The Big Weekend Preview

The “El Clasico” dominates this weekend with a mouthwatering clash that could change the destiny of the Spanish title this season. Newcastle travel to Anfield hoping to gain some points in what is looking like a doomed battle against the drop and there are some top of the table clashes in both France and Turkey.

Real Madrid v Barcelona, Primera Division, May 2, 2009

With Barcelona’s lead slowly chiselled down to four points after being 12 a couple of months ago, Saturday’s El Clasico against archrivals Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu becomes Spain’s most important match of the season.

A victory for the visitors and Barcelona can glide towards the title and grab some confidence ahead of the Champions League semi final return leg against Chelsea. If Real wins, everything is open ahead of the final games.

Real has outperformed Barcelona in terms of points in the second half of the season. Despite not playing such brilliant football as their great Catalan rivals, Juande Ramos’ side has been solid enough to catch up Barcelona despite the latter having one of the best collection of players in their history.

On Saturday the Los Blancos will have to play extremely tactical football in order to win; just as Chelsea did at the Camp Nou.

The most important role in this match will fall on the shoulders of Real’s defensive midfielders. If Lassana Diarra and Fernando Gago will be able to replicate Michael Ballack and John Mikel Obi’s success in stopping Barcelona’s passing game by hampering Andreas Iniesta and Xavi whenever possible, Real might have a good chance to win the game.

Lass is especially important. The French midfielder has legitimized the comparisons to Claude Makelele since his arrival in the winter with some excellent displays. His ability to control the pace of the game will be crucial on Saturday, trying to ease the pressure off of Real’s back four by endlessly pressing Barcelona’s midfielders and trying to control the ball as much as possible. Diarra is probably the only player at Real who can stop Xavi.

But even if the former Portsmouth midfielder doesn’t nullify the threat from Xavi, Iniesta can still cause a lot of harm to Real. If the whites fail to take the ball off his feet, Iker Casillas might have a very busy night.

If Gago marks Xavi, Iniesta might feel free enough to play his usual passing game in the center. However, if he will be under strong pressure as he was against Chelsea, Iniesta will have to drop deep to try and build the game from the back almost playing as a defender.

This game is set to be a true demonstration of Spanish football. Real will try to stop Barca’s passing game and will burst forward on to the attack whenever possible, while if Barcelona will be able to produce its usual game in the center of the park, it will create havoc in Casillas’ box.

Either way, it promises to be one of the best football matches of the season.

101gg predicts: Real Madrid 2 – Barcelona 3 (25/1)

Full match odds here.

Liverpool v Newcastle, Premier League, May 3, 2009

We have been witness to some classic games this season – three 4-4 draws stand out (Arsenal-Spurs, Chelsea-Liverpool and Liverpool-Arsenal) for drama and excitement but when it comes to the all-time see-saw classic, Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Newcastle at Anfield in April 1996 still takes the honours.

Much like this Sunday’s game, Newcastle travelled to Anfield with huge hope and expectation from the Toon Army and whilst the current side are a pale imitation of Keegan’s free-flowing team, this match holds just as much importance for the future of one of the biggest clubs in England.

Much has been made of Newcastle’s remaining home games and their importance but after drawing with Portsmouth last Monday night, it looks increasingly likely that Shearer’s side will have to gain some points from the clashes at Liverpool and Villa Park.

The simple truth appears to be that the latest “Messiah” at St James’ Park will take Newcastle into the Championship. Shearer’s Newcastle have scored just one goal in four games and picked up two points. With just four games remaining Newcastle look doomed.

On the flip side though, Sunderland and Hull are also struggling and if, and it’s a major “if,” the Toon could pick up some unexpected points and belief and confidence would flow back into the side.

Sadly, Liverpool are the form side in the Premier League and demolished Newcastle 5-1 in late February in a game that hastened the departure of Shay Given to Manchester City.

Steven Gerrard is expected to return and Steve Harper can expect a busy afternoon against a side who may have simply left their title challenge just a few weeks too late. Or to put it another way, drawn too many games at home against weak opposition earlier on in the season.

Funny things happen at the end of the season, the 4-3 of April 1996 would never have happened if both clubs hadn’t been so gung ho. Newcastle will likely start with Michael Owen again, who was earlier this week linked with a move to Everton, will this be the game that the former England marksman, without a goal since January, starts a famous “Great Escape?”

101gg predicts: Liverpool 3 – Newcastle 0 (7/1)

Full match odds here.

