A quick preview and breakdown of the biggest matches of the weekend. This part will feature matches taking place on Sunday February 9th.
Real Sociedad vs. Athletic Bilbao
We begin Derby day in the Basque Country, where this match up of red and white vs. blue and white could have a massive impact on the race for the European places in Spain, and it could also act as a preview for the Copa del Rey Final.
Both sides enter this game off of great results in the week, but Real Sociedad will undoubtedly feel the bigger boost from their cup triumph. Sociedad were absolutely brilliant away at the Bernabeu for most of that match, with Alexander Isak and Martin Odegaard ripping Real Madrid apart. Isak has now scored, I believe, 11 goals in his last 11 games, which still does not begin to highlight the level of confidence and tenacity that the big Swede is playing with at the moment. Odegaard has continued his fine form this season, and he could realistically be considered among the best players in La Liga this season. Despite not being in the spotlight, Portu and Mikel Oyarzabal also deserve some credit for the solid performances they have put in recently. Despite having lost three of their last five in the league, that win against Real Madrid will probably do quite a bit to restore their confidence and get la Real back on the right track.
Athletic have struggled mightily in the league as of late, having failed to win in their last seven in the league. They have also struggled outside of the friendly confines of San Mames, having only won once away from home all season. Their massive win against Barcelona in the cup will boost their confidence, but their performance was not exactly of the same level as their Basque neighbors. Their most recent brutal 2-0 loss to Getafe will have put a massive dent in their European hopes, but combining the Barcelona win with a derby win could help to get them back on track. They have struggled for goals lately, with Inaki Williams firing blanks before taking responsibility for the winner against Barcelona, and this is a trend they must reverse in order to reenter the race for the European places. They will be without ex-Sociedad center back Inigo Martinez for this match due to suspension which, while sparing Martinez from a hostile reception on his return to Anoeta, will leave the Athletic defense significantly weakened. With Sociedad’s attack in fine form, they will have to hope for a heroic performance from their attacking players, namely Williams and Iker Muniain, in order to stay in this match.
Prediction: Both teams will be confident due to their cup triumphs, but with the current form of the Sociedad attack and the absence of Inigo Martinez, it is very hard to pick against la Real, especially away from San Mames, in this derby. It might get ugly quick for Athletic if they cannot find goals in their team.
Real Sociedad 3-0 Athletic Bilbao
Parma vs. Lazio
This match was already fairly big, but with Juventus’ loss to Hellas Verona, this match is now colossal. With a win, Lazio would move within a point of the reigning champions, while Parma needs points to keep pace in the race for the Europa League qualifier place, which Verona has taken the lead in.
Parma have only won two of their last five in the league, paired with a 2-0 cup loss to Roma, but apart from a 5-0 thrashing from Atalanta, they have not performed poorly in their losses. Most notably, their close 2-1 loss to Juventus and come-from-behind 2-2 draw against Cagliari highlight the reality of this team: a threatening attacking team that is leaky at the back. On their day, they can definitely cause Lazio issues. The issue, however, comes with their potential missing players. Young star Dejan Kulusevski and top scorer Andreas Cornelius could both miss this match due to injury. Those are two significant absences, but especially with the potential of a resurgent Milan and Napoli joining them, Hellas Verona, Cagliari, and Bologna in the race for sixth, Parma know that any points in this match will be a benefit for them. Will their leaky defense allow them to sit back and play for a draw? Probably not. But even without Kulusevski and Cornelius, there are still dangerous players in this team that could put Lazio under pressure.
Lazio have been presented with a golden opportunity. With a win, they would move to within a point of Juventus. They would be firmly entrenched in the title race. While slipping up here would not remove them completely from contention, this is clearly an opportunity they would not like to miss out on. While two draws against Roma and Hellas Verona have ended their near-league record winning streak, it is still worth noting that Lazio have only lost twice all season, with their most recent loss coming all the way back in September. They are still a very good side who deserve to be in the Scudetto race. Absences might make a significant impact for the Biancocelesti, however. Midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic misses out due to suspension, while forward Joaquin Correa also misses out due to injury. Unsung hero Felipe Caicedo could also miss out due to injury, which puts more pressure on Ciro Immobile to perform without the added support. There is still plenty of talent in this team, but the absences, especially of Milinkovic-Savic, could have an impact on this match.
Prediction: Both teams are especially dangerous going forward, and both teams have significant motivation and pressure to win. Lazio’s continued league form, despite their recent draws, is still quite impressive, and even with the absences, there is enough support behind Immobile for Lazio to score enough to win against most teams. Parma fall under that “most teams” category, so Lazio will find a way to win this match.
