El Derbi madrileño, The Derby d’Italia, and a League Cup Final

This weekend is El Derbi madrileño, the League Cup final, the derby d’Italia, and two big games in Germany and France between heavyweights

  1. Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid ~ Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Saturday, February 27th at 10:00 am EST on beIN Sports

The Madrid Derby or in Spanish El Derbi madrileño takes place this weekend as Atletico travels across the Spanish capital to the Bernabeu.  The two teams are currently chasing Barcelona for the title this season and both would love to take all three points from their crosstown rivals.  Both teams drew last weekend in the league, which opened the gap between Atletico and Barcelona to 8 points.  Atletico is one point ahead of Real Madrid.  Atletico has the best defense in the league, having conceded just 11 goals all season.  That is an average of .44 goals against per game.  Real Madrid has the league’s best offense having scored 71 goals.  That is an average of 2.84 goals per game.  One of the two will have to give during this game.  The game in the Calderon ended with a 1-1 draw.  Real Madrid will be without Gareth Bale, Pepe, and Marcelo for this clash.  Atletico Madrid will be missing Yannick Carrasco and Tiago.  Stefan Savic is in doubt which could mean that Thomas Partey returns to the starting lineup.  Fun fact for this game, Atletico Madrid has gone 180 minutes without conceding a single shot on target in the league.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Real 4/5, Atleti 15/4, Draw 13/5

First Goalscorer – Ronaldo 11/4, Benzema 9/2, Jese 5/1

Predictions

My Pick – Real Madrid 1, Atletico Madrid 1: Goals by Ronaldo and Saul

James’ Pick – Real Madrid 2, Atletico Madrid 1: Goals by Ronaldo, Benzema, Griezmann

  1. Manchester City vs. Liverpool ~ Wembley Stadium, London ~ League Cup Final

Sunday, February 28th at 11:30 am EST on beIN Sports USA

The first major trophy in England is up for grabs this weekend as Manchester City and Liverpool square off in Wembley Stadium on Sunday.  The two teams will be looking to add some silverware to their trophy cabinets.  For Liverpool, this is their 12th trip to the final having won the League Cup a record 8 times. The last time they won the title was in 2012 under Kenny Daglish.  This is Manchester City’s 5th trip to the final.  They won the Cup in 2014 and two times in the 70s.  When the two teams met earlier this season, Liverpool defeated Manchester City 4-1 in what has to be said was probably the team’s best performance under Klopp.  They will look to do it again, but City is in better health and will be looking for some revenge.  City should have the majority of their squad healthy for this game.  The only really big figure missing will be Kevin De Bruyne.  Liverpool also has some key players back as Daniel Sturridge looks to be getting closer and closer to his form of a couple years ago.  Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Joe Allen, and Adam Lallana could all return for this game.  It should be a very entertaining tie with one team picking up a trophy for this season.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Liverpool 21/10, Man City 13/10, Draw 5/2

First Goalscorer – Aguero 7/2, Iheanacho 9/2, Sturridge 11/2

Predictions

My Pick – Man City 1, Liverpool 2: Goals by Aguero, and Sturridge (2)

James’ Pick – Man City 2, Liverpool 1: Goals by Aguero, Toure, and Sturridge

  1. Wolfsburg vs. Bayern Munich ~ Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg

Saturday, February 27th at 9:30 pm EST on Fox Sports 2

Wolfsburg would not have liked what happened this week in the second half of the Bayern Munich vs. Juventus match.  Juventus was able to score two goals and punish a team that seemingly took their foot off the gas.  This means that Bayern will be upset and could look to take their aggression out on Wolfsburg.   Bayern Munich is pretty safe at the top of the Bundesliga with an 8 point advantage on their nearest rivals.  They look set to wrap up their fourth title in a row.  Wolfsburg, meanwhile, has some work to do if they want to get back into the Champions League for next season.  They are currently 4 points outside of the Champions League places.  Wolfsburg has a long injury list as Benaglio, Jung, Caligiuri, Guilavogui, Bas Dost, Henrique, Seguin, and Ascues are all out of the game.  Bayern on the other hand will be without Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber, and Javi Martinez.  Rafinha is suspended due to accumulation of bookings.  It will be another mix and match for Pep at the back, but Bayern will still be the stronger team.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Wolfsburg 7/1, Munich 2/5, Draw 15/4

First Goalscorer – Lewandowski 13/5, Muller 10/3, Robben 9/2

Predictions

My Pick – Wolfsburg 1, Bayern Munich 3: Goals by Draxler, Lewandowski (2), and Muller

James’ Pick – Wolfsburg 1, Bayern Munich 3: Goals by Kruse, Lewandowski (2), and Mueller

