A quick preview and breakdown of the biggest matches of the weekend. This part will feature matches taking place on Sunday February 2nd.
Ajax vs. PSV
De Topper is usually the match up between the two best teams in the Netherlands, and while this match definitely does not match that standard, it is still quite intriguing.
Ajax were the darlings of the football world last season. The Cinderella team, spearheaded by young talent with a dynamic attacking style, they came within minutes of making the Champions League Final. Since then, it has not all worked out for them. They currently find themselves in a title race, being level on points with AZ Alkmaar, while being out of the Champions League and having lost three of their last five matches, including a 1-0 loss to title rivals AZ and their most recent 2-1 loss to Groningen. Their exhaustion going into the winter break has not worn off, and this exhaustion was greatly exacerbated by the injury crisis currently facing Erik ten Hag’s team. Quincy Promes has returned from injury, but they will still be without Hakim Ziyech, Daley Blind, and David Neres. Ten Hag’s experimental midfield trio, partnering Donny van de Beek with the experienced Siem de Jong and youngster Ryan Gravenberch, did not work out at all in their loss to Groningen, so I would not be surprised to see ten Hag move away from that set up, especially with the return of Promes. Without Ziyech and Neres, Promes must now take the mantle of being Ajax’s dynamic attacking playmaker, and he will likely be in a system where he is playing centrally behind the striker.
Things are a disaster for PSV at the moment. Last season’s main challenger to Ajax for the title, PSV have dealt with some calamity and craziness near the beginning of the winter break. They sacked manager Mark van Bommel, and the incoming interim manager has not done much to turn the tide. They lost rising star striker Donyell Malen to a season-ending knee injury around the same time. They collapsed to fifth in the table, and they are clinging onto hope for qualifying for European football next season. To make matters worse, star winger Steven Bergwijn left the club in the January window, joining Tottenham for €35 million. Youngster Ritsu Doan has done a great job when given the chance in the team, but PSV still clearly miss the influence of Malen and will definitely miss the impact that Bergwijn brought to the team. Going into this match, a win would do wonders for them in the race for the European places.
Prediction: Both teams are not playing very well at the moment, each for their own reasons, but one is having a significantly worse time than the other. Not only are PSV going through manager issues and are without maybe their best player, but they are going into this match having only won one of their last 10 away from home. This should be easier than usual for Ajax.
Ajax 3-1 PSV
Tottenham vs. Manchester City
A match up of “Big Six” teams in England is usually a big deal, but is Spurs really a part of the “Big Six” anymore? I guess we find out soon enough.
Jose Mourinho, while being supposedly happy with Spurs’ transfer window, will not be happy with their recent form, having only won one in their last five in the league. They find themselves in sixth, only six points outside of the Champions League places but also only four points away from 14th. Of the teams currently in contention for the Top Four places, Spurs would not be among the favorites to get one of those places. They are not benefitted by injury issues, with Harry Kane and Moussa Sissoko both facing long-term absences. Left back Ben Davies will also be unavailable for selection, and with Danny Rose’s departure, Jose will likely stick with youngster Japhet Tanganga at left back. New signing Steven Bergwijn will likely not yet make his debut, meaning the front three will be made up by Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura providing support for Heung-Min Son. A previously leaky Spurs defense will go up against one of the best attacks in the league, so if Spurs want a result from this match, they will have to find some security at the back.
Manchester City will most likely not retain their Premier League title again this season, but Pep Guardiola will fight tooth and nail to ensure his team remains in the Champions League places and retains their second place position in the table. Going into this match, they have several players facing late tests to see if they are fit enough to play, including left back Benjamin Mendy, center back Aymeric Laporte, and midfielder Fernandinho. Leroy Sane, despite his slow but steady return to training recently, is still not fit enough to feature in the first team. Since City last played only a few days ago, I anticipate Pep will rotate his team, with Sergio Aguero possibly keeping his place due to his very good goalscoring record against Spurs. Rotation should not be an issue for City, as they will still field a team with plenty of attacking quality and enough talent to win the match.
Prediction: There tends to be goals when both of these teams meet, but with Jose having not really fully gelled as Spurs manager, I find it easier to buy into City winning this match. The famous Champions League quarterfinal second leg from last season reminds us to expect the unexpected, but even then, this seems like a clear City win.
Tottenham 1-2 Manchester City
Nice vs. Lyon
Wait, didn’t these teams literally just play?