Parma 1-2 Lazio
Inter vs. AC Milan
The Derby della Madonnina usually does not need outside factors to enhance its importance, but with Juventus’ loss to Hellas Verona, Inter have been presented with an opportunity to return to joint-top of the league. They need to take this opportunity, especially with their trip to Turin coming up quickly. Verona’s win has put more pressure on Milan to keep pace in the race for sixth. Safe to say there is a lot at stake for both teams here.
Inter have struggled recently, with three tough 1-1 draws seemingly handing control of the title race back to Juventus, but with Juve’s loss to Verona, Antonio Conte’s men now see a chance to claw themselves back into serious contention. They will have to do so without budding superstar striker Lautaro Martinez, who remains out due to suspension, meaning youngster Sebastiano Esposito will most likely retain his place in the Nerazzurri attack along with Romelu Lukaku, unless Conte opts for the more experienced Alexis Sanchez to partner the Belgian instead. Youngster Alessandro Bastoni will also miss out due to suspension, so the responsibility for filling that role in defense will probably rest on the experienced but inconsistent, at least this season, Diego Godin. All eyes, however, will be on Christian Eriksen, who signed with Inter in the January window and was branded as the signing that could win them the Scudetto. With a muted but still solid debut under his belt, he will be looked to as an experienced veteran player to make something happen in this derby match. Milan are not the strongest defensive team on paper, so this seems to be the perfect game for Eriksen to cement himself as a hero for the blue side of Milan.
AC Milan have experienced a bounce in form possibly tied to the return of ex-Rossoneri, as well as ex-Inter, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Despite only scoring twice in five appearances, Zlatan has seemingly brought something intangible that has benefitted this Milan team. Coinciding with this has been a resurgence in form for several other Milan players, namely midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu and the forwards, Ante Rebic and Rafael Leao, who are finding more success playing in a team alongside Zlatan. The star of this team remains left back Theo Hernandez, who retains his place as the Rossoneri top goalscorer going into this match. Hernandez and Calhanoglu will be crucial for creating opportunities for the forwards, namely Zlatan, and causing issues for this Inter defense. Milan have the talent on paper to give Inter problems, and the possibility of hurting their chances at a Scudetto could be the added motivation they need to get a result here.
Prediction: Inter are quite clearly the better team on paper, but the “throw recent form out of the window” cliche about derbies definitely rings true here. While I do think Inter win this match, it will be incredibly tough for them. Milan have the talent to win this match, and recent form will give them the belief that they can ruin Inter’s season. This will be incredibly tough for Conte’s team, but I think they find their way through. Eriksen will be key for them, and there is no better time for him to score his first goal or record his first assist than in the Derby.
Inter 2-1 AC Milan
PSG vs. Lyon
A match up between probably the two most talented teams in France in recent years would usually be treated as a massive occasion, but with the difference between the two teams, this match is seemingly much less important and influential than previous meetings between these two teams.
PSG have continued to hum along in all competitions, having not lost since November and having not truly been tested since their 3-3 draw with Monaco in Paris. The two main storylines seem to revolve around formation and off-the-pitch issues. Thomas Tuchel’s switch to a 4-2-4 was debated heavily after their 3-3 draw with Monaco, as many thought he did not get the most out of all of the attacking talent available while also leaving his team exposed on the counter. Since then, the issues have not been completely worked out, but the Parisians’ growing familiarity with the system means they will likely not switch away from it moving forward. While the form of Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappe has taken a slight hit since the tactical change, Neymar has returned to being the star forward he was prior to his injury issues, and Spanish center forward Pablo Sarabia has been incredibly impressive since coming into the team recently. With Neymar potentially missing this match due to injury, it would put more responsibility on Mbappe, Di Maria, Icardi, and/or Sarabia to pick up the slack in the Brazilian’s absence. The other main issues come from off the pitch, mainly surrounding the bust up between Mbappe and Tuchel following the German manager substituting the Frenchman in PSG’s win over Montpellier. Whether this drama will have longer-lasting impacts or not is anyone’s guess, but heightened tensions between the two could lead to either of them leaving Paris for pastures anew. PSG are mostly humming along without issue, but it could be slight issues like these that could lead to larger issues down the road, especially with a Champions League tie against Dortmund coming up.