  1. Juventus vs. Inter Milan ~ Juventus Stadium, Turin

Sunday, February 28th at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports

This weekend two of the biggest clubs in Italy clash as Juventus and Inter Milan meet in Turin.  This game is known as the Derby d’Italia.  It was given this name back in 1967, as this is probably the most intense match in Italy between teams from different cities.  The first game between these two clubs was played in 1909.  Juventus has climbed to the top of the table and Inter Milan has slipped off the top table and are now in 5th place.  They are still in the running for the Champions League places but will need to get some wins under their belt.  They are currently 4 points off the pace.  Juventus has the best defense in the league, conceding just 15 goals this season.  Inter Milan has a solid defense as well, having conceded just 23 goals in the 26 games played so far.  This looks to be a low scoring affair.  Juventus will need to win to guarantee that they are top of the table at the end of the weekend.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Juventus 4/7, Inter 5/1, Draw 3/1

First Goalscorer – Mandzukic 7/2, Dybala 4/1, Morata 9/2

Predictions

My Pick – Juventus 1, Inter 0: Goal by Dybala

James’ Pick – Juventus 2,  Inter 1: Goals by Dybala, Mandzukic, and Icardi

  1. Lyon vs. Paris Saint-Germain ~ Stade de Gerland, Lyon

Sunday, February 28th at 3:00 pm EST on beIN Sports Connect

Lyon will get their chance to become the first French team to defeat PSG this season as they host the Parisian giants.  PSG has effectively wrapped up the title having won 12 of their 14 games on the road, and they are currently unbeaten in the league.  The only loss they have suffered all season was in Madrid during the Champions’ League group stage.  Lyon has done better lately after winning just 4 of their first 10 games in the league.    Lyon are currently 2 points from a spot in the Champions League next season.  However, recently they have lost 3 of their last 6 in all competitions, including losses at Bastia and Lille in the league.  There other loss was to PSG in the French Cup.  The score that night was 3-0.  Will we see something similar this weekend?  This should be PSG’s biggest test until Monaco visits in March.  The record unbeaten run was in 1994/95 when FC Nantes went 32 games unbeaten in one-season.  This will likely keep their focus for the rest of the season as they chase the perfect season.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Lyon 15/4, PSG 3/4, Draw 11/4

First Goalscorer – Ibrahimovic 3/1, Cavani 5/1, Lacazette 6/1

Predictions

My Pick – Lyon 1, PSG 3: Goals by Lacazette, Cavani, Moura, and Ibrahimovic

James’ Pick – Lyon 1, PSG 3: Goals by Lacazette, Ibrahimovic (2), and Cavani

Champions League Recap

This week we had the last four matchups from the round of 16 take place.  Here is just a quick recap of those four.

Arsenal 0, Barcelona 2:  It took a while, but the quality of Barcelona finally shone through as they went on to win the game 2-0.  Messi scored his first two goals ever against Petr Cech.  The first goal was the end of a brilliant counter attacking move and the second was a penalty.  Barcelona definitely has one leg in the final going into the second leg.

Juventus 2, Bayern Munich 2:  Bayern Munich absolutely dominated the first half.  It was some of the best football I have seen all year.  However, late in the second half, Juventus pegged their way back to give them some hope for the second leg.  Muller opened the scoring and Robben added the second early in the second half.  Dybala and Sturaro sent this game back to Munich level.

PSV Eindhoven 0, Atletico Madrid 0: Atletico were the stronger side but could not find the back of the net.  Jeroen Zoet had a wonderful game.  This one is all to play for in a couple weeks in Madrid.  Gaston Pereiro will miss the second leg thanks to his two yellow cards.

Dynamo Kyiv 1, Manchester City 3:  Manchester City looks set to advance to the quarterfinals after a very good performance in Ukraine.  Aguero and Silva scored in the first half.  Vitaliy Buyalskyy gave the home team some hope, but Yaya Toure sealed the impressive win.

Europa League Draw

The round of 16 was drawn this morning with the two legs to take place on March 10th and March 17th and there are some great matchups.  Manchester United recovered from their first leg defeat against Midtjylland and now faces one of their biggest rivals in Liverpool who defeated Augsburg 1-0.  Athletic Bilbao will square off with Valencia.  Borussia Dortmund has a date with Tottenham Hotspur.  The holders, Sevilla, will face FC Basel.  The other ties are Shakhtar – Anderlecht, Fenerbahce – Braga, Villarreal – Bayer, and Sparta Prague – Lazio.

