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Top 5 this Weekend: How Atletico will attempt to beat Barcelona, what United need to ensure against Bony 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 Four 2

How Atletico will attempt to beat Barcelona

The most exciting game over the Weekend is the top of the table clash between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. The two are completely tied at the top with only goal difference separating the sides. The winner at the Vicente Calderon will take top spot in the league, a race that seems will go right down to the wire.

Diego Costa has been on top form this season, contributing 40% of his sides’ goals this season (19) and keeping at par with Cristiano Ronaldo in the goal-scoring charts for much of the season. The recently turned Spanish national has scored  in 14 of Atletico’s 18 league fixtures. The Barca defence know that keeping the striker quiet upfront would aid in getting a result off of Simeone’s men.

Simeone has alternated between playing Costa alone upfront or sticking a partner (David Villa) up there with him. The big man even played in a deeper second striker role in Atletico’s 7-0 victory over Getafe earlier in the season.

Now Simeone has to chalk out a plan to keep Barca quiet in the midfield area, an assured and discipline defensive approach in their own half is vital for the home side. But more importantly, the Argentine manager will have to have an assured strategy with how he intend to deploy Costa. He most likely will ask Diego Costa to stay up field throughout the game, playing off the shoulders of the last defender. What this does is, besides always having an attacking avenue, it will indirectly prevent the Barca defence from moving further up field, essentially creating a sort of gap between the Barca midfield and defence.

This is where the in-form Koke can step in and create opportunities for the front-man, exploiting the gap and playing in between the lines. The youngster had a great game against Malaga last week, Koke’s forward attacking movement will further act as a counter-defensive tactic as the Barca midfield will be pulled back to assist the back four, further stagnated their attack. It could ultimately lead to an isolated Barca attacking third. Koke has created 8 assists this season, only beaten by Barca’s Fabregas who has 10. You can read a detailed Scout Report on Koke here.

The game also marks the return of a certain Lionel Messi after a long injury lay-off. He scored on his return in the Copa del Rey, but ideally, the Argentine would have preferred a different opposition at a different venue to return to competitive league action.

This could arguably be Simeone’s most important test, victory in this clash could install Simeone’s men as genuine title contenders despite the usual concerns of depth when compared to the Barca-Real duo.

Another similar Bony performance at Old Trafford

Manchester United are in a bit of a sticky situation. While they’re still in all four tournaments they entered this season, their first 3 games of 2014 have been in three different competitions, all of which have thus far ended in 2-1 losses. Their worst start to a calendar year in 82 years, and their worst season performance after this stage for 27 years.

On the weekend they face Swansea at, what once was, a fortress. We don’t need to jump to pre-mature conclusions, Old Trafford is still a fairly intimidating ground to go to, but unsurprisingly it has lost its ‘bite’ in the last few weeks/months. Swansea who beat United at Old Trafford just a week back, will be hoping to do the same this weekend; and Swansea’s striker, Wilfried Bony, will have a significant part to play once again. You can read a detailed Scout Report on Wilfried Bony here.

The ex-Vitesse man has all the necessary tools to be an effective striker in the Premier League, using his presence in and around the box to create chances for himself. The Ivorian has a powerful header on him as well, something which he was allowed to take advantage of at Old Trafford.

Swansea found it incredibly easy to get dangerous crosses into the box, with Bony taking advantage of the space offered to him. The winning goal itself, which crucially for Swansea avoided a replay, came from one such cross which Bony made no mistake with. United need to find a way to ensure their full-backs put in a more assured performance while their centre-backs find a way of keeping Bony under control.

Crucially for United, both Rooney and Van Persie will be out for this game meaning Danny Welbeck will have all the pressure on him, Danny Welbeck who as United’s striker against the Swans didn’t have a single shot on target.

David Moyes, more than ever, needs a victory in this game. 4 losses in 4 in the new year is unacceptable at United, especially when you consider they’ll probably drop points the following week at the Bridge.

