There aren’t many weekends when Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund wouldn’t get top billing, but on Sunday afternoon the Premier League title is on the line as Liverpool host Manchester City. Victory for Jurgen Klopp’s team would open up an unassailable nine-point gape, whereas defeat would make Pep Guardiola’s side favourites to lift the title. It will be a truly decisive 90 minutes.
To return to Germany, Der Klassiker comes at a crucial juncture in the Bundesliga season. Bayern have just sacked Niko Kovac, meaning they should be re-energised for the biggest game of the year.
Liverpool v Manchester City
This is usually one of the highlights of the season, but it is more than likely the six-pointer at Anfield on Sunday will not generate many goals. Not only are both sides well organised and high pressing, leading to a very congested midfield battle, but Liverpool are more conservative in their attacking approach these days, while Man City will be very cautious not to leave their error-prone centre-backs facing the rapid Liverpool front three.
Overall the game favours Liverpool, who have been marginally more fluid than the visitors over the last fortnight, holding a key advantage in the final third. City’s centre-backs can be attacked all-too-easily, while the full-backs aren’t much better. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have the directness to break through and win the match for Liverpool.
Leicester City v Arsenal
These teams could hardly be in a more different state emotionally and tactically. Leicester are organised, consistent, and confident, whereas Arsenal continue to meander woefully on the road, with Unai Emery’s bizarre tactical decisions frequently letting them down. Surely Brendan Rodgers’ side will pick up the three points on Saturday evening.
James Maddison and Youri Tielemans can dominate midfield; their quick vertical passing exposing a disorganised Arsenal defence and allowing Jamie Vardy to go through on goal. Out wide, Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez should out-battle the Gunners full-backs. Leicester have only dropped two points at home. Arsenal have dropped ten away.
Juventus v AC Milan
The title race is definitely on in Serie A. Even if Juventus are currently top of the table, Maurizio Sarri’s side haven’t won a game by more than one goal since the very beginning of October, reflecting their stuttering form at the moment. A 1-0 win at Torino, in which Matthijs De Ligt scored in the 70th minute, was the sort of nervy game that AC Milan could capitalise on.
Stefano Piolo, however, has endured a tough time since joining Milan on October 9, winning just one of his four matches so far. Their only away game under Piolo was a 2-1 defeat at AS Roma in which they were allowed to dominate the ball. With Juve hogging possession in Turin, AC Milan don’t stand much chance of ending their poor form.
Barcelona v Celta de Vigo
A 3-1 defeat at Levante has re-exposed some fatal flaws at Barcelona and plunged Ernesto Valverde back into trouble as Real Madrid closed the gap to zero points last weekend. Barca will anticipate an easy win at Nou Camp this weekend, and yet given they only mustered nine shots at Levante – with a Lionel Messi penalty their only big chance – it is possible a defensive Celta Vigo will sit deep and frustrate them.
But probably not. Celta have lost four in a row in La Liga, scoring just once in that time to leave them in the bottom three. Their complete lack of a goal threat means Barcelona can stay camped in the Celta half and, with patience, find the gaps to exploit.
Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund
This could be the defining moment in the Bundesliga title race. Niko Kovac was finally sacked on Monday following a shocking 5-1 defeat at Frankfurt that left last year’s champions three points off the top of the table. With the quality in that squad, a manager bounce could lift them back to the summit… as long as they don’t lose to Dortmund this weekend.
Dortmund have stumbled at exactly the wrong moment, failing to capitalise on Bayern’s problems with a litany of draws; four in their last six in the league. Lucien Favre’s side just aren’t fluid going forward, looking leggy and a bit aimless on the road. Consequently, a rejuvenated Bayern, released from the negative atmosphere around Kovac, will probably have the psychological advantage to secure the three points.
Olympique Marseille v Olympique Lyon
Marseille have made an excellent start to the season and continue to push for a Champions League place, with their home form looking particularly strong. They leap-frogged Lille with a 2-1 win last time out, extending an unbeaten sequence at the Stade Veledrome to five. They are firm favourites, then, to dispatch of struggling Lyon.
Rudi Garcia is clinging onto his job after a 3-2 win over Toulouse last weekend, and Lyon will take great confidence from Moussa Dembele and Memphis Depay getting on the score sheet as strikers in a 4-4-2. These two will struggle against a mean Marseille defence, although it would be surprising if the hosts kept a clean sheet.