FIFA Presidential Election

There is a new president of FIFA.  Gianni Infantino won the election today in the second round of voting.  He was the UEFA secretary general but will move up the ladder to the most powerful seat in sports.  Ahead of the elections, the FIFA council voted to pass many reforms designed to repair its image.  Tokyo Sexwale took himself out of the race just before the voting.  He was the interim president.  In the first round, Infantino earned 88 votes, Salman earned 85 votes, Prince Ali earned 27 votes and Jerome Champagne earned 7 votes.  This meant that a second round was needed.  Gianni won the second round with 115 votes.  It will be interesting to see how he can change the image of FIFA and what he does with the organization.

Other Games on TV This Weekend

England – Premier League

West Ham United vs. Sunderland – Saturday at 7:45 am EST on NBCSN

Leicester City vs. Norwich City – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on NBCSN

West Bromwich Albion vs. Crystal Palace – Saturday at 12:30 pm EST on NBC

Manchester United vs. Arsenal – Sunday at 9:05 am EST on NBCSN

Italy – Serie A

Empoli vs. Roma – Saturday at 12:00 pm EST on beIN Sports USA

Milan vs. Torino – Saturday at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports USA

Sampdoria vs. Frosinone – Sunday at 9:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Germany – Bundesliga

Stuttgart vs. Hannover 96 – Saturday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Soccer Plus

Augsburg vs. Borussia Monchengladbach – Saturday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 2

Borussia Dortmund vs. Hoffenheim – Sunday at 11:30 am EST on Fox Soccer Plus

Mainz 05 vs. Bayer Leverkusen – Sunday at 11:30 am EST on Fox Sports 2

Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Schalke 04 – Sunday at 1:30 pm EST on Fox Soccer Plus

 

 

Who is going to get Relegated?

This week, I want to take a look at the relegation battles around the big 5 leagues and see who could be in trouble, and who will need to fight to stay in the top flights.

German Bundesliga

In the Bundesliga, there are only 18 teams.  Of these 18 teams, 15 will automatically be back in the Bundesliga next year.  The bottom 2 teams are automatically relegated to the 2. Bundesliga and the team that finishes in 16th plays a two-legged play-off with the team that finishes third in the 2. Bundesliga.  So who is in these places? Currently Hannover is on the bottom of the table with 14 points.  Hoffenheim is in 17th place with 18 points.  Werder Bremen is in 16th place with 20 points.  The race is not very tight as points can come at a premium at the bottom of the table.  Eintracht is two points clear of Werder and Darmstadt 98 and Augsburg are 4 points clear.  These teams have 12 games remaining on the schedule and will need to get points in some big results.  Some of the fixtures in this relegation battle to keep an eye on… Eintracht hosts Werder in the last week of the season, Hannover hosts Hoffenheim in the second to last week.  Next weekend Werder hosts Darmstadt, and in 4 weeks Darmstadt hosts Augsburg.  This is not the closest race to the finish line, but Werder Bremen will need to keep themselves within 3 points of Eintracht to give them a shot at safety on the last weekend.

Italian Serie A

 In Italy, there are 20 teams in the top flight and the bottom 3 gets relegated to Serie B.  While the race at the top is really starting to heat up, the race at the bottom is also fairly tight as well.  Right now, Verona (18 points), Carpi (20), Frosinone (23) are in the bottom 3 spots.  In my opinion, these teams are in danger of being dragged into the bottom 3: Sampdoria (25), Palermo (26), and Udinese (27).  If Udinese are able to win their next two games then I think they will be safe this season.  While Verona looks to be in some real trouble, they came away with 3 points this weekend after defeating Chievo 3-1.  The next two weeks will be huge for Verona as they want to survive when they travel to Udinese and then host Sampdoria.  Frosinone could get out of the bottom 3 if they can put a string of results together as they travel to Sampdoria next weekend, host Udinese the following week, and then travel to Carpi.  It is really going to be an interesting couple of weeks as many of the teams in the bottom face each other.

French Ligue 1

In France, there are also 20 teams and despite them trying to change it, the bottom 3 will all get relegated.  There were discussions about changing it to just the bottom 2, but in January they decided that it would be the bottom 3.  These teams will be relegated to the Ligue 2 in France.  Troyes will need to win the rest of their 11 games in order to survive and then probably still need some help.  Toulouse also seems to be gone as they have just 22 points and are 6 points behind Ajaccio.  GFC Ajaccio is in the third relegation spot with 28 points.  They are just one point from safety as Stade Reims has 29.  The only other team that is likely to be in some sort of trouble is Guingamp who have 31 points.  During matchday 31, Stade Reims host Guingamp in what could be a big match to assure safety.  However, Ajaccio ends the season with Lyon, PSG and then Lorient.  Those will be three tough games and could seal their fate.

