A quick preview and breakdown of the biggest matches of the weekend. This part will feature matches taking place on Sunday March 8th.
Sivasspor vs. Galatasaray
Completely (and wrongly) ignored from the weekend previews until now, it is now time to point out that there is an incredible title race taking place in Turkey, with Istanbul Basaksehir, Trabzonspor, Galatasaray, and Sivasspor separated by only four points, and Besiktas and Fenerbahce only nine and 12 points off the top of the table, respectively. Super Lig giants Galatasaray, Trabzonspor, Besiktas, and Fenerbahce are in the thick of a title race with Sivasspor and Basaksehir, who have never won the title. It is going to be incredible to see how this plays out.
Sivasspor have found life difficult recently, only winning three times this calendar year and relinquishing their top spot. They have won their last two games, so this could be a chance for Riza Calimbay’s team to turn things around and keep themselves in the title race. They looked more dynamic and threatening in their last match compared to recent performances, with Mert Yandas and Emre Kilinc shining in attack. There is no doubt that they will at least consider a more conservative set up against a very aggressive Galatasaray team, even though they are playing at home. They should be very aggressive in their own half, wanting to win the ball in midfield and transition into a counter attack quickly. The key will be being able to resist the pressure from Galatasaray, who are a very dynamic attacking team themselves.
Galatasaray, conversely, have been incredible in the second half of the season. They have only lost once in the league since the beginning of December, and they have specifically been very good this calendar year, including a historic away win at Fenerbahce two weeks ago. Fatih Terim has created a team that is terrifying going forward, with Radamel Falcao and Henry Onyekuru specifically being the stars of the show. Their midfield works very hard, able to suffocate the opposition and win the ball high up the pitch. With the importance of this match in the title race, it is safe to consider whether Terim will also consider employing a more conservative style. Knowing how capable Sivasspor is on the counter, it is possible that Galatasaray do not play as quick and with the same ferocity as they have in the past. The tactical chess match between Terim and Calimbay will decide this match.
Prediction: This is an incredibly important match, and it is safe to question how conservative each team will be in this match. However, individual talent and experience should prevail here, and that is a distinct advantage in favor of Galatasaray. They should leave Sivas with all three points.
Sivasspor 1-2 Galatasaray
Juventus vs. Inter
After an incredibly difficult week in Italy due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Italian government and Serie A have figured out how to move forward with the league season. The Derby d’Italia, which was supposed to be last weekend, will take place this weekend behind closed doors in Turin.
The postponement will have been advantageous for Juventus, as it gave Maruizio Sarri extra time on the training pitch to figure out what has gone wrong with his team. A string of poor performances in the league combined with a Champions League loss to Lyon demonstrates the weaknesses of this Juventus team, especially in midfield. Sarri has been unable to find a system that perfectly suits this team, and without the individual brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala, it is fair to question if Juventus would even be in the title race. Luckily, they have Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been in incredible form recently. Him and Dybala up top have the ability to cause serious issues by themselves. Recalling Aaron Ramsey into midfield should offer some slight improvements, and an extra week for Giorgio Chiellini to return to match fitness will only aid the Bianconeri defense. This extra time for preparation, despite some lack of clarity in scheduling, is the major key for Juve, and Sarri has the chance to demonstrate his coaching mettle by showing how he used this extra time to help improve the team.
Inter will likely be the more upset of the two teams with the delay. Having already had their match against Sampdoria postponed, they are really facing a serious fixture crunch toward the end of the season. Having the most difficult run in out of the top three, their title hopes are seemingly hanging in the balance. They have also been in spotty form recently, so the week off should be important for Antonio Conte to get his team back in order and fit for their biggest game of the season. The biggest selection facing Conte is whether to include Christian Eriksen, who was very good in the Europa League. Whether he goes with a creative midfielder or another aggressive, physical presence in the middle of the park is a crucial tactical decision against a Juventus team with a very weak midfield. This is a make-or-break moment for Inter; a loss here could see them fall away in the title race. Conte has to get his tactical choices correct, and he has to hope his team puts out their best performance of the season.