*Odds subject to change
It is safe to say there will be a genuine title battle in at least four of Europe’s top five competitions this season, which is a welcome break from recent monopolisation of league soccer in England, Germany, Italy and Spain.
It means that every weekend has intriguing, tense contests that could prove important in the wider narrative, with this week’s top fixtures including the Turin derby, where Juventus could lose ground against a defensive Torino, and a battle between Sevilla and Atletico Madrid as both attempt to move within touching distance of the summit of La Liga.
In the Premier League there are no Big Six clashes, although Everton versus Tottenham promises to be a fun – and error-filled – game on Sunday, 24 hours after Liverpool and Manchester City secure easy wins at the top.
Aston Villa v Liverpool
Villa’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester City last weekend showcased their inability to defend in a compressed shape this season, with Dean Smith’s very attacking system leaving far too many gaps in their own third. That is even truer on home soil, and so Liverpool ought to breeze through this contest at Villa Park.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have been restricted in space during their last three league games, but, like Genk, Villa’s full-backs are not very strong defensively. Both Matt Targett and Frederick Guilbert couldn’t handle the City attacks on Saturday, and, what’s more, Villa’s main threats - in the form of Jack Grealish and John McGinn - play in central areas, where Liverpool are strongest defensively.
Everton v Tottenham Hotspur
Everton are a real Jekyll and Hyde team this season, and yet Tom Davies’ high energy possession helped create more urgency in their most recent match at Goodison Park, leading to a confident and fast-paced performance against West Ham. If they can repeat that display, then an increasingly jaded Spurs can definitely be beaten.
Liverpool were dominant in a 2-1 win at the weekend, reducing Spurs to sitting deep in their own half for extended periods. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have lost all their hard pressing, while their creative players - Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli - are struggling for form.
On the other hand, Everton’s calamitous defending of late means we will probably get a low quality but entertaining match with space and goals at both ends.
Torino v Juventus
The Turin derby looks like a banana skin fixture for the current league leaders who, with Inter Milan breathing down their necks, may find themselves knocked off their perch by the end of the weekend. A 1-1 draw at Lecce revealed some frailties last weekend, while Torino have enjoyed some strong home results as of late.
Their 0-0 draw with Napoli was defined by resolute backs-to-the-wall defending, which will undoubtedly be the tactic when Juve visit on Saturday, whilst their 2-1 win against AC Milan was made possible through deploying a solid 5-3-2 formation and keeping the forwards quiet. Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala may well be frustrated here, for long periods at least.
Sevilla v Atletico Madrid
Things will have changed after the midweek round of matches, but, as it stands, the top seven places in La Liga are separated by a mere three points. As Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to stutter, 2019/20 is a huge chance for sides like Sevilla and Atletico to cause a shock.
However, Diego Simeone’s problem is an inability to find goals without Antoine Griezmann, leading to a succession of recent draws, and indeed it should be another two points dropped on Saturday.
Sevilla have a patchy home record but have now won three of their last four league games, twice keeping clean sheets. In short, two sturdy defences will likely keep each other quiet, particularly when tension is high and neither team can afford to lose.
Borussia Dortmund v VfL Wolfsburg
Neither of these teams are in particularly strong form at the moment, making this clash a crucial one. Dortmund dropped points last weekend, missing the chance to close the gap at the top of the Bundesliga, while Wolfsburg’s goals have dried up.
Although eight of the last ten league matches involving these two sides have ended in a draw, there should be goals in this one regardless.
Dortmund’s attacking prowess is well documented and under Lucien Favre their possession style can hurt a Wolfsburg side who conceded twice against lowly Gent last week. However, the visitors are powerful on the break, meaning this should become a stretched contest with chances at either end.
Girondins de Bordeaux v Nantes
After such a strong start to the season Nantes have now lost two in a row, failing to score in either, and find themselves on the verge of slipping down the table as PSG pull eight points clear. That’s why this is such a big game for them, and while it won’t be a classic – each of Nantes’ victories have finished at just 1-0 – they should get the points they need at Bordeaux.
The home side have the joint worst home record in the division, winning just once and collecting five points from five games. Their possession-centric game leaves them far too open to the counter-attack, hence a 3-0 defeat to Lille last weekend - who, until that point, were on a three-match winless streak. Nantes should break well enough to grab a narrow win.