Spanish La Liga

Of the 20 teams in the top flight of Spain, the bottom 3 will be relegated to the Segunda Division.  Three teams in the Primera Division have never been relegated since the league was founded in 1929.  Those three are Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Athletic Bilbao.  History is not going to happen this year as all three look very safe.  The bottom 8 teams in the league are separated by just 7 points.  The bottom 3 is currently Granada (20 points), Levante (20), and Las Palmas (21).  These three are very close and all look to be in some trouble. The distance from safety is 3 points for Las Palmas as Sporting have 24 points.  Espanyol and Rayo each have 25 points.  Getafe and Betis are probably safe as they have 26 and 27 points respectively.  Next weekend is going to be really big as Sporting hosts Espanyol and Real Betis hosts Rayo.  The following week we see Granada hosting Sporting and Espanyol hosts Real Betis.  As you look through the calendar, there seem to be a ton of relegation 6 pointer.  I think that the bottom 3 might stay the same for the rest of the season, but it could get a lot tighter at the bottom in the next two weeks.

English Premier League

The bottom 3 teams of the English Premier League get relegated to the Championship for next season.  This is a big deal, as the new TV deal kicks in next season and relegation will cost them a lot of money.  Aston Villa has flirted with relegation for the last couple seasons, and this year they look set to finally get relegated.  They currently are 8 points from safety and while they have gotten some points recently, they looked doomed to get relegated.  The next 3 teams in the table are separated by just 1 point.  Sunderland has 23 points; Newcastle and Norwich City each have 24 points.  Norwich is ahead on goal difference.  There is a bit of a gap to the next team as Swansea City seems to be righting their ship.  They currently have 27 points.  The only other team that could get drawn in is Bournemouth who is on 28 points.  The race to avoid the last two spots should be really good. Newcastle and Sunderland meet in March is what will be a huge game for those two.  Three points against their biggest rivals will be beneficial for them and detrimental for their rivals.  The next weekend, Newcastle travels to Norwich.  Norwich and Sunderland meet a couple weeks later.  This will be three big games in the relegation battle.  Who will survive and get to see the riches of the Premier League?

FA Cup Recap

The fifth round of the FA Cup took place the weekend with a place in the quarterfinals on the line.  Watford defeated Leeds 1-0 at home.  Their opponent will be decided next week since Arsenal drew 0-0 with Hull City.  The replay will take place in Hull on March 8th.  Everton defeated fellow Premier league side Bournemouth 2-0.  They will meet Chelsea after they dismantled a weak Manchester City squad.  This squad featured 5 first team debutants.  Manchester United got to back to winning ways today when they beat Shrewsbury 3-0.  West Ham went to Blackburn and won 5-1.  They will travel to Manchester City in the next round.  Crystal Palace defeated Tottenham 1-0.  They will face the only non Premier League side to advance so far in Reading, who will hope to get back to Wembley for the second straight year.  The quarterfinals are scheduled to take place on March 12th.

Goals of the Weekend

My Pick: I am going to go with this goal from Domenico Berardi against Empoli in Serie A for Sassuolo.  This is a name to remember.

James’ Pick: He is going to go with Thomas Muller for his brilliant finish against Darmstadt.  What a finish!

Champions League Predictions

This week there are four Champions League Knockout matches.

Arsenal vs. Barcelona – Emirates Stadium, London – Tuesday at 2:45 pm EST on Fox Sports 1

This should be an interesting game.  Arsenal will need to keep a clean sheet if they want to really have a chance.  I think it will be tough for Arsenal to stop the front 3 of Barcelona.  I think Arsenal has a great advantage on set pieces but that is not enough.  Barcelona 2-1.

James’ Thoughts: Barca has too much pace, star power and minimal injuries.  They are just a better team that won’t struggle against an opportunistic Gunner team, 2-1 Barcelona.

Juventus vs. Bayern Munich – Juventus Stadium, Turin – Tuesday at 2:45 pm EST on  Fox Sports 2

This is the best matchup of the round, the champions of Italy against the champions of Germany.  Both of these teams can make it all the way and possibly win the whole thing.  I think this leg will be very tight and could go a long way in deciding who wins the competition.  Juventus 1-0.

James’ Thoughts: This is going to be a fun one to watch.  Great play up and down the pitch, but Bayern get a huge away win to set themselves up to close in on the quarterfinals.  They rise to the occasion and play at their best.  Juventus 1, Bayern 2

PSV Eindhoven vs. Atletico Madrid – Philips Stadion – Wednesday at 2:45 pm EST on Fox Sports 2

I think this one will be fairly straight forward as Atletico Madrid should advance over two legs but crazier things have happened.  PSV could get a result this week but I think that it will be too tight.  I think it will be a draw 0-0.

