Weekend Preview Part 2 (1/12)

A quick preview and breakdown of the biggest matches of the weekend throughout Europe. This part will feature matches taking place on January 12th.

Cardiff City v. Swansea City

A South Wales Derby with quite a bit of meaning for both teams and the league as a whole, Swansea travel down the M4 to face Cardiff on Sunday. This will be the 109th edition of this famous derby, and despite both teams playing in the same league on 30 occasions before this season, neither team has ever won both league meetings against the other in a single season.

Swansea are the team with more confidence going in, having won three of their last five in the league and sitting only a point outside of the playoffs and four points ahead of their Welsh rivals. They could also give debuts to two new loanee arrivals, with Swansea manager Steve Cooper acting quickly in the transfer market to bring in two players from his England Under-17s World Cup winning team from 2017: Liverpool forward Rhian Brewster and Chelsea defender Marc Guehi. Brewster would be a welcome addition to ease the goalscoring burden on Andre Ayew and Sam Surridge, while Guehi would readily replaced the injured Mike van der Hoorn and Joe Rodon. Despite their heavy loss to QPR in the FA Cup, Swansea still should feel like the favorite going in.

Cardiff have struggled as of late following the departure of longtime manager Neil Warnock and the appointment of Neil Harris. Having only won one of their last five, they are not only in danger of seeing their playoff hopes vanish, but they are very close to being dragged into the relegation fight. In this precarious position, a win, especially over their rivals, would be huge in their effort to turn around their season. They are still living without Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, out for the season with a hamstring injury suffered against Sheffield Wednesday, and they will also be without joint-top scorer Joe Ralls, who is still recovering from a hand injury. Quite a bit of the attack will be shouldered by Junior Hoilett, Aden Flint, and Lee Tomlin as the Bluebirds’ primary creative players.

Prediction: No team in the history of this derby has won both league matches in one season. That trend will continue. Each team has had their own hiccups in form recently and come into the match with their own problems, and they will battle each other to a stalemate.

Cardiff City 1-1 Swansea City

Saint-Etienne v. Nantes

Another battle in the middle of the Ligue 1 table, where seemingly everyone is competing for European places and fighting off relegation at the same time.

Saint-Etienne were once flying high under the new manager bump provided by Claude Puel, but have since lost their way, losing four of their last five in the league and crashing out in the Coupe de la Ligue after a 6-1 loss to PSG. Injury to teenage sensation William Saliba has dramatically impacted their defensive solidity, and key attacking players Dennis Bouanga and Romain Hamouma are also sidelined with injuries. Tunisian forward Wahbi Khazri has yet to rediscover the skill and goalscoring threat that pushed Les Verts to the brink of the podium places last season. They will also be hampered off the pitch, as they must play this match behind closed doors as punishment from the LFP following the extensive use of flares and fireworks by ASSE’s ultras in their 4-0 league defeat to PSG in December. In a crucial, possibly season-defining match, it is unfortunate that they will not have the benefit of the atmosphere in le Chaudron. Despite all of these issues, Saint-Etienne still find themselves in the weird position of being as close to relegation as they are to third. If they are to right the ship and continue the hunt for Europe, it has to begin now.

Nantes have also struggled from inconsistencies, having gone through massive swings of good form and poor form. They had won three of their last five before the winter break, but finished the first half of the season with a poor loss to Angers. Despite this, Nantes still find themselves four points off Rennes in third, and with their loss to Marseille on Friday, this presents a perfect opportunity for Les Canaris to close the gap. Their record away from home this season has been spotty at best, but their strong front line of Imran Louza, Ludovic Blas, Moses Simon, and Kalifa Coulibaly will definitely have opportunities to make an impact against the weakened Saint-Etienne defense.

Prediction: Despite Nantes’ issues away from home, Saint-Etienne’s injury issues do not give me confidence in either their attack or defense. The closed Geoffroy-Guichard should also eliminate much of the home advantage that ASSE would have.

Saint-Etienne 0-1 Nantes

PSG v. Monaco

The battle of the last two teams to win Ligue 1 and two teams in significantly different positions at the present moment.

PSG have largely been comfortable at the top of the table, being unbeaten and undrawn in the league since their surprise 2-1 loss to Dijon at the beginning of November. The terrifying front four of Mauro Icardi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, and Angel Di Maria will not be short on goals, and strong seasons from basically their entire midfield and defense means they go in to every match knowing they will be, rightfully, heavy favorites. Idrissa Gueye’s return from injury will add depth to an already stacked midfield, and it will be interesting to see how Tuchel pairs his holding midfielders, with Marco Verratti and Marquinhos being in fine form and Leandro Paredes beginning to find his feet with the capitol club.

