The latest feature (the first of many new ones on this website) is our way of getting football enthusiasts excited for the weekend. “Top 5 this Weekend” provides you with a list of things you can look forward to this weekend, thus assisting you in helping your football viewing. This feature will be published every Friday, looking ahead to all the football action on the weekend, with a slight tactical tinge. No more boring previews, no more pointless Friday articles, “Top 5 this Weekend” will satisfy your Friday football reading needs.
Chelsea welcome United
Sunday will see a clash between two of the Premier Leagues big names, as Manchester United make the journey to London to take on Mourinho’s Chelsea. United come into the game on the back of a solid win against Swansea last weekend, but prior to that, they had suffered 3 defeats in a row, and have generally been quite unconvincing. Chelsea on the other hand, have started to pick up their form and are looking dangerous. Since the defeat at Sunderland, the Blues have conceded just once, with some defensive control returning to the team.
The game will be interesting for two things. Some of United’s recent victories over Chelsea have come after the champions have used cut backs and wide areas very effectively. Last season, they picked up 3 points in this fixture with narrow 2-3 victory in a game marred by controversy. Their best player that day was Robin van Persie, who scored one and basically forced Luiz’s own goal. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, the Dutchman is expected to miss the game, and their talisman Wayne Rooney is also out. Their wing play this season hasn’t been particularly impressive either, the game against Tottenham (analysis here) representing a real low for Antonio Valencia. With the Chelsea defence looking strong too, United will have their work cut out if they want to pick up the three points and end Jose’s enviable record at the Bridge.
The other aspect is the midfield battle. That’s another area where United have been weak. Even with Fellaini, the player who was brought in to add steel to that area of the park, they struggled in the defeat to Everton (analysis here). The return of Darren Fletcher will obviously help, but it may not be enough. Chelsea themselves have had trouble in midfield this season. The promising van Ginkel has been sidelined, and this has left Mourinho with a paucity of options here. Essien hasn’t been up to the mark, and Mikel, Lampard and Ramires have had to hold the fort. This weekend, Lampard is injured, which could mean that the Blues go in with Mikel and Ramires, a combination that often turns too defensive because neither is really a good forward passer, or we could see the second debut of Nemanja Matic.
In what seemed to be a difficult area of the park, Mourinho has identified Nemanja Matic, and the club went and got him for a fee of between 20-25 million pounds, depending on the sources you believe. The transfer was a tad embarrassing for the Blues, as Matic was previously at the Bridge, but was used as makeweight in the deal for David Luiz. Regardless of how it reflects on their transfer policy, Chelsea have signed a good player as Matic could well be the right player to complement Ramires in the middle of the park. The Serb can sit and allow him to run forward, and is a fine passer of the ball. He also adds to the defensive and offensive capabilities of the side from set pieces. The Serbian is a good all round player, and will be an asset as Chelsea look to chase the league title.
However, whether 3 days of training are enough to get him playing at a good level or not is a big doubt. Midfield is an area where one needs to have a good understanding with team mates. Also, throwing him into the starting line up for such an important fixture may be a bit risky, as he still has to prove himself in the league.
Seedorf’s Serie A Debut
Allegri’s plans to leave AC Milan were advanced a little as the Italian got the sack this week after a poor showing by the side in the 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo, a club from a town with a lower population than Milan’s stadium capacity. The discontent has long been evident at the club, with fans and Barbara Berlusconi alike expressing displeasure with the team of Allegri and Galliani in the past, and it has come to a head now, with the sacking.
Allegri is gone, and has been replaced by former Milan player and fan favourite, Clarence Seedorf. The Dutch midfielder had a very productive stint at the Rossonieri, and retired as a player from Botafogo to make his debut as a manager. In midweek, he watched from the stands as the team beat Spezia 3-1 to make the last 8 of the Coppa Italia. He doesn’t have an easy start to life as a manager either, with his first game coming against high flying Hellas Verona. Seedorf will want to get off to his life as a manager on the front foot to try and get the fans behind the team. He’s also going to have to instill confidence in a team that has been poor in the first half of the season, and coax the best out of players like Balotelli who have the potential to take Milan up the table. It will be interesting to see how he fares.
Ajax and PSV lock horns
One of the most intense rivalries in Dutch football will be reignited this weekend, as PSV Eindhoven travel to the Amsterdam Arena to take on the leaders and defending champions, Ajax Amsterdam. The teams are led by former stars, and both have a whole host of young and talented players, but the similarities end there. PSV currently sit in 7th place in the table, 11 points behind their rivals and leaders Ajax. Despite the fact that likes of Wijnaldum, Bakkali and Depay play there along with a host of other talents, PSV have been unable to do as well as they were expected to, and find themselves well adrift of their rivals.
Ajax, on the other hand, have been very impressive. They had a slow start, and the sale of their star man Eriksen set them back a little, but they’ve bounced back with young Davy Klaassen chipping in with some great performances. Aside from that, even the move to shift Daley Blind from the wide left to the centre of midfield into the ‘Busquets Role’ has worked like a charm, with many experts calling for him to take on that role for the national team as well.
The game is going to be a close fought one, with a lot at stake for both sides, aside from the bragging rights of course. PSV need the win to get a bit closer to the leaders, and try and grab one of the European spots, whereas a slip up by Ajax will see them losing ground to Vitesse, who are currently neck and neck with De Boer’s side, trailing only on goal difference.
AS Saint Etienne take on Lille
This weekend also sees an important battle in the French Ligue 1; 4th place St. Etienne will entertain LOSC Lille, currently in third. 6 points separate the 2 sides prior to kick off, but a win for the home team will narrow it down, and make the race for that spot very interesting.
St. Etienne have a bunch of very talented players led by the impressive Kurt Zouma. The team will be looking to maximise their home ground advantage and attack Lille. The attack at St. Ettiene has done well thus far this season, and they’ll be looking to top scorer Romain Hamouma for the impetus.
Lille will look to put an end to their slightly inconsistent run. This is a very talented team, but their form book makes for some worrying reading, with the last 6 games seeing 3 wins, 2 losses and a draw. Kalou and Roux lead the scoring charts for the team, and will be looking to get on the scoresheet again, easier said than done of course.