James’ Thoughts: Madrid are way too strong defensively and get 2 of their own, and one own goal on a poor play from PSV, Madrid 3-0.

Dynamo Kyiv vs. Manchester City – NSC Olimpiyskiy, Kiev – Wednesday at 2:45 pm EST on Fox Sports 1

Can Manchester City make it to the quarterfinal?  I think they can but I am not going to say that they will win this leg.  The long trip to the Ukraine coupled with possible hostile environment leads to a draw or home victory.  I think 1-1.

James’ Thoughts: City plays off the miserable late performances and come out the team they should be with strong possession and great finishes from Aguero. Kyiv 1, Manchester City 2.

Top 4 Clashes and More

This week we feature a couple top four matchups, two of the oldest and most successful clubs in France, the new number 2 in Italy, and an FA Cup Giants matchup.

  1. Atletico Madrid vs. Villarreal ~ Estadio Vicente Calderon, Madrid

Sunday, February 21st at 2:30 pm EST on beIN Sports Connect

This weekend, we see the fourth place team travel to the capital to face the team in second.  These are the top two defensive teams.  Atletico Madrid has conceded just 11 goals this season.  Villarreal has conceded 18.  That is some tough defense and makes you think this is going to be a tight affair with few chances.  Since their loss to Barcelona, Atletico has won both of their games, including a clean sheet last weekend.  Villarreal is in the middle of an 11 game unbeaten run.  They have kept 3 straight clean sheets.  Atleti needs to find a way to break that streak as they will need to keep pace with the other two.  Villarreal is fairly secure in their 4th place spot as they have an 8 point lead on Sevilla.  Jose Gimenez is out due to a ban so Stefan Savic should start in the back.  Look for Torres to keep his place in the attack over Vietto.  For Villarreal, Jonathan Dos Santos is out after being stretchered off on Thursday.  This is a top four showdown that will be a really tough event.  Look for both teams to be very resilient at the back.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Atleti 8/15, Villarreal 13/2, Draw 14/5

First Goalscorer – Griezmann 3/1, Torres 9/2, Vietto 5/1

Predictions

My Pick – Atleti 1, Villarreal 0: Goal by Torres

James’ Pick – Atleti 1, Villarreal 1: Goals by Baptistao and Griezmann 

  1. Bayer Leverkusen vs. Borussia Dortmund ~ BayArena, Leverkusen

Sunday, February 21st at 9:30 am EST on Fox Soccer Plus

This weekend is another #2 vs. #3 weekend for Borussia Dortmund.  Two weeks ago, they faced Hertha Berlin and were held to a scoreless draw.  This weekend, they travel to Leverkusen to face the new third place team.  The difference in points between the two teams is 13 points, so it is not very tight at the top.  Dortmund is in the middle of a 4 game unbeaten run having kept 3 straight clean sheets.  Leverkusen is in the midst of a 6 game unbeaten run.  This has led to them climbing up into the top 4.  They will need at least a point to stay in the top four this weekend.  The race for the last two Champions League spots is very tight and points will be at a premium.  Both of these teams featured in the Europa League on Thursday.  This could lead to some rotation in the squads.  For Leverkusen, Chicharito, Kruse, Lars Bender, and Charles Aranguiz are all out.  Kevin Kampl is a doubt but should feature.  Tin Jedvaj and Roberto Hilbert should compete for a spot at right back.  Mehmedi and Calhanoglu are in competition for the starting spot on the left wing.  For Dortmund, Nuri Sahin and Sven Bender are out which means that we will not have a Bender in the Bender family derby.  Castro, Ginter, Ramos, and Durm could all be in line for start.  This should be a very competitive game.  Look for a lot of chances to be created during the game.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Leverkusen 12/5, Dortmund 11/10, Draw 5/2

First Goalscorer – Aubameyang 4/1, Reus 11/2, Kiessling 11/2

Predictions

My Pick – Leverkusen 2, Dortmund 3: Goals by Brandt, Mehmedi, Aubameyang, Reus, and Castro

James’ Pick – Leverkusen 0, Dortmund 2: Goals by Reus and Mkhitaryan. 