Monaco are still a bit of a mess. Manager Leonardo Jardim was sacked, once again, following a 0-0 draw to Angers in the league and a 3-0 defeat to Lille in the Coupe de la Ligue. His replacement, ex-Spain manager Robert Moreno, oversaw their 5-1 revenge demolition of Lille in the league before the winter break, but the problems in the team still persist. Much of their success this season has hinged upon the brilliant performances of Wissam Ben Yedder, who has been responsible for just under half of Les Monegasques league goals this season. Islam Slimani and Aleksandr Golovin have also had good seasons up to this point, but much of the team lack the consistency to make enough of a difference for Monaco to not be reliant on the aforementioned three. Despite the previous issues under Jardim, Monaco only lie 5 points off of third place. The team has pieces that Moreno can use to mount a challenge for the podium, but he does have a tough task ahead of him.

Prediction: Robert Moreno could end up being a good appointment for Monaco and turn them into a team challenging for Europe, but it will not begin with this game. A healthy and confident PSG team will dominate basically any other team in Ligue 1, especially at home, and this match will not be any different.

PSG 3-1 Monaco

Sampdoria v. Brescia

An important match at the bottom of Serie A, Brescia and Sampdoria go into the match only separated by two points and are only above bottom of the league SPAL by two and four points, respectively.

Sampdoria earned a crucial draw away against Milan on Monday and will probably enter this match with a similarly conservative game plan to the one that was successful at the San Siro. The only major pre-match issue for La Samp’ is the absence of Omar Colley, who was suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Fabio Quagliarella and Manolo Gabbiadini have the quality to find goals if the chances fall to them, but Sampdoria will not want to be too attacking and offer openings for Brescia on the counter.

Ciro Immobile’s 91st minute winner on Sunday was another low moment in a difficult first season back in the top flight for Brescia. They have struggled to score goals, especially away from home, not being able to find much outside of hometown hero Mario Balotelli’s five league goals. Boy wonder and “next Andrea Pirlo” Sandro Tonali has provided most of the team’s magic moments this season, but he will miss out on their trip to the Luigi Ferraris, suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Without Tonali, there is very little creativity in the team, so they will also approach this match with a cautious gameplan.

Prediction: This is the classic match between two teams that are very afraid to lose. Sampdoria will line up in a conservative low block and allow Brescia to have much of the possession, but Tonali’s absence reduces Brescia’s ability to create chances, meaning they will undoubtedly take fewer risks going forward. We all know how this one will probably end.

Sampdoria 0-0 Brescia

Torino v. Bologna

Going higher in the table, we have another match between two of the teams fighting for sixth place and the Europa League Qualification spot. Both teams sit within six points of Cagliari going into the match and can begin to close the gap with a win.

Torino came into the season in the conversation around dark horse teams to break into the European places but were not able to find their feet. They have especially struggled at home, while talismanic goalscorer Andrea Belotti has been unable to rekindle the red hot goalscoring form that made him one of Europe’s hottest commodities a few years ago. However, they started off the second half of the season with a strong 2-0 win away to Roma, with Belotti scoring twice, so they will hope to continue that momentum in this next big clash. They will be boosted by the return of center back Bremer and wing back Cristian Ansaldi from suspension, who will both slot back into the starting XI.

Bologna have suffered from similar inconsistencies in the first half of the season, having, for example, earned strong wins against Atalanta and Napoli while also losing to Milan and Sassuolo in the last two months. Their strength lies in their attacking four, made up of youngster Riccardo Orsolini paired with veterans Roberto Soriano, Nicola Sansone, and Rodrigo Palacio. Their direct and quick style of play allows them to create many attacking chances, especially through Sansone and Orsolini, which will cause Torino’s defense issues. Without any major injuries or suspensions to be concerned about, Bologna will send out the same XI that drew with Fiorentina last weekend.

Prediction: These are two teams with very strong attacks and fairly fragile defenses. There will be plenty of goals scored. There will not be enough for a winner, as Torino’s home struggles will come back to haunt them and both teams will drop points here.

Torino 2-2 Bologna

Roma v. Juventus

The Serie A weekend ends with a match at the top of the table between two teams wanting to pull away from nearby rivals. With Atalanta and Inter’s draw today, Juventus see a chance to reclaim sole possession of first place, while Roma see a chance to put some distance between them and Atalanta in the battle for the final Champions League place.

Roma’s 2-0 defeat to Torino last weekend ended their seven match unbeaten run, which established them as a solid European team following a difficult start to the season. Despite that hiccup, Paulo Fonseca still has to be happy with the results and performances his team has been putting out. He has to be happy with the current form of his midfielders, namely Lorenzo Pellegrini, Jordan Veretout, and Nicolo Zaniolo, and despite injury to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, he should feel that this group could succeed against a weaker Juventus midfield. Manchester United loanee Chris Smalling has continued to be a rock at the back, while Edin Dzeko continues to be a strong focal point in attack. Injuries will limit their reserve options, missing out on not only Mhkitaryan but also Justin Kluivert and Bryan Cristante, but there is enough quality in this Roma team to win the match.