Yes, Lyon and Nice will square off for the second time in four days, this time in a league match up. Houssem Aouar’s 93rd minute penalty was the difference between the two sides in the last match, sending Nice crashing out of the Coupe de France. It was a bitter defeat to round out what was at least a fairly decent start to the second half of the season, with two 1-1 draws to Angers and Rennes in the league joining victories over Frejus St-Raphael and Red Star FC in the Coupe de France. Nice have found themselves lodged into mid-table, but are still only three points behind Lyon in sixth and only five points behind Lille in the Europa League place. They have struggled to score goals this season, but should be confident in their ability to grind out results at home, as well as the budding form of Adam Ounas and Kasper Dolberg.. They have only lost twice in the league at home this season, so they should feel that they have a good chance of ending Lyon’s unbeaten start to the calendar year.
After a calamitous start to the season, Lyon have turned it around and begun 2020 on fire. They have not lost in all competitions, having also picked up several crucial cup victories and secured a place in one cup final. They have also had a surprisingly active transfer window, bringing in experienced ex-Ligue 1 striker Karl Toko-Ekambi, as well as young Brazilian prodigy Bruno Guimaraes. While this match appears to be too early to see Guimaraes make his debut, Toko-Ekambi has been influential in his short time with the club, and I would not be surprised to see him make an appearance here. Les Gones‘ scintillating form, however, is being primarily driven by Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and Maxwel Cornet. Dembele and Aouar both scored in their match against Nice four days ago, and they will be the two most important players for Lyon going into this rematch. With Anthony Lopes remaining among the injured, former wantaway goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu continues his tenure between the posts for OL, already having come to their rescue multiple times in previous matches.
Prediction: The fact these two teams played four days earlier honestly makes this match more interesting. Almost like a chess match, each manager will make their tactical changes in the hopes of figuring the other out and attacking their weaknesses. On paper, Lyon are easily the more talented team, but they have had their struggles this season. Nice are very good at home, and have the tactical structure and personnel able to frustrate OL. I do not imagine many goals will be scored, but I believe both sides will score. If there is a winner, it will be a 2-1 result, but I will go with score draw here.
Nice 1-1 Lyon
Bordeaux vs. Marseille
Reader, it is time for me to talk to you about quite possibly the most ridiculous streak in football at the minute. Olympique de Marseille, among the biggest and most successful clubs in French football, have not won away to Bordeaux since 1977, a streak currently dated at 43 years. In that time span, Marseille have won Ligue 1 five times, the Coupe de France once, and became the only French team to have won the Champions League, yet they never won at Bordeaux. Will this inexplicable streak continue? We will find out.
Bordeaux have struggled massively coming out of the winter break. Their sole victory, a 1-0 win over an emotionally exhausted Nantes team, is dragged down by a league loss to Lyon and a Coupe de France loss to Pau. Jimmy Briand has been scoring most of their goals since the end of the winter break, but they are struggling to find production from other players. Nicolas de Preville and Yacine Adli have struggled as of late. They also lost Aurelien Tchouameni, who left the club to join Monaco. Things seem to be getting worse for les Girondins, and while they are still close to the top half of the table, due to the congestion in the Ligue 1 table, they are not trending upward at the moment. Briand has seemingly taken his place in the starting line up back from Josh Maja, but reigniting the young Nigerian’s form may be crucial in digging Bordeaux out of their current situation.
Marseille continue to keep grinding out results and cementing their place in second, but they have been looking less and less convincing as of late. They left it late to beat Rennes and looked quite uninspired against Angers, so maybe those are signs that the momentum is slowing down for Andre Villas-Boas? Now to be fair, those results came while Dimitri Payet was suspended, and they have been playing without Florian Thauvin for months, but they could still clearly lose another jolt of momentum to carry on their season. Payet will be returning from suspension for this match, which is a massive boost for OM, but they could be without striker Dario Benedetto. Those surrounding the club are keenly aware of their winless drought away to Bordeaux, but with this Marseille team being more talented and in better form than some of the other recent iterations, OM fans must feel this is their best chance to return home from Southwest France with all three points.
Prediction: Part of me thinks OM will win this easily, but another part of me thinks the streak will live on. OM are clearly the more talented team, are in overall better form, and will be getting their best player back from suspension for this match. Bordeaux are massively struggling at the moment, and their key players are not playing to the level they need to in order to slay a giant like Marseille. It is entirely possible that Marseille crumble under the pressure, but I do not think that happens here. The streak is dead.
Bordeaux 0-2 Marseille