  1. Napoli vs. AC Milan ~ Stadio San Paolo

Monday, February 22st at 3:00 pm EST on beIN Sports

After 6 weeks on top of the league, Napoli is now in second following their late defeat to Juventus.  The big question now is how they will respond.  In their first game after the defeat, Napoli lost 1-0 away at Villarreal in the Europa League.  The first Italian team to ask this question of them is AC Milan.  Milan has been better lately as they have gone 7 games unbeaten.  They sit in 5th place, just 6 points from the Champions League spots.  A win this weekend could go a long way for them towards their return to European football.  Napoli is seemingly focusing on the league and that is their main goal.  Maurizio Sarri should rotate his squad back to his strongest 11 after applying some rotation against Villarreal.  They have no missing players right now as well.  The focal point will be Higuain who has 24 goals this season.  AC Milan are without Diego Lopez, Rodrigo Ely, and Juraj Kucka.  Bonaventura and Niang are both expected to be back.  Boateng and Balotelli look set for places on the bench.  This is a big game for Napoli and a must win.  Milan could use that to their advantage, but they will need to stop Higuain if they want 3 points.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Napoli 4/7, Milan 5/1, Draw 3/1

First Goalscorer – Higuain 3/1, Gabbiadini 5/1, Mertens 11/2

Predictions

My Pick – Napoli 2, Milan 1: Goals by Higuain, Insigne, and Bacca

James’ Pick – Napoli 1, Milan 2: Goals by Higuain, Bacca, and Honda. 

  1. Marseille vs. Saint-Etienne ~ Stade Velodrome, Marseille

Sunday, February 21st at 8:00 am EST on beIN Sports Connect

The two most successful teams in Ligue 1 meet this weekend when Saint-Etienne travel to Marseille.  Saint-Etienne has won 10 league titles and Marseille has won 9.  Both of these teams have had very disappointing seasons so far as they struggled out of the gate.  Marseille is sitting in 11th place and has never really looked like challenging for the title or a Champions League place.  Saint-Etienne has seemingly righted the ship and is getting involved in the Champions League races.  They are currently in 4th place and level on points with Nice in third.  A win for Saint-Etienne this weekend could send them into the Champions League places.  In the last 6 matches, Marseille has dominated the matchup, winning 3 of the games and drawing 2 of them.  Remy Cabella should return to the lineup for Marseille.  Mauricio Isla looks set to start with Brice Dja Djedje out injured.  Saint-Etienne should give starts to January signings Alexander Soderlund and Ole Selnaes.  Perrin, Corgnet, and Pierre Gabriel are all a doubt.  This is a much bigger game for Les Verts (Saint-Etienne) and we will see if the fatigue will get to them, or if they can make a big statement towards reaching the Champions League.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Marseille 10/11, St.-Etienne 7/2, Draw 23/10

First Goalscorer – Batshuayi 11/4, Rabillard 5/1, Beric 11/2

Predictions

My Pick – Marseille 1, St.-Etienne 2: Goals by Batshuayi, Soderlund, and Tannane

James’ Pick – Marseille 1, St.-Etienne 0: Goal by Thauvin. 

  1. Chelsea vs. Manchester City ~ Stamford Bridge, London

Sunday, February 21st at 11:00 am EST on Fox Sports 2

The FA Cup returns this weekend in England and we have two of the English heavyweights meeting in the Fifth Round.  This is one of three matchups this weekend that features two teams from the top flight.  This game features two teams that are trending in different directions as well.  Chelsea has seen their form greatly improve since the firing of Jose Mourinho.  They lost their first game since the manager change this week when they lost 2-1 in Paris.  Manchester City, on the other hand, has lost their last two games in the Premier League.  This is going to be an interesting matchup and could be a big boost to the winner.  Chelsea should feature Asmir Begovic in goal.  John Terry, Kurt Zouma, and Falcao are all out injured.  Alexandre Pato is still unfit.  City has a long list of injuries and should rotate their squad with Champions League and the League Cup coming up.  Look for a lot of young talented City players to get a shot.  Guus knows what it takes to win this competition and it is probably Chelsea’s best shot at a trophy this season.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Chelsea 4/5, Man City 15/4, Draw 29/10

First Goalscorer – Costa 4/1, Remy 5/1, Aguero 11/2

Predictions

My Pick – Chelsea 2, City 1: Goals by Willian, Costa, and Sterling

James’ Pick – Chelsea 2, City 0: Goals by Fabregas and Costa. 

Champions League Recap

This week we saw four games take place in the Champions League.  Here is just a quick recap of those four.

Paris Saint Germain 2, Chelsea 1: A late strike from Cavani gives PSG a slight advantage, but there is still hope for the London club.  A big chance to advance if they can get it right at home in a couple weeks.

Benfica 1, Zenit St. Petersburg 0:  Benfica left it to very late, but they were able to win the game in the 91st minute when Jonas headed in Nicolas Gaitan’s free kick.  This two-legged tie is far from over as we head to Russia for the second match but it was a vital late goal.

Gent 2, Wolfsburg 3: With 30 minutes to go in the game, this game looked set to be over as Wolfsburg had a 3 goal lead thanks to goals on either side of halftime from Draxler and one from Max Kruse.  Then in the last 10 minutes.  Sven Kums and Kalifa Coulibaly scored for the home side.  It is still a massive 3 road goals and a win for Wolfsburg.

