A quick preview and breakdown of the biggest matches of the weekend throughout Europe. This part will feature matches taking place on Sunday January 19th.
A mini episode this time around…
Milan vs. Udinese
The Fighting Zlatans continue their recovery against an in-form Udinese side in a mid table clash at the San Siro.
So yeah, Zlatan scored. The big man is truly back. His goal helped inspire a 2-0 win away to Cagliari, the Rossoneri‘s first win since the beginning of December. It was also their third clean sheet in four matches. These small positives cannot overwhelm the massive negative that is Milan’s significant inconsistencies as a team this term. Their defense, apart from Romagnoli and the now-injured Donnarumma, has been suspect, and they have not been able to formulate a cohesive attack outside of an over reliance on Suso. Ibra’s arrival has somewhat alleviated the attacking issues, giving the Milan attack a new focal point. The potential of the partnership between him and youngster Rafael Leão is reason for Milan fans to be at least somewhat optimistic. This should also be the debuts for their new additions, with center back Simon Kjær and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic both joining the team on loan. A clash against another mid-table team is a necessary win for Milan in order to keep the Ibra revival going.
Udinese come into this match in a great run of form, having only lost once in their last five matches. A score draw against Napoli and a 2-1 win over Cagliari are the highlights of the recent Udinese run that has carried le Zebrette into mid-table. Midfielder Rodrigo De Paul is showing why Inter were interested in his signature last summer, being responsible for half of Udinese’s last six league goals. De Paul and Rolando Mandragora will be important in winning the midfield battle against a Milan midfield that has certainly seen better days, with Franck Kessié and Ismaël Bennacer not enjoying the most consistent of seasons. Utilizing the width in their 3-5-2 will also be important, as Milan utilize two fairly attacking fullbacks in Theo Hernández and, due to injury to normal starter Davide Calabria, Andrea Conti. The space will be available for Udinese to attack.
Prediction: Udinese are in fine form but have not done well away from home. Milan are in poor form but have a defense that has kept three clean sheets. There will probably not be much that separates these two teams. While Milan have not found comfort playing at home this season, I anticipate they will continue to ride the Ibra bump into a win.
Milan 1-0 Udinese
Liverpool vs. Manchester United
A heavy loss in this fixture was the final nail in the coffin for Jose Mourinho’s time in Manchester. Now, with Ole Gunnar Solskjær firmly planted on the hot seat ahead of a trip to Anfield, are we going to see history repeat itself?
Again, what more can anyone say about Liverpool? While their 1-0 win against Spurs was much closer than many, including myself, predicted, they still found a way to win. They have amassed more points to start a season than any team in the history of the top five leagues, winning 61 of their first 63 points. They are one match away from equalling the Arsenal “Invincibles” team record of 49 straight league matches without a defeat. They are without a defeat in their last 51 matches at Anfield, a run that stretches back to April 2017. They would feel incredibly confident every time they step onto the pitch at home, and this match, against a struggling United team, will not be any different. In good news for Klopp, key players Fabinho and Joel Matip will be returning to the team from injury, though they will most likely not start this game. It just shows how good of a situation that Liverpool are in, when their historically good team is able to lose two very good players and not suffer a hiccup in form. A point to watch is Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah’s continued goalscoring inconsistencies against United, only scoring once between them in 18 combined appearances against the Red Devils. I would anticipate that streak to get broken soon, if not in this match.
United come into this match on the back of consecutive wins, but their continued struggles away from home will be put to the test here. Even more concerning for Solskjær is the possible absence of star forward Marcus Rashford, who will potentially miss the match with a lower back injury aggravated in their FA Cup match against Wolves. While this could just be an act of gamesmanship between the two rivals, we all did see Rashford hobble off against Wolves, clearly hurt. United’s front three has been very productive this season, but without Rashford, who has scored 19 of the 39 the trio have scored in total, they become a significantly weaker team. With fitness concerns for left back Luke Shaw and the recent sale of Ashley Young to Inter, youngster Brandon Williams will be thrust into the lion’s den, being responsible for marking Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold down Liverpool’s right hand side. If there is a positive for United fans to cling to, it is that they remain a sort of bogey team for Liverpool and for Jürgen Klopp. United were five minutes away from beating Liverpool at Old Trafford in October, and famously gutted out another 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last season. Among the 31 sides that Klopp has faced ten or more times in his career, his worst win ratio is against Manchester United, having only won twice in his previous ten meetings with them. The trip to Anfield was the end for Mourinho, and Ole will have to hope his players can get him a result in order to avoid a similar fate.
Prediction: There is no way Liverpool go unbeaten at Anfield forever, so they will eventually lose a match at home. This definitely will not be that match, however. Liverpool are a historically strong team that just brought back two crucial players, while United are a struggling team dealing with injuries. This will probably be a comprehensive Liverpool victory.
Liverpool 3-0 Manchester United
Hertha BSC vs. Bayern Munich
Okay, USMNT fans. Here is your moment. Get your jokes out now before we go into the rest of this preview, got it?
The DFL announced that Hertha manager Jürgen Klinsmann did not have an up-to-date coaching license, meaning he could be suspended from leading his team against Bayern Munich this weekend.
Yes, USMNT fans, Jürgen Klinsmann has been proven unqualified to coach a professional team. Got the jokes out now? Good, we return to the preview
Despite not having correct coaching licenses, no one can question Klinsmann’s strong start in the German capitol. Under the German-American, Hertha were unbeaten in their final four matches before the winter break, including a 1-0 victory away to Leverkusen and a 0-0 draw to title challengers Gladbach. They have soared up from relegation fighters to mid-table team. Their January has been hectic due to transfers and rumors, having loaned out Ondrej Duda and Eduard Löwen, signed Santiago Ascacibar from Stuttgart, and not having completed rumored deals for Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka and Lyon midfielder Lucas Tousart. Despite these rumors and departures, they still have a good team. Going into this match, they will be without midfielder Arne Maier, who was injured in a friendly over the break, so Ascacibar will earn his baptism of fire with the capitol club against the reigning champions. Left back Marvin Plattenhardt could also be unavailable due to illness, so Maximilian Mittelstädt could have to start in his place. With the poor form of Davie Selke up top, the responsibility on Marko Grujic, Dodi Lukebakio, Vladimír Darida, and Javairô Dilrosun will be that much greater. Ascacibar, as the sole defensive midfielder behind that midfield four, will need to perform well in order to disrupt Bayern and win possession back for the aforementioned players to counter.
Bayern are not exactly where they expected to be at this point in the season, but they are still in a good position. They won their last three matches prior to the winter break and find themselves only four points behind league leaders RB Leipzig. Interim manager Hansi Flick has steadied the ship, ensuring Bayern stay within reach of the title once again. They will also be boosted by the return of Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry from injury, both being available for selection for their trip to Berlin. Despite those two returns, Bayern are still hampered by a long list of injured players, which includes Lucas Hernández, Nicklas Süle, and Kingsley Coman. The defensive injuries, especially, would be a concern to Flick, considering their match against Leipzig lurking around the corner. If they want to win the title this season, a strong start to the Rückrunde will be important, so while this is not a must-win match per se, it is still a result that would massively help keep pace with those around them.
Prediction: Hertha have enjoyed some success against Bayern in recent years, only losing one of their last six meetings. Before the news about Lewandowski and Gnabry, I did really think Hertha could win this match. It is still entirely possible that they get a result here, especially given Bayern’s issues in defense, but the return of Lewandowski and Gnabry does make a massive difference. Bayern will find a way to win to keep pace with the leaders.
Hertha BSC 1-2 Bayern Munich