After some mid season struggles where Maurizio Sarri may have felt Juventus had let Inter take pole position in the title race, the Old Lady is back to her dominant ways with three wins on the bounce, including a convincing 4-0 win over Cagliari. Sarri will most likely continue with the same team that won against Cagliari, meaning Aaron Ramsey and Merih Demiral most likely keep their places in the team. The key battle against Roma will be in midfield, which has been an area of difficulty for Juventus this season. Sarri will have to hope that the midfield that beat Cagliari will continue their solid form and that Adrien Rabiot has potentially turned a corner in his Juventus career. With Inter’s draw to Atalanta, Juventus have been presented a golden opportunity to regain control of the Scudetto race, and they cannot afford to let this chance slip.

Prediction: This is going to be a cagey match between two tactically-astute managers. It may come down to a moment of quality that can break the game open. These are the type of games that Juventus have won for the last eight years, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala on the pitch, there is no shortage of players who can provide a game-changing moment. Juventus have not won away against Roma since 2014, but that will change today.

Roma 1-2 Juventus

Bournemouth v. Watford

18th vs. 19th in the Premier League and two teams on remarkably different trajectories, this match will undoubtedly have a massive impact on the relegation race in England.

Eddie Howe may be running out of good fortune on the South Coast. His Bournemouth team have only won twice since the beginning of November, having also already dropped points against relegation fighters West Ham, Brighton, Burnley, Watford, and Norwich. Their attack and defense are both faltering, having lost Nathan Ake, Josh King, and David Brooks to injury. Their 4-0 thrashing of Luton Town in the FA Cup, along with the return of Danish midfielder Philip Billing, will restore some confidence with the Cherries, but the onus will be on Callum Wilson, Harry Wilson, and Ryan Fraser to grab the horse by the reins and guide Bournemouth to safety.

After sacking two different managers this season, Watford have seemingly found their savior in Nigel Pearson. The Hornets only lost once in the league under the tutelage of the Englishman, including wins against top half sides Wolves and Manchester United, a draw to Sheffield United, and a dominant win over fellow relegation fighters Aston Villa. After being seemingly trapped in the relegation zone, they now have a clear path to safety, and despite their recent 3-3 draw to Tranmere in the FA Cup, Watford will still feel confident in their team and their boss. They will probably be without midfielder Will Hughes due to injury, as well as center back Christian Kabasele due to red card suspension, but midfielder Roberto Pereyra will be available after his red card against Tranmere was rescinded.

Prediction: It is hard to see the trend of either team changing. Watford have seemingly found new life under Pearson, while Bournemouth are fading quickly. Even at home, I do not see Bournemouth getting a result here.

Bournemouth 0-2 Watford

Real Madrid v. Atletico Madrid

Possibly the hallmark match of the weekend, the final of the Supercopa de España will be a Madrid Derby, following Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over Valencia and Atletico Madrid’s 3-2 win over Barcelona in the semifinal matches.

After a somewhat difficult Christmas period, Real Madrid began 2020 with dominant wins over Getafe in the league and Valencia in the Supercopa semifinal. Despite their holiday struggles, they still find themselves level on points with Barcelona at the top of the league and with a realistic chance to win silverware off of their derby rivals. They will have to contend with several injury issues, however, as they could be without the services of Marco Asensio, Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema. In place of Benzema, Luka Jovic will retain his place as the sole number nine in the team, looking to reverse his poor form that characterized the beginning of his life with Los Blancos. Zidane will most likely keep the same system he used against Valencia, with Isco and Luka Modric playing slightly behind Jovic and in front of a midfield three of Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and Federico Valverde. Rotation is possible, with James Rodriguez, Vinicius, and Rodrygo all available for selection, but Zidane will most likely put out the strongest team he has available.

Atletico Madrid have also had an issue-filled season, characterized by quite a few draws and not many goals scored. Despite this, they still find themselves in third and only five points off Barcelona and Real Madrid. They also find themselves with a chance to win silverware and a chance to win a Madrid Derby. Their dramatic come-from-behind victory over Barcelona in the semifinal was a landmark moment in their season, and this match carries similar significance. Another win could see this adventure in Saudi Arabia become a season-defining moment for Los Colchoneros. They will be without club captain Koke following his injury against Barcelona and remain without Diego Costa and Thomas Lemar, but they could see the return of center back Jose Gimenez for the final. Aside from the obvious Madrid Derby significance, this is a key moment in Atleti’s season, and I do not doubt that Diego Simeone will send out the best possible team available to him.

Prediction: Both teams have crucial absences, but the injury list is more notable for Real Madrid than it is for Atletico. Throughout the season, Real Madrid have shown that they have issues finding goals from players not named Karim Benzema, and while he did not score in their previous two dominant wins, his absence would most definitely be felt in a Madrid Derby. This would definitely be the perfect time for Luka Jovic to earn his stripes with Los Blancos, but I do not think it will happen. It will be a true Simeone Special.

Real Madrid 0-1 Atletico Madrid

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