Roma 0, Real Madrid 2: Roma came with a nice plan that lead to Real not getting a shot on target in the first half, however, Ronaldo broke the deadlock just before the hour mark.  Then late on in the game, Jese doubled their advantage and give Real Madrid one foot in the Quarterfinals.

Other Games on TV This Weekend

Spain – La Liga

Las Palmas vs. Barcelona – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Malaga vs. Real Madrid – Sunday at 10:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Italy – Serie A

Internazionale vs. Sampdoira – Saturday at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports

Frosinone vs. Lazio – Sunday at 12:00 pm EST on beIN Sports

Roma vs. Palermo – Sunday at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports

Germany – Bundesliga

Bayern Munchen vs. Darmstadt 98 – Saturday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Soccer Plus

Schalke 04 vs. Stuttgart – Sunday at 11:30 am EST on Fox Soccer Plus

England – FA Cup

Arsenal vs. Hull City – Saturday at 7:45 am EST on Fox Sports 1

Reading vs. West Bromwich Albion – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on Fox Sports 2

AFC Bournemouth vs. Everton – Saturday at 12:15 pm EST on Fox Sports 2

Blackburn Rovers vs. West Ham United – Sunday at 8:30 am EST on Fox Sports 2

Shrewsbury Town vs. Manchester United – Monday at 2:30 pm EST on Fox Sports 1

A Look at The Title Races

What a day to be sitting on the couch!  Sunday was an absolutely beautiful day of soccer.  This week, I will focus on the top end of the table in each league.  I will give a quick look at who is on top and who is still in the race for each league.  Then I will give quick preview of the upcoming Champions League matches this weekend.

English Premier League

The EPL title race really tightened up this weekend.  On Sunday each of the top four teams faced each other.  On Saturday, the team in 5th place, Manchester United lost 2-1 at Sunderland.  This meant that they would not be gaining ground on the top four and remain at least 6 points behind Manchester City in 4th.  On Sunday the day started when the leaders, Leicester City, traveled to Arsenal.  Arsenal fell behind 1-0 but then in the second half Danny Simpson was sent off and the game tide turned.  Arsenal went on to have about 80% of the ball.  Leicester was doing very well but a lovely cushioned crossed by Olivier Giroud found Theo Walcott who beat Kasper Schmeichel.  The game stayed level until the last kick of the ball.  Marcin Wasilewski fouled Nacho Monreal.  Mesut Ozil took the free kick and Danny Welbeck placed his header in the back of the net.  This meant that Arsenal closed the gap to 2 points at the top.  In the other top four matchup, Tottenham defeated Manchester City 2-1.   Tottenham took the lead through a Harry Kane penalty in the first half.  In the second half, Kelechi Iheannacho leveled the score with just about 15 minutes to play.  The game was very much back and forth, but in the 83rd minute Erik Lamela played in Christian Eriksen who went on to score the game winning goal.  This means that we should have a great race for the last 12 games of the season.  Leicester remains on top but are only 2 points ahead of Tottenham and Arsenal.  Manchester City is going to need to turn their form around as they are 6 points behind the leaders.

Spanish La Liga

The Spanish top flight is a three horse race again this year as Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Real Madrid fight it out.  Barcelona is at the top of the table.  They defeated Celta Vigo this weekend 6-1.  The game was tied 1-1 at half but in the second half, it was all Barcelona.  Suarez scored a hat trick.  Atletico Madrid remained in second following their 1-0 win over Getafe.  The goal came from Fernando Torres in the second minute.  Atletico continues with their dominating defense having only conceded 11 goals this season.  4 of those goals have been scored by Barcelona this season.  Atletico sits 3 points behind Barcelona and they have played 1 more game than the leaders.  Real Madrid sits in third place, a point behind Atletico.  They have also played one more game than Barcelona.  This weekend, they defeated Athletic Bilbao 4-2.  Ronaldo scored a brace and Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez scored the other two.  There is still an El Clasico to come and a Madrid Derbi, but if Barcelona is to be caught, they would need to drop points in a couple games.  Otherwise we will see Barcelona win their 6th title in the last 10 years.

