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Top 5 this Weekend: The Juventus-Roma midfield battle, the Basque derby, the Baby-Faced Assassin and more…

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.

Week Three2

1) A mouthwatering battle in midfield between Juventus and Roma

Sunday night features one of the biggest games of Italian football, and arguably the biggest Serie A game of the season yet. A win for the home side would see them 8 points clear at the top, while a victory for the team from Rome would see the gap at the top closed down to just 2 points and an enthralling duel will ensue in Italy. Indeed, this is one battle you don’t want to miss.

Speaking of battles, the middle of the park at the Juventus stadium is set to showcase one of the best sights in World football. Both Juventus and Roma line up with 3 central midfielders both with their own strengths. The midfield trio of Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal are quite possibly one of the best midfield partnerships in modern football, while a lot of Roma’s success this season is the way Rudi Garcia has deployed De Rossi, Pjanic and Strootman.

It’ll be interesting to see how the two midfields set-up on Sunday. Andrea Pirlo is the creative head of the Juventus side, and he will be his usual self sitting deep in midfield. For Roma, the creativity primarily flows from Miralem Pjanic who is comparatively advanced forward. The interesting bit will arise depending on how the two sides decide to counter the creativity.

Would De Rossi be deployed with the primary intention of keeping Pirlo quiet, with Strootman (click here to read a Scout Report) providing cover to his fellow midfielders? That does seem like an apt approach but it reduces Roma’s effectiveness in midfield in an attacking sense. Arturo Vidal is usually played as a box-to-box midifelder but Conte might decide to reduce his attacking threat with a more disciplined approach at keeping Pjanic under control. Restraining Vidal is easier said than done. Neither manager can really decide to play their own game without preparing their midfield for directly controlling the oppositions’ play.

This game will prove to be a fantastic affair. We will be publishing a detailed Post-Match Tactical Analysis on Monday, be sure to tune in to OOTB to find out how the midfield battle shaped up.

2) Can Sherwood afford to play two up front against Arsenal?

Tim Sherwood has gone off to a flying start in his managerial career, winning three and drawing the other in his first four games. He has overseen two fantastic away wins, the first against Southampton and most recently against Manchester United (click here to read a Tactical Analysis). But over the weekend, Sherwood faces his toughest away game yet, his first experience of the North London derby.

Sherwood prefers to implement a two-striker system, and one that has worked well for Spurs with Adebayor in flying form, combining well with Soldado in the process. His predecessor didn’t think too highly of Adebayor, even forcing him to train by himself, but the Togolese striker has shown what the side was missing, putting in quality performances under Sherwood. But despite the two-striker approach being effective, it reduces the number of men in midfield. Can Sherwood afford to continue with this approach?

Arsenal are a side that rely heavily on their midfield, with two deep lying players and three attacking players ahead of them. Sherwood will have to find a way to stop Arsenal from controlling the midfield, and unless they are able to crowd out that midfield and reduce Arsenal’s ability to create space and prevent the short passes, that game will only go one way.

It will be interesting to see if Sherwood reverts to a one man up top, adding another man in midfield. But again, this was the approach adopted by AVB and it resulted in a lack of goals and clinical attacking edge from the side. Sherwood is thus in a dilemma; a two man midfield will be overrun by Arsenal, while a single striker up front doesn’t provide enough in an attacking sense.

3) A top of the table Basque derby

Fewer rivalries have a richer history and more apt definition of the term ‘local derby’. This weekend sees two of the biggest football clubs of the Basque country go head-to-head in the La Liga. The game is further interesting as the two sides are separated by just 4 points and a single place (Bilbao are 4th & Sociedad 5th).

The two represent a new wave of young talents in the league with both the clubs having a largely young core and are still somehow managing to push above their weight as they look to earn a European spot. Both Jagoba Arrasate and Ernesto Valverde are in their first years at their respective clubs and thus will be getting their first taste of the Basque derby.  Last season saw Real Sociedad earn 6 points from the Basque derby as Bilbao struggled to keep up with the expectations they created the year before. Sociedad have had a disappointing European campaign but have continued from where they left off in the domestic league.

This game will be exciting to watch, purely for the passion and commitment of the players (and fans alike). Bilbao as we know has entire squad filled with Basque players, with the exception of Aymeric Laporte. The players have grown up living the rivalry and will now look to translate it onto the pitch. A late Sunday night, which unfortunately coincides with the Juventus-Roma game, the Basque derby is certainly one game any football fan would enjoy watching.

4) The return of the Baby-Faced Assassin

It’s hard to remember a more unlikely pairing in football; Ole Gunnar Solksjaer joining Vincent Tan at Cardiff didn’t seem like a perfect fit, but on Saturday, the Norwegian will take charge of the Welsh club for the first time at St.James Park, and thus marks his return to the league where he earned his reputation.

Many have questioned Solsjaer’s decision to join Cardiff City, given the circumstances. But if one looks into the situation, Solksjaer’s decision to join Cardiff is a win-win for the ex-Manchester United striker. The club is still in a decent position to stay in the Premier League; if he manages to achieve survival then he rightfully takes all the plaudits. Fail to do so and the blame will land on owner Vincent Tan. But among all the fiasco regarding Solksjaer moving to Cardiff, many have forgotten that he is arguably one of the best young managers in World football with a bright future. Cardiff is possibly still just a stepping stone to bigger career for him. Interestingly, both Solksjaer and Cardiff’s ex-boss, Malky Mackay, featured in our list of Top 10 Young Managers in World Footall.

Newcastle have been excellent at home and will be looking to spoil the part for Solksjaer; a win in the FA Cup seems out of reach for Cardiff City but neither is a run in the competition on the agenda. But one will have to wonder, what Vincent Tan will make of a defeat in his first game in charge. You just never know with the Malaysian.

5) There’s only Juan Antonio Pizzi!

Valenica haven’t been having the best of season in the La Liga, the 2004 La Liga Champions find themselves in 10th place, nearly half-way through the season. Miroslav Dukic, who played 157 league games for Valencia, had taken over in the summer after Unai Emery left the club, but the ex-Vallodolid boss failed to impress the Mestalla fans and lost his job 6 month in.

Valencia have now appointed another ex-player to take over at the club, a certain Juan Antonio Pizzi. He played just a few games for Valencia, with his best time coming at Tenerife (where he also won the Pichichi Trophy given to the Spanish Leagues’ Top Scorer); he has also played for the likes of Barcelona, River Plate, Porto and Villarreal.

Pizzi joins Valenica after guiding San Lorenzo to the 2013-14 Argentine Premier Division (Torneo Inicial) Championship against all odds, the side just about survived relegation one year prior. Valencia will be hoping he can similarly turn around their fortunes. Pizzi becomes the 11th different manager at Valencia since Rafael Benitez led them to the La Liga title.

His first game in charge is against 12th place Levante at home, a win would see them keep in touch with the European spots.

Sami Faizullah

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