This could be a huge weekend in title battles across Europe. The Premier League already looks settled, but in Italy Inter Milan may have the chance to pull further away from Juventus – who face the difficult task of a trip to Lazio – and in Germany the leaders Borussia Monchengladbach play champions Bayern Munich.
With Liverpool top in England and Real Madrid going strong in Spain, by Monday morning all of Europe’s top four leagues could be headed up by clubs tipped as outsiders at the beginning of the campaign.
Manchester City v Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side remain a dreadful team, devoid of creative ideas and without any notable direction. They are only ever threatening when opponents overestimate them and play the badge rather than the mid-table players, which is something Man City certainly won’t do. Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva should be able to walk through United’s struggling midfield, for example.
Furthermore, City remain very strong at home while Man Utd have only won once on their travels at Norwich City. The gulf in quality between the two sides should make this an embarrassingly one-sided derby for Solskjaer. It might also be the catalyst for a change in management.
West Ham United v Arsenal
Manuel Pellegrini has not enjoyed a good season at West Ham but it is important to note that the club generally perform well when allowed to sit deep, dig in, and then spring forward on the counter-attack. That’s how they beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, and it’s the sort of resolute tactical style that can find success against a hesitant Arsenal.
Freddie Ljungberg’s start to life as interim manager has not been good. From picking underperforming players, to using unnecessarily attacking tactics, Arsenal are even more open and incapable of defending breaks than they were under Unai Emery. West Ham should be able to expose their rivals’ flaws.
Inter Milan v AS Roma
Inter have gone back to the summit of the Serie A table and Antonio Conte, a serial winner in Italy, looks like he might have instantly found a winning formula once again, just as he did as Chelsea manager. His 3-5-2, a tweak on his usual approach, has been brilliant this season with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez an unstoppable force; the latter scored twice last weekend, taking their combined tally to 18 in 14 games.
But Roma travel to Milan on the back of successive wins, sitting three points clear in their Champions League group too. This won’t be an easy home win, although given Inter’s form this season it seems unlikely Paulo Fonseca’s team can stand up to the steamroller.
Lazio v Juventus
Not many people are yet talking about Lazio as serious challengers to this ailing Juve team or Conte’s Inter, but should Simone Inzaghi beat the champions – extending their run to seven successive wins – surely people will start to take notice. Their piercing 3-5-2 is working wonders, and Juve, lacking confidence, look vulnerable to Lazio’s tactics.
A 2-2 draw with Sassuolo highlighted many of the issues at Juve. They just haven’t taken to Maurizio Sarri’s football, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain not working hard enough as a front two for such complex aesthetic football. It increasingly seems like a bad fit, and – looking static off the ball – Juve may be blown away by the fierce energy of this Lazio team.
Borussia Monchengladbach v Bayern Munich
Yet another damaging defeat - this time 2-1 at home to Bayer Leverkusen - has deepened the crisis at Bayern Munich. This could be the year a different club wins the Bundesliga, and current table toppers Monchengladbach are the favourites. Their last five home games in the league definitely suggests it could happen, and beating Bayern this weekend would certainly change the narrative in Germany.
Last year’s champions were poor last weekend primarily because they were forced to hold over 70% possession in front of a very deep defence, and with confidence low they don’t have the playmakers to unlock teams like that at the moment. Monchengladbach certainly won’t copy that model – only the bottom four have conceded more than their 10 – and so this will be an open game with plenty of goals.
Montpellier v PSG
Montpellier are still pushing for a place in next season’s Champions League, thanks to a five-match unbeaten run that could make Paris Saint-Germain nervous. More importantly, their home form in Ligue Un is bettered only by Lille and Angers, with six wins from eight makes this weekend’s clash an intriguing one.
PSG’s defeat to Dijon at the beginning of last month still hangs over them, being their second away defeat in the league this season. However, Montpellier’s desire to play attractive football will open the game up, creating extra space for the likes of Kylian Mbappe to win the game.
*Odds subject to change
On a weekend that lacks inspiring fixtures across the continent, Atletico Madrid’s game against Barcelona stands out: only three points separate the top four in La Liga, and with Ernesto Valverde clearly struggling at Barca this could be the moment Diego Simeone’s title challenge finally kicks off.