Prediction: It is hard to tell how the postponement is going to impact these teams. It was unclear until earlier this week whether this would be the match played this weekend, so while each team had time to correct any faults in the team, they had a weird and limited amount of preparation time for this match. This will seemingly come down to individual talent, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s individual form should be a game-changer in this match up.
Juventus 1-0 Inter
Chelsea vs. Everton
The battle for the final European spots in England remains incredibly unclear, which is beneficial for both teams. A result here for either team will be huge in their efforts to play in Europe next season.
Chelsea’s resounding win over Liverpool in the FA Cup could go down as a massive turning point in the Blues’ season. Having struggled to find wins in the league recently, they needed a big performance to restore some confidence in the team. They must kick on from here, however, and Frank Lampard’s team has very rarely won on back-to-back occasions since the beginning of the season. They have dealt with injury issues in midfield, but youngster Billy Gilmour was incredibly impressive in their win against Liverpool, and he could possibly become the catalyst for Chelsea to finish the season on a high note and qualify for the Champions League. It will be a big match for Ross Barkley for multiple reasons. Not only is he facing his former team, but he is going into the match off the back of a strong performance and brilliant goal against Liverpool. The likely midfield three of Barkley, Gilmour, and Mason Mount is quite attacking, and they will have to work hard to also protect their defense from an Everton team that is deadly on the counter.
One point from Arsenal and Manchester United is not exactly ideal for Everton in their European hunt, but Carlo Ancelotti cannot be too disappointed by the performances his team put out. They were dominant for large portions of both matches, but through lack of finishing and lack of luck, they could not secure results that reflect their performances. Due to the congestion near the top of the table, Everton are not out of the Champions League hunt, but you would have to think they need a victory in this match to keep those hopes alive. They will have to rely heavily on the front two of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, who have seemingly stuck up a fantastic partnership since Ancelotti took over. The return of Andre Gomes in midfield has made a significant difference in their ability to keep the ball and transition quickly, but his impact will remain limited as he works his way up to full match fitness. The biggest issue remains the defense, which has been shipping goals as of late. Jordan Pickford’s inconsistencies have played into those defensive issues, and they will have to sure up at the back if they want to get results from their next few matches. The injury list has been a depressing sight for Everton fans this season, and it appears Seamus Coleman is the newest addition. Djibril Sidibe should return to the team to replace him, and they could see the long-awaited return of Lucas Digne from injury as well. Yerry Mina should also return into the defense, hoping to provide more stability at the back.
Prediction: One would think Everton would eventually get a result to match their recent performances. Despite Chelsea’s win over Liverpool, I still question their ability to string together good performances. I am leaning toward a draw, simply because I also still do not trust Everton playing away in a stadium they have not won at since the 1990s.
Chelsea 1-1 Everton
Manchester United vs. Manchester City
The last Manchester Derby of the season, but this one feels a bit different. Can a rejuvenated Manchester United team get a result against a still strong Manchester City team?
While Manchester United could consider themselves lucky to squeeze out a draw against Everton, they have still been very good as of late. New signing Bruno Fernandes has been fantastic, scoring against Everton and being nominated for Premier League Player of the Month. They have found enough production from their forwards, largely influenced by Fernandes, and their defense has been very solid as of late. The major issues facing Solskjaer, however, will be the absence of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, both picking up injuries ruling them unavailable for this match. Both of them have been central to their improved defensive form, and much of the responsibility at the back will now be shouldered by Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly. Both players have, admittedly, been good recently, but this will be a major test for the both of them at the back. David De Gea’s error against Everton earned him criticism throughout the media, but Solskjaer should stick with his experienced shot stopper in this match. Solskjaer will have to muster out whatever team talk he gave prior to his side’s win over their cross-town rivals in the EFL Cup, and he will have to hope that Fernandes can work his magic against a City defense that has had issues since the injury to Aymeric Laporte.