Rudi Garcia’s honeymoon as Lyon manager may be well and truly over, with the side’s disappointing 2-1 league loss to Nice and 0-0 draw with Amiens ruining much of the good will that the Frenchman had tried to build up over the last month. Their previous form, having been unbeaten in 2020 prior to the Nice loss, could be something for Garcia to point to as a motivator and goal to aspire to. Lyon have been better than the 0-0 draw to struggling Amiens might suggest, but Garcia needs to push the right buttons to get better results out of his team. One of his main criticisms in his managerial career has been that he is able to preside over a wave of good form in a team but not reverse the trend when things begin to go poorly, and while this is not exactly the match that Lyon would have circled as their chance to return to winning ways, Garcia is not exactly struggling to find talent in his team. Moussa Dembele and Houssem Aouar have been the main driving forces behind Lyon’s strong 2020, but Garcia will also have to regain the strength in his midfield to reverse their current course. With Thiago Mendes and Lucas Tousart struggling for form, Garcia will have to put his trust in academy graduate Maxence Caqueret, who has been quite impressive in the chances he has been given. Traveling to Paris has been difficult for both Lyon and Rudi Garcia in the past, but a good performance, even with a poor result, would be enough to help push Lyon on for the rest of the season.
Prediction: Lyon at least have a chance at getting a result. With the Champions League match week close, PSG could be looking ahead to their incredibly important first leg in Dortmund, meaning they might rest some players in this match. Neymar’s potential absence could also be a boost to the Rhonealpin team. Despite those positive factors, PSG are just significantly better than most teams in France at the moment, and this should be another victory for the reigning champions.
PSG 3-1 Lyon
Bayern Munich vs. RB Leipzig
Despite Bayern returning to their perch at the top of the Bundesliga, there is still a title race in Germany. This match, between first and second, will go a long way in deciding how much longer the potential title race lasts. With Dortmund’s loss to Leverkusen, they do not have a chance to leapfrog these two teams to the top of the league, so one of these two will be top of the league come the end of the weekend, and we will know much more about the state of the Bundesliga title race.
While he may not have been the preferred managerial option to replace the outgoing Niko Kovac, Hansi Flick is sure putting forward a strong claim for him to keep the job permanently. Bayern are scoring goals for fun at this rate, and the quality of the football is reminiscent of Pep Guardiola’s time in Bavaria. They have scored 17 goals in their last five matches in the league, and they added four more midweek against Hoffenheim in the DFB Pokal. Robert Lewandowski has continued his otherworldly goalscoring form, which has seen him edge closer to surpassing Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to become Bayern’s second highest all-time goalscorer. It is not all good news for Flick, as the training ground injury to Ivan Perisic leaves the team even shorter on wide options. Philippe Coutinho will have to come back into the team, with the recovering Serge Gnabry moving to the right side to accommodate him. The good news is that Bayern are not short on options in the middle of the park, with the in-form Leon Goretzka fighting for a place in the team alongside the equally in-form Thiago Alcantara and Thomas Muller. Lucas Hernandez is nearing a return to the team and could possibly make his return in this match, while Alvaro Odriozola could offer a different option at right back, especially if Joshua Kimmich is preferred in midfield. The Bavarians are not short on options, nor are they short on confidence, and with the Champions League returning soon, Flick knows that the more breathing room they have at the top of the league, the more comfortably they can approach the upcoming fixture congestion.
To say this is the biggest match in RB Leipzig’s history is not an understatement, in my opinion. With their recent stumbles in the league, losing to Eintracht Frankfurt and drawing to Borussia Monchengladbach, they have handed Bayern the reins to the title race. A win in Bavaria, something that the Red Bulls have never done, is the only thing that could guarantee they regain their control of the title race. This could also be the biggest match in the young career of Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann, who has seen his team’s dominant form and goalscoring lethality disappear in a matter of weeks. Leipzig will probably not win the league without a victory in this match, and it will be on Nagelsmann to fix the issues and errors that have led to the Red Bulls’ downturn in form. Specifically, he will have to get the team scoring goals again. Star striker Timo Werner, in imperious goalscoring form prior to his team’s downturn in form, has not scored in his team’s last three games in all competitions. Apart from Christopher Nkunku’s gem of an equalizer against Gladbach, the entire Leipzig attack has seemingly forgotten what made them so great earlier in the season. New signing Dani Olmo could be the key to changing this, and after coming off the bench to score in their 3-1 cup loss to Eintracht Frankfurt, he could be in line to make his first start in a Leipzig shirt. As a winger-turned-midfielder who thrives off finding space in wide areas, he can provide some necessary width to a Leipzig team often left too narrow by their 4-2-2-2 formation. While Bayern are in fantastic form, their struggles against Hoffenheim in midweek, as well as their long list of defensive injuries, highlight the lingering issues in their back line that can be exposed. Olmo is a player that can stretch a back line, opening up space in the middle for the likes of Werner and Patrik Schick to find space and score goals.
Prediction: While Leipzig have struggled recently, they have the talent and coaching ability necessary to turn it around and secure a decisive victory in the title race. It is very hard to bet against Bayern at the moment, however, and Leipzig’s poor form in Bavaria could linger on in this match. This will be a Bayern win, and a step toward taking control of the title race in Germany for the Bavarian giants.
Bayern Munich 3-1 RB Leipzig