In the Premier League there are no ‘big six’ clashes, although Aston Villa have every chance of causing a shock against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Newcastle United v Manchester City
It isn’t hard to predict the pattern of this match. Steve Bruce’s Newcastle are notoriously defensive, sitting back and hoping to pinch a goal on the counter-attack even against an Aston Villa side that had lost three in a row and sat below them in the table. For this game against Man City, they will hope to frustrate in a deep block, with Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin tasked with dribbling forward.
It surely won’t work. Man City aren’t quite in their full flow and are without Sergio Aguero, but with Kevin de Bruyne’s crossing from the right, Pep Guardiola’s side will eventually make the breakthrough – even if Newcastle manage to hold out at 0-0 for a long time.
Manchester United v Aston Villa
Dean Smith’s Villa have been winning on the 80 minute mark at Tottenham and Arsenal this season, as well as holding Man City to 0-0 until half-time at the Etihad. Their bold possession approach, coupled with their energetic midfield three, make them very difficult to play against – and so a struggling Man Utd with no fluency in midfield can be beaten on Sunday.
United scored three late goals against Sheffield United, and indeed the biggest danger for Villa is once again nervously dropping deep as the clock winds down. Surely by now, however, Smith has found ways to adapt and ensure Villa do not repeat this habit. Douglas Luiz, Jack Grealish, and John McGinn simply make up a more elegant and dynamic midfield than anything United have to offer.
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona
It is remarkable that Atletico Madrid are still only three points off the top of La Liga despite winning just one of their last four matches in the competition. The other three were all 1-1 draws, which is an all-too common score line for a team who simply cannot create chances without Antoine Griezmann. Diego Simeone’s defence remains strong, but his methods need a spark in the final third - and that is exactly what he is now lacking.
Of course, against Barcelona this isn’t such a problem. Simeone has years of experience grinding out results against this team; his complex pressing system forcing Barca into wide positions and frustrating them successfully.
There certainly won’t be many goals in this one, and given that Griezmann will get a toxic reception, the visitors will struggle to find the rhythm they require to break through Atletico.
Deportivo Alaves Sad v Real Madrid
Alaves have won 10 points from their last four home matches in La Liga while Real Madrid have only won four points from their last three on the road. This, however, is by no means a foregone conclusion: Real have been in excellent form more recently thanks to Karim Benzema’s glut of goals, and a recent 4-0 win at Eibar shows Zinedine Zidane may be on the verge of sorting out Real’s away form.
Then again, Alaves are experts at sitting back, absorbing pressure, and frustrating big clubs. They average just 44% possession, the lowest in La Liga, and that will worry Zidane. A 0-0 draw with Real Betis and a 1-0 loss at Mallorca saw Real hold 63% of the ball. This will be low scoring, then, but with Benzema paying well and Eden Hazard starting to loosen up, Real will ultimately have enough to win three points.
Bayern Munich v Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Such is the extraordinary nature of this season’s Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen – all the way down in ninth – are just six points off the top of the table. Bayern Munich have won three in a row without conceding since their shocking 5-1 defeat to Frankfurt, but the scars of that day are still there… and Leverkusen’s strong away record ensures this is by no means an easy win for Hans-Dieter Flick’s side.
These two teams both try to dominate possession, holding on average more than 65% in the Bundesliga, and that should play into the hands of the hosts. Bayern’s superior quality - plus their home advantage - means they will benefit from this being an expansive match with lots of space in midfield to spread the ball across the pitch.
AS Monaco v PSG
AS Monaco have now won five home matches in a row in all competitions thanks to their recent switch to a 3-4-1-2 formation, which has given Leonardo Jardim greater attacking threat – particularly because Aleksandr Golovin is now in a number ten role with plenty of creative players around him. That should trouble a Paris Saint-Germain midfield that is too stocked with attacking players to cope with Jardim’s quick counter-attacks through Golovin.
However, Monaco have scarcely improved defensively through this period, keeping just two clean sheets in the last ten games. PSG, led by Neymar, will surely find holes in a defence that has looked weak throughout the season. There will be goals at both ends, but it’s hard to look beyond PSG for another win to extend their lead at the top.
