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