since The Bianccocelesti fans saw a win or at least a good performance from their team and the win at Napoli on March 8, 2009 was one of the last games in which they had anything to cheer about. Following a difficult period the game against hated rivals AS Roma could be the best way out of their dire form.

Senssio Rossi’s role for next season is now in doubt due to recent last results and the weak performances of the last three matches. The name of Sampdoria’s coach Walter Mazzari was mentioned as a possible replacement next summer, despite all those rumors Rossi will try to get his team to rise up to the occasion and show the good performances from the early days of the season and lift the fans and the president’s moral.

Rossi will likely start with his usual 4-3-1-2 formation with Zarate and team top scorer Tomasso Rocchi up front and the excellent attacking midfielder Mauri just behind them.

Lazio who are in ninth place in Serie A with 41 points will have to win this match, to leave them with a change of qualifying for next year’s Europa Cup.

Last week Roma needed two penalties to gain a narrow 2-1 victory over Bologna at the Stadio Olympico, for them it’s also a very crucial match as they bid for a Champions League position.

Luciano Spalleti will miss several players due to injuries (Vucinic, Taddei, Juan, Cicinho, Aquilani, Casseti) on the other hand he does have Simone Perrotta and the captain Franseco Totti back from injury who scored both penalties last week.

The Stadio Olympico will be packed on Saturday to host the 152nd clash between these two teams who will be desperate to win for their respective fans and their league positions.

101gg predicts: Lazio 1 – Roma 3 (18/1)

Full match odds here.

Seattle Sounders v Kansas City Wizards, MLS, April 11, 2009

New MLS franchise the Seattle Sounders could not have expected a better start to the 2009 MLS season. Three victories in three games combined with some terrific football has been an early warning sign that they could be one of the hottest sides in the MLS this season.

Seattle are blessed with some impressive youngsters, including Colombian striker Fredy Montero (21) who is already in goal scoring form and has been linked with several major European clubs. As well as the first overall pick of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, Steve Zakuani (also 21) who scored his first goal in the MLS last week against Toronto in their first away match winning 2-0.

“Well, we’re obviously pleased. It’s our first road win in the club’s history and we’re proud that we got another shutout,” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid said after the game.

Freddie Ljungberg, the former Arsenal star, also scored his first goal in MLS as well last week in Canada. Seattle’s designated player is recovering from a new-old hamstring injury but following his strike is expected to start this week.

Kansas have their own stars to get into shape, as Claudio “Piojo” Lopez scored his first this season in Kansas’s first win at San Jose and Santiago Hirsig, the former San Lorenzo midfielder, played his first game as a starter (playing a key part in controlling the game) after starting the first two games of the 2009 season as a substitute while regaining his fitness.

Wizards head coach, Curt Onalfo, said after their last game: “You can see what Santiago brings to our team. It brings a smile to my face because he has such an influence in the middle of the midfield.”

Seattle have yet to concede a goal, becoming the first team in MLS history not to let in a goal in its first three games. And there is great excitement for their fourth ever match, the Sounders have announced that Saturday night’s home match is sold out.

Therefore Qwest Field, Seattle’s home stadium, will be full with more than 30,000 fans that will meet 90 minutes before the match near the stadium on their traditional “March to the Match.”

101gg predicts: Seattle 2 – Kansas 1

MLS odds here.

CSKA Moscow v Lokomotiv Moscow, Russian Premier League, April 12, 2009

The forthcoming weekend in the Russian Premier League will witness an intriguing match as two of the most respectable clubs in Moscow as well as all of Russia will meet in a derby match at CSKA’s home ground, the “Luzhniki” Stadium.

Lokomotiv had a slow start of the season with only one win and two draws, giving the team five points and sixth place in the table. The “Loko” had a pretty low key transfer period as they decided to rely on last year’s squad and only improve it with a few signings to strengthen the weak points that coach Rashid Rakhimov felt needed improvement.

The most remarkable among them is the 19-year-old Senegalese striker Djiby Fall who came from Danish side OB Odense as a hot prospect who has been mentioned for a long time as an upcoming star. For now he is a backup to both talented strikers Dimitri Sychev and Peter Odemwingie as coach Rkhimov is very dedicated to his 4-4-2 formation. Slovakian defender Jan Durica is also a signing worth mentioning.

Lokomotiv will play their usual formation with both strikers mentioned up front, but the most efficient link of the team is the midfield with excellent players such as Russian international Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Croatian Tomislav Dujmovic and talented 22-year-old Denis Glushakov (in his second season at the club he has already scored two goals in three matches).

After their first win last week the Moscow side of Lokomotiv feel confident that they can maintain their winning streak.

CSKA Moscow have not had a good start to the season, after three weeks the team has only four points in eighth place and that’s not what new coach the Brazilian Zico had in mind. CSKA signed only two players in the pre-season, the most significant of them is 19-year-old Czech international Tomas Necid, who is an excellent signing and appears to be a great talent.

Zico will likely start with his usual 4-3-3 formation with a lone striker and two wingers on both flanks to assist him and three midfielders in the center of the park to control the pace of the game. There are many talented players at CSKA worth mentioning and there is no doubts that if they can put it all together they certainly have a squad to challenge Zenit at the top of the table.

The only question for Zico is who will start as the striker, either Vagner Love or Tomas Necid with the likelihood of the Brazilian to start higher. Milos Krasic or Daniel Carvalho will play on the right flank as Yuri Zhirkov will play on the left, in the middle will be schemer Alan Dzagoev in front of two defensive midfielders.

On paper CSKA appear to have the best coaching team and playing staff in the Russian Premier League and if Zico can gel it altogether they could be the best team in the league. The derby promises to showcase the improving quality of the Russian Premier League and with two great city rivals going head to head this should be worth watching.

101gg predicts: CSKA Moscow 2 – Lokomotiv Moscow 0 (6/1)

Match odds here.