Gerrard has a crucial role to play as Sturridge too could possibly return

Liverpool have been pushing for a Top 4 place this season with some great football on show. The side has been struck by injuries, but even with a depleted squad that lack depth, they’ve managed to stick around at the top largely due to a certain Uruguayan. Steven Gerrard is now back from injury as he played a few minutes against Hull City and then Oldham Athletic, but more important for Liverpool fans, Daniel Sturridge returned to training with an outside chance of featuring against Stoke.

With the race for Champions League places so tight, any form of dropped points could send a side spiraling down the table. For Liverpool, Sunday’s opponents Stoke City haven’t been the easiest of opponents as the Reds have struggled in away fixtures at the Britannia. Liverpool won’t be allowed to play their neat quick passing football as Stoke are experts at putting a stop to that; and that’s where Steven Gerrard comes in.

Liverpool will need to find a way to attack Stoke with long balls from deep in midfield, and the captain is the only man who can create those threatening opportunities. Gerrard’s deliveries this season have been immense, but at the Britannia he’ll have to find a way to make passes into space for the attackers, easier said than done against Stoke. Aerially Stoke will dominate Liverpool and thus an aerial attack would prove fruitless. Stoke know how to shut Liverpool out, it’s up to the captain to unlock the opponents.

The incredible head to head battle at the top of the Primeira Liga

33 points. That’s what it reads at the top of the Primeira Liga for Portugal’s current top three sides. Sporting CP, Porto & Benfica are locked on 33 points at the top of the table, followed by Estoril in 4th place who are some way behind with 24. To make things all the more interesting, Benfica face rivals Porto at home, while 4th placed Estoril host leaders Sporting CP.

It will be Benfica’s first game at home since the death of Legendary footballer, Eusebio, adding all the more spice to an already enthralling fixture. Benfica have that further added incentive now to get all three points, although a Benfica-Porto game never needs added incentive. The race for the title will be as close as ever come the end of the season, but these crucial 6 pointers are what sets the eventual winners apart.

Sporting have turned a corner, drastically, from last season, with a lot of credit to a certain William Carvalho. They will be expecting 3 points on the weekend as Benfica and/or Porto will drop points. Here is a detailed Scout Report on William Carvalho.

The Portuguese league isn’t the most attractive in the World but it does possess some of the best talents in football, technically gifted flair players, as Europe’s top sides continually looked to the Iberian country for personnel. You won’t find a bigger game than Benfica-Porto making this a must watch for the weekend.

Bradley’s gone, De Rossi’s suspended, step up Radja Nainggolan

Belgians have been the talk of the town in the footballsphere the last few months, and it’s no different in Italy this season as Radja Nainggolan has taken the plaudits for his exploits with Cagliari.

Michael Bradley this week was confirmed to leave Roma with a return to the MLS after nearly 10 years, as he has been signed by Toronto FC. Roma lost their last league game to leaders Juventus 3-0 creating an 8 point gap at the top, any more dropped points could be disastrous for their title hopes. Here is a Tactical Analysis of the Juventus-Roma game. Roma came away with two red cards from the game, one of which was Danielle De Rossi.

These two factors prove to be a perfect opportunity for Radja Nainggolan, the club’s new signing, to nail down a place in an increasingly competitive midfield. Nainggolan was being tracked by all of Italy’s big clubs, so to pull off his signing is an achievement in itself.  A workhorse in midfield, Nainggolan has the ability to take charge of the central positions. He’s instrumental in winning back and retaining possession and you can understand how Rudi Garcia would benefit from such a player in the side.

As was proved against Juventus, Roma’s usual tactics have been found out with club’s now taking advantage of their false nine play by simply tightening their wide areas and preventing the wingers from playing. Roma now need their midfield to not just deal with possession, but directly create opportunities for the side, and Nainggolan could have a big part to play, starting with Genoa on the weekend.

Sami Faizullah

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