*Odds subject to change
After last weekend's dull round of Premier League fixtures that gave us only seventeen goals in nine matches, there are plenty of upcoming games that should provide much more action on the pitch.
Liverpool v Tottenham is the highlight as both clubs look to recover from previous poor performances, although Burnley v Chelsea and Norwich v Manchester United may provide more interesting results. Elsewhere in Europe, we can expect goals in big matches in Germany and Italy, although Spain is underwhelming this week following the postponement of El Clásico.
Here are six previews for games across Europe:
Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool have lacked creativity for several weeks now; their workmanlike central midfield struggling to create chances against narrow defences that look to suffocate the front three. Tottenham, meanwhile, are bereft of confidence and look incapable of getting out of their current rut. This won’t be a high-quality game, then, although both teams will benefit from attacking into bigger spaces than in recent weeks.
Spurs won’t sit deep, meaning Roberto Firmino can get on the ball frequently around those flat-footed Spurs defenders and create chances for Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. At the other end, Harry Kane and Dele Alli can combine to get behind the high Liverpool back line, plus Heung-Min Son will use his pace to exploit the space behind Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Norwich City v Manchester United
This one could go the same way as Norwich’s 3-2 victory over Manchester City earlier this season. The hosts are superb at playing out from the back, and their neat triangles up the pitch are bound to work against such a poor United midfield. Teemu Pukki should be able to get on the end of Todd Cantwell’s through balls, too, although a United win is still more likely.
Norwich are far too wide when out of possession, which is why teams consistently break through the lines with ease. Marcus Rashford looked sharp at the weekend, and with Paul Pogba also set to return, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team will attack in numbers – meaning at least two or three goals for the visitors. Norwich are just too open at Carrow Road.
AS Roma v AC Milan
Paulo Fonseca has endured a difficult start to life as Roma manager, winning just one of his first four home games in Serie A and conceding eight goals in the process. Their matches at the Olimpico are chaotic, meaning we could see an open game this weekend that potentially favours the visitors, who have a whole lot of of pace in their attack.
However, AC Milan are not in the best form themselves, while, remarkably, they have been handed six red cards in their last eight matches in all competitions. The safest bet for this match, then, is an end-to-end match with lots of drama and plenty of goals.
Schalke 04 v Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund are stuttering badly at a time when Bayern Munich’s poor form hands them the perfect opportunity to win the Bundesliga. Instead, nobody can find consistency and the top nine places in the division are separated by a mere two points. One of the teams in the mix is Schalke, although they’ve now gone two in a row without a win. As in Italy, there is a good chance that these two error-prone and attack-minded teams will produce an entertaining contest.
Lucien Favre’s side have struggled on the road, and yet Schalke’s narrow diamond 4-4-2 may leave spaces out wide for Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi to exploit. At the other end, Amine Harit’s strong start from midfield could split open a weak Dortmund defence.
PSG v Marseille
PSG are on a four match winning streak and have scored four goals in each of their last two games, with the return of Kylian Mbappe surely helping to fire the French champions five points clear at the top of the table. Marseille, however, are a considerably bigger challenge than either Angers or Niece, even if their away form – eight points from five games – leaves a lot to be desired.
Marseille are consistently getting caught on the break because of their expansive tactics, losing 3-1 at Amiens despite holding 68% possession. Consequently, their cause will be helped by the fact PSG will keep the ball, forcing Marseille into a deeper and sturdier defensive shape. The hosts should win in the end, but it will be tighter than expected.
Burnley v Chelsea
Chelsea’s defensive record is quietly improving under Frank Lampard, who has enjoyed three consecutive league wins to lift the club to within two points of Manchester City. Jorginho looks a much better player than last season, plus the introduction of Callum Hudson-Odoi last weekend gave Chelsea a directness in attack that helped break through a stubborn Newcastle defence.
Burnley will create a similar problem for Chelsea, which means this will be a low scoring game whatever the outcome. Given Mason Mount’s good performances, Chelsea should be able to take all three points; with their fast attacking football well-suited to playing away from home, where more space is afforded.