*Odds subject to change
The game of the weekend is at the Etihad where Manchester City desperately need to take three points against Chelsea. Frank Lampard’s side will no doubt ensure this is an entertaining 90 minutes, and yet what City fans really need is a boring routine win. A nervous display, let alone dropped points, could be enough to settle this year’s Premier League title race.
Here are six previews of matches from across Europe:
Manchester City v Chelsea
This is without a doubt the biggest game of Man City’s season. If they win, order is restored and City can be confident of closing the gap to Liverpool during the latter’s congested run of games in December, but if they lose or draw the title is surely over. And unfortunately for Pep Guardiola, it feels like that shaky defence is highly vulnerable to a gung-ho Chelsea attack.
Frank Lampard preaches constant vertical passing, with piercingly direct football encouraged to race into the final third of the pitch. Combined with a high press and youthful energy, it is exactly the sort of football that will force errors from City’s back four. However, Chelsea continue to struggle in the transitions, particularly late on, so there should be goals at both ends here.
West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur
Two of the Premier League’s most under-performing clubs go head-to-head on Saturday, which tends to mean low quality football and few goals. The hosts are clumsy and disorganised, with Manuel Pellegrini’s confused football leading to their current six-match winless run. However, they are in the stronger position this weekend because they will be forced back into a rigid defensive shape.
That tactical simplification piles the pressure on Spurs, a team who are constantly struggling to create chances against deep-lying opponents. Mauricio Pochettino’s side just don’t press as hard as they used to, and without good attacking full-backs are easily nullified through the middle of the park. Tottenham will be frustrated again.
Atalanta B.C. v Juventus
Their form might have faltered recently (no wins in three), but Atalanta will be up for this game and should be capable of playing the sort of slick aesthetic football that can trouble stuttering Juventus. Maurizio Sarri’s side are looking a bit chaotic and are not particularly taking to their new manager’s methods despite an unbeaten start in Serie A. They have scored a meagre eight goals in their last six matches.
Atalanta can stump the champions, even if their home record is currently one of the league’s worst. A 1-1 draw at home to Man City this month in the Champions League proved their acumen, that 3-5-2 formation cleverly reducing Pep Guardiola’s team to 10 shots. A similar approach deployed against Juve can win another draw.
Real Madrid v Real Sociedad
Zinedine Zidane’s side appear to be finding some form at last, scoring five, six, and four goals in three of their last four matches. Karim Benzema’s superb performances are making the difference in the penalty box, and yet overall Real’s results remain poor - meaning they could struggle to overcome a high-flying Real Sociedad at the Bernabeu.
Then again, Real Madrid are unbeaten on home soil this season. Teams are still intimidated when travelling there, which makes Madrid firm favourites for Saturday’s game despite Sociedad topping the charts on away form in La Liga. The best bet is a high-scoring game for two reasons: both clubs average close to three goals per game in the league, whilst Madrid’s defence problems and Sociedad’s fierce attack suggest an end-to-end contest.
Union Berlin v Borussia Monchengladbach
With three wins in their last four games, newcomers Union Berlin are one of the surprises of the season, currently sitting above rivals Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga. But that’s nothing compared with the surprise at the top; Monchengladbach are four points clear, and consequently need a win this weekend to strengthen their title credentials.
Union have won three in a row at home without conceding a single goal, proving they have a sturdy defence when sitting back and conceding territory. This will be a slog for the visitors, then, but overall they should have enough to edge a low-scoring game, having netted in all but three of their matches in the 2019/20 season.
PSG v Lille OSC
PSG are running away with the title even with a relatively poor start to the season, losing three of their 13 games. That’s why Lille, in fifth, could pick up points in the capital despite a poor away record in Ligue Un this season. They have collected just two points so far and sit 19th in the table for form on the road.
Part of Lille’s problem is that they like to dominate possession (53.6% average), and when playing away they are unable to do this easily. However, with so much pace on the counter-attack they should be able to cause some issues on Friday. After all, PSG are currently having to play without Neymar - and lost at home to Rennes earlier this season when several star players were missing.
*Odds subject to change
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