Manchester City have also been in fine form as of late, largely supported by the individual brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne, who is also facing a fitness test ahead of the match on Sunday due to back issues. City have struggled to score goals of late, and De Bruyne’s creativity in midfield has largely been their driving force toward victories in recent matches, most notably his brilliant performance in the Champions League against Real Madrid. De Bruyne trained ahead of this match, with Guardiola saying he is not 100%, but is feeling better. If De Bruyne were to miss out, it would be the second crucial injury issue that Pep must contend with, paired with the injury to Aymeric Laporte. City do not lack quality, especially in midfield, but it is hard to replace a player as good as De Bruyne. Going into this match, their main objective should be to limit the influence of Bruno Fernandes, which is going to require a strong performance from a beleaguered defense, as well as support from the midfield, with either Fernandinho or Rodri needed to protect the back line and deny space and time on the ball to Fernandes. City will eventually move beyond the goalscoring issues they are dealing with, so that should not be a massive concern, but being able to limit United’s ability on the counter is essential for Pep’s team to remain in control of this match.
Prediction: It is true that United are much improved, but even without De Bruyne, City are just clearly the better side. United will be competitive, and this will be a major test for Fernandes and the United attack, but City’s quality will shine through. Away teams have tended to be the victors in recent Manchester Derbies, and this match should be no different.
Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City
Lille vs. Lyon
The race for the podium places seems to constantly be taking different twists and turns. Slip ups at the top by Marseille and Rennes present opportunities for the chasing pack, and this match will be significant in deciding how this race for the Champions League ends up.
Lille have been on fire as of late, winning five of their last six in the league and continuing their formidable form at home. Christophe Galtier has found the system that works, with the midfield pairing of Benjamin Andre and Renato Sanches shining in recent matches. With little injury issues to deal with, Galtier will likely keep his team the same, or at least very similar, and ride the wave of positivity and confidence going into a crucial match. The one potential change centers around young star midfielder Boubakary Soumare. Soumare has seemingly repaired his relationship with the club after some issues during the January transfer window, and Soumare is a brilliant player on his day, but it is hard to decide whether Galtier should go away from a midfield system that has been working in previous weeks. I expect Soumare to be on the bench and possibly feature in this match, but it is hard to put him in the team given the current form of Sanches and Andre. There is not much else to say. Galtier should continue riding the form of his midfield, as well as Victor Osimhen and Loic Remy up top, and they should feel very confident going into this match.
Lyon have, despite a disappointing Coupe de France defeat to PSG, seemingly found a rhythm, with a tactical system getting the best out of their best players and performances from the likes of Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and new signing Bruno Guimaraes that are leading to wins. Their win over Juventus in the Champions League, as well as a convincing derby win over Saint-Etienne, has acted as a springboard for les Gones to turn their season around and mount a late push toward the podium places. However, they have played several matches in quite a short span of time, and they must be exhausted as a team at this point. While this match is very important, several more important matches are coming their way, so there will probably be some rotation from Rudi Garcia for this match. Bruno Guimaraes has made a massive difference for Lyon since entering the first team, but I doubt he is able to continue starting after featuring three times within a week and a half. This is a great opportunity for Garcia to bring the young players, who have not featured in recent matches, back into the team. Maxence Caqueret offers a solid replacement for Guimaraes in midfield, and Rayan Cherki can feature again if one of Aouar or Karl Toko-Ekambi needs to be rested from the front three. Given the need to rotate, this match could not come at a worse time, given Lyon’s very poor form away to Lille in the last several years. If they are to win this match, the youngsters will have to perform. Cherki will have to find the magic he performed with in his coming out party match against Nantes. Caqueret and whomever partners him in midfield, likely Lucas Tousart, will need to put out a strong performance to counteract the in-form Lillois midfield pairing of Sanches and Andre. Needing to rotate is understandable, but that just puts more pressure on the players entering the team.
Prediction: Lyon’s fixture congestion has to catch up with them at some point, and given Lille’s impressive recent record at home against OL, this is seemingly the match they will drop. If they do, it will open up a gap in the table that may be too large for OL to overcome. Their chances at the podium were always a longshot, given their poor start to the season, and it seems that poor start is catching up to them.
Lille 2-1 Lyon