*Odds subject to change
Club football returns across Europe this weekend following the international break, with the Premier League set for a potentially defining weekend. Crystal Palace have a genuine chance of taking points against Manchester City, all but ending the current champions’ chances of toppling Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s side travel to Manchester United on Sunday with expectations they will comfortably beat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, with a win at Old Trafford amounting to a huge psychological step towards the title.
Here are six previews of games from around the continent:
Manchester United v Liverpool
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t have long left in the job. His record in charge of Man Utd is abysmal and the club’s injuries have only added to the sense of tactical cluelessness. United’s defence isn’t bad, but their heads will quickly drop if Liverpool score an early goal, and the visitors should genuinely be able to win by three of four clear goals this weekend.
The Red’s front three are looking sharper than ever, and that means too much work for the United full-backs, neither of whom receive enough support from the midfield. The most likely pattern of this one is a low-tempo slog, but eventually United will cave and the visitors will be able to rack up the goals late in the day.
Crystal Palace v Manchester City
This is a potential banana skin fixture for Manchester City, who lost to Crystal Palace last season. Roy Hodgson’s side are riding high, their deep-lying 4-5-1 the perfect way to nullify City by reducing them to aimless possession 40 yards from goal, while Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew in attack can counter successfully against a dreadful centre-back partnership of Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho.
However, Kevin de Bruyne returns from injury for this one, meaning the Palace defence will be stretched to its limits by his outstanding distribution; City will score at least once in this match, which means it would take a perfect performance from the hosts to deny the champions. Then again, with City feeling the heat of an eight-point gap to Liverpool, nerves may further derail the fluency of their passing. Stranger things have happened.
SS Lazio v Atalanta BC
The biggest game in Italy this weekend is a meeting between two Champions League hopefuls, and given that Juventus, Inter Milan, and Napoli are so strong - only one of the two sides will make it come May. It may well come down to this very head-to-head, in which Atalanta should be considered favourites thanks to their recent 2-0 win against Roma in this very stadium.
Atalanta’s organisation and tactical complexity makes them excellent on the road (four wins from four so far), while their 3-5-2 formation will exactly mirror Lazio’s 3-5-2 this weekend. When two uncommon formations match, the game tends to be slow and methodical, with few clear cut opportunities. That favours the ruthlessly disciplined away side.
Atlético Madrid v Valencia CF
Diego Simeone’s side are blowing a rare opportunity, winning just half of their La Liga matches so far in a year when the traditional big two are stumbling. The visit of Valencia, on a four-match unbeaten run, is a chance to lay down a marker for the season. Atlético really ought to win – if only they can finally start scoring without Antoine Griezmann.
Simeone is struggling to find the right role for Joao Felix, shunted out to the left wing most recently in another 0-0 draw. Atléti have now gone five in a row without conceding a single goal, but with Felix not settling and both Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata out of form, they may draw another blank on Saturday.
Borussia Dortmund v Borussia Mönchengladbach
This could be one of the games of the season in the Bundesliga. Dortmund’s stuttering start to the campaign has been characterised by conceding too many soft goals, but their home form remains very strong. Dortmund will expect to score at least twice against the league leaders, and yet Mönchengladbach have a 100% away record. Something has to give.
Both teams prioritise fast attacking football, which means we will most likely see an end-to-end contest. Dortmund’s defensive lapses mean the pace of the Mönchengladbach counters will lead to at least one goal, while the hosts’ own creative power on home soil has led to 11 goals scored in just three games. The result could swing either way, but we are virtually guaranteed goals.
OGC Nice v PSG
On paper this in an easy game for PSG to continue their revival following consecutive Ligue Un wins, but there is reason for the home side to be cautiously optimistic. There is a good chance that both Neymar and Kylian Mbappe will be out injured, and both of the matches PSG have lost so far this season have been when one of these two were absent.
More importantly, Nice’s desire to dominate possession tends to work against them, explaining their poor league record so far. In a 3-1 defeat at AS Monaco, for example, they held more than 60% of the ball and were caught on the break. PSG’s technical superiority means they will force Nice into a deeper and more disciplined shape, helping the Nice players stay organised – and giving the likes of Kasper Dolberg ample opportunity to find space on the break.
*Odds subject to change
The Premier League fixtures aren’t too inspiring this weekend – dig beneath the surface and Liverpool and Manchester City should easily beat their supposedly strong opponents Leicester City and Wolves – but elsewhere in Europe we have some exciting top of the table clashes.