Olympique Marseille v Toulouse FC, Ligue 1, May 2, 2009

The French league is coming to a close and there is still much to play for at both the top and bottom of Ligue 1. OM, Bordeaux, Lyon and PSG will continue to fight over the French title whilst at the other end Sochaux, Nantes, Saint-Etienne Caen will struggle to avoid the dreaded drop.

OM took a major step to the title last week with a hard-fought victory over Lille and made major ground over PSG and Lyon who drew 0-0. This week OM will have to continue to prove that the title is on its way south in a contest against Toulouse at the Stade Vélodrome.

Marseille will have to be at their best to win this game, since Toulouse are a good side and are still themselves battling for a Champions League place. With five rounds remaining, they are only four points off third place.

A few days ago it was announced that Marseille coach, Erik Gerets, will not continue at the end of the season.”We have to respect his decision,” said OM captain, Lorik Cana, “and, above all else, win the title. That’s the most important thing.”

Midfielder Mathieu Valbuena says he owes a debt of gratitude to the Belgian. “He was the detonator behind my career. He gave me a tactical culture which I was lacking when I arrived at Marseille. There’s a winning culture here. I’ll keep my links with him, even when he’s gone, that’s for sure.”

Valbuena added: “We won’t give up. We’ll do everything in our power to become champions at the end of May. We owe that to our supporters and the coach. He wants to leave France with another title added to his honours board. There should be no worries about this affecting the players.”

Toulouse, 10 points behind their opponents, are not in the best form, in their last four matches they have dropped seven crucial points. Their last win away from home came in the middle of February.

“In the last three or four games, we haven’t played so well,” said defender, Mauro Cetto. “It’s the final sprint with five matches still to come. I hope my equalizer [against Lorient last week] means we’ll go to Marseille with ambitions of bringing home more than a point,” said the Argentinean.

Cetto who has scored three goals this season, fights for every ball in the center of the defence and he will have to be at his best to stop Marseille’s strikers Brandao (pictured) and Niang.

Toulouse will also need their best player of the season and the league’s top goal scorer, Andre-Pierre Gignac, back on track. The talented striker hasn’t scored in the last two matches, and will likely be hungry to add to his tally of 19 goals this season in the league.

The first game between these two sides ended goalless.

101gg predicts: Marseille 2 – Toulouse 1 (15/2)

Full match odds here.

Besiktas v Fenerbahce, Super Lig, May, 3, 2009

After the last round in the Turkish Super Lig, it is now clear that the title race will be between leaders Sivasspor and Besiktas, who are just one point behind. This weekend Besiktas will welcome archrival Fenerbahce to the İnönü Stadium.

As Fener have failed to win their last three league games, it may look like an easy fixture for Besiktas, but it will be anything but. “The fact that Fenerbahçe is out of contention does not change anything at all,” said Besiktas’s coach Mustafa Denizli. “It doesn’t make a difference to big teams if they are in the race or not. This is a 100-year-old rivalry.”

“I know it very well because I experienced it at all those clubs,” added Denizli, who is the only coach to have worked at all “big three” Turkish football clubs: Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and BeÅŸiktaÅŸ.

“We know that the real Fenerbahçe is not the one we saw Saturday,” said Denizli, referring to Fener’s 2-1 loss at home to Ankaragücü. “We just want to take full advantage of playing at Ä°nönü. If we want to make our way to the title, we have to do it.”

Besiktas will mainly rely on the power and versatility of Slovak international Filip Holosko (pictured), who is in sparkling form in recent weeks. Holosko has been mentioned this week as a possible summer target for English sides Tottenham and Liverpool, as well as French giants PSG.

This “Thierry Henry style” attacker is definitely the player to watch in this game as Fenerbahce’s shaky defence has looked very heavy-legged in recent weeks and Holosko has the ability to terrorize them in this match.

The biggest problem for Fenerbahce will not be Holosko and Besiktas’s firepower up front, but the absence of influential playmaker Alex. The Brazilian has already started training following his latest injury, but will not play. Deivid De Souza will continue to play in Alex’s position, but the recent games have shown that Deivid is much more of a striker than a playmaker.

Also defender Edu Dracena is still injured but right back Gökhan Gönül will return to the lineup. Even more importantly, midfielder Emre Belözoğlu is back from injury to try and help stabilize the team.

We should expect Besiktas to attack from the first minute trying to embarrass Fener’s defense. With the return of several players, Fenerbahce might be able to put up a good defensive show. This should be an exciting match with a lot of speed and many goals.

101gg predicts: Besiktas 3 – Fenerbahce 1 (12/1)

Full match odds here.