The standout match is undoubtedly Inter Milan v Juventus. Antonio Conte has the chance to go five points clear at the top of Serie A with a win against his old club, and based on recent performances the hosts should do it.
Here are six previews and betting tips for the weekend’s biggest games:
Liverpool v Leicester City
This could be the day that Liverpool’s 100% record ends as Brendan Rodgers returns to Anfield as manager for the first time. Leicester’s 5-0 win against Newcastle exemplified everything he is doing right at the club; sharp vertical passing, aggressive full-backs, and direct possession football. However, their meek 1-0 defeat at Manchester United and similarly timid display at Chelsea indicate Jurgen Klopp’s side will win.
Rodgers is his own worst enemy in games like this: by playing three central midfielders and sacrificing a winger, he shows that he doesn’t trust his players to dominate the ball and play attacking football against the big six, leading to flat performances. Liverpool’s insatiable appetite recently means they will outmuscle and outscore any team who doesn’t go all in at Anfield.
Manchester City v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves last season were just the sort of team to keep a clean sheet against Man City; their deep-lying 3-5-2 limiting space in the inside channels for City’s wingers and their brilliant central midfield pair of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves intelligent enough to block the passing lanes into David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne.
But not anymore. Wolves look jaded from Europa League competition and will again be tired on Sunday after a trip to Besiktas, meaning they won’t have the energy levels to shuffle across and cope with City’s explosive energy. De Bruyne’s runs down the right wing are wreaking havoc – and Jonny is not going to be able to stop the Belgian.
Inter Milan v Juventus FC
Could this be the year that Juventus are finally toppled? They might have only dropped a single point but all is not well for Max Allegri, who faces increasing accusations of playing negative football. And Juve’s lack of goals this season suggests the fans have a point. As unrest builds, Inter Milan are flying under Antonio Conte, whose 100% start in Serie A draws parallels with his brilliant debut season in English football with Chelsea.
The two go head-to-head on Saturday in a potentially campaign-defining clash. Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal against SPAL tells us he is still in the mood, but this match is likely to follow the suffocating pattern of Fiorentina’s 0-0 against Juve. Conte teams are excellent at frustrating their opponents and battling hard for points, while Allegri’s side have taken to ambling somewhat through matches. Juve will at least drop a point.
Barcelona FC v Sevilla FC
There is a serious crisis just around the corner for Barcelona. Ernesto Valverde’s tactics are aimless and the club is drifting into mediocrity, largely because their midfield is unsettled and ageing while far too much of their attack is filtered through Lionel Messi. Gone are the days of high-tempo possession football; Barca now drift around, meaning a ruthless team like Sevilla can win.
Whilst Barcelona remain imperious at the Nou Camp, winning all of their league games this season, Sevilla top the charts on away form (three wins from four). Lucas Ocampos has come of age, and the right winger could cause serious damage in the spaces behind Jordi Alba as Sevilla counter.
SC Freiburg v Borussia Dortmund
Nobody expected Freiburg to be two points above Dortmund after six rounds of Bundesliga matches, but consecutive draws have put a huge dent in Lucien Favre’s plans to win the title this year. The hosts will be full of confidence, then, although Freiburg have actually performed considerably better away from home this season because their reactive tactics are well suited to playing on the back foot.
Dortmund have conceded twice in each of their last two, and yet their goalscoring potential is such that Freiburg will be seriously worried. Jadon Sancho has started the campaign brilliantly (three goals and four assists) while Thorgan Hazard has started life at Dortmund very well. The pace of these two coming from either flank is surely too much for a Freiburg team that only have four points from three home games so far.
PSG v Angers SCO
Paris Saint-Germain have suffered a troubled beginning to the 2019/20 Ligue Un campaign as rumours that Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are unhappy rumble on, and a 1-0 win last weekend has done little to assuage the nervousness among Parisians. The visit of Angers, the dark horses this season who sit just two points adrift of PSG, will be greeted with grave concern.
Angers are a pure counter-attacking side averaging just 46% possession so far this season, meaning they will happily sit deep and hit their hosts on the break. PSG are struggling for goals – just three in their last four league games – and so Angers’ frustration tactics could work superbly. Expect a low-scoring game as the bitterness inside the PSG dressing room once again affects their performance. Angers might just be top on Saturday evening.
*Odds subject to change