French Ligue 1

The champion is getting closer and closer to being official.  PSG remains on top of the table and unbeaten this season.  They currently have a 24 point lead over Monaco.  Right now, if Monaco wins all of their 12 remaining games, they would have 82 points.  PSG right now have 70 points.  They are 4 wins away from clinching the title.  This weekend, the top two were not successful.  PSG drew 0-0 with Lille.  Monaco drew 1-1 with Saint-Etienne.  Those two teams look set to qualify for the Champions League as Monaco have a 6 point lead over Nice and Saint-Etienne.  The interesting race will be that of the third and final Champions League spot.  Right now, 6 teams are within 3 points of that place.  Nice is currently in third with 40 points.  They are just above Saint-Etienne on goal difference.  In 5th and 6th are Lyon and Nantes.  They both have 39 points.  Rennes has 38 points and they are in 7th place.  Lastly Angers is in 8th with 37 points.  The last 12 games will be very interesting to see who is able to pick up that last Champions League place.

German Bundesliga

 With 13 games to go in the season, the Bundesliga is close to being decided as well since Bayern Munich has only dropped points in 3 games with just 1 loss.  They are currently 8 points clear of their nearest rivals and look to have 4th title in a row wrapped up.  This weekend, they defeated Augsburg 3-1 thanks to two more goals from Lewandowski and one from Muller.  The focus for them now has to be trying to win the Champions League as they look set to win the title.  Dortmund has rebounded nicely after their poor season last season and they are now 13 points clear of third place.  They look like sure favorites to finish in 2nd place.  They defeated Hannover this weekend thanks to a second half goal from Henrik Mkhitaryan.  The race for the other two Champions League spots is getting really tight as 5 teams are all within 3 points of each other.  Bayer Leverkusen and Hertha Berlin are currently in the last two spots with 35 points each.  Bayer defeated Darmstadt 2-1 this weekend.  Hertha lost to Stuttgart 2-0.  Right behind them is Schalke and Mainz who are both on 33 points after Mainz defeated Schalke 2-1 last Friday.  Monchengladbach is just on the outside now thanks to their 3-2 defeat to Hamburger this weekend.  They have 32 points.  This should be a great race to the finish line in Germany.

Italian Serie A

In the Serie A, we have a new but familiar leader now thanks to a late goal from Simone Zaza.  His goal was the only goal in a 1-0 win from Juventus over title rivals Napoli.  The win sent Juventus over Napoli in the table.  It completes their epic climb from 17th to first place over the course of this season.  The defending champions extended their unbeaten run to 15 games this season.  The loss leaves Napoli one point behind Juventus.  This should make the run in great as the two can’t afford to drop many points.  These two have distanced themselves from the rest of the pack.  Napoli is 7 points ahead of third place Fiorentina.  The race for third will be one to watch as Roma has started to climb back into the race.   They are now just two points behind Fiorentina.  Inter Milan has really fallen off having gone from the top spot just a couple weeks ago to now being in 5th place.  They are 4 points from a Champions League place.  The title race is probably going to be the best race in all of the big 5 leagues.

Goal of the Weekend

For my goal of the weekend, I am going to go with Keisuke Honda’s goal for AC Milan against Genoa.

 

James is going to go with Danny Welbeck’s game winning goal in the last seconds against Leicester.

I also have to share this brilliant penalty kick taken by Leo Messi and finished off Luis Suarez.

Champions League Predictions

This week there are four Champions League Knockout matches.

  1. Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea – Parc des Princes, Paris – Tuesday at 2:45 pm EST on Fox Sports 1

This game should be one of the better ties in the round of 16.  This is a rematch from last season that saw PSG advance on away goals.  Chelsea has gotten off to a rough start but really righted the ship lately under Guus Hiddink.  Look for PSG to try and dominate this game; I am going PSG 3, Chelsea 1.

James’ thoughts: This is a huge opportunity for Chelsea to show they have turned the corner and are back on track but a late goal ends the optimism.  PSG continue domination and win 2-1.

  1. Benfica vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg – Estadio da Luz, Lisbon – Tuesday at 2:45 pm EST on Fox Sports 2

Both of these two teams would be very excited to make it to the Quarterfinals of the competition.  Zenit was the last team to drop points in the competition.  The last game that Zenit played was their 2-1 loss to Gent.  I think this one will be tough for Zenit.  Benfica 2-0.

James’ thoughts: I think it’ll be a good trip for Zenit as they win 2-1.

  1. Gent vs. Wolfsburg – Ghelamco Arena, Gent – Wednesday at 2:45 pm EST on Fox Sports 2

This game to features one team that is sliding down the German table and another team sitting in second place in the Belgian Super League.  Gent is definitely the surprise team of the week.  Look for them to try to keep a clean sheet.  0-0 draw in the first leg.

James’ thoughts: German team dominates here, wins 2-0.

  1. Roma vs. Real Madrid – Stadio Olimpico, Rome – Wednesday at 2:45 pm EST on Fox Sports 1

The 10 time winner, Real Madrid, begins the campaign toward winning their 11th title in the Italian capital as they face Roma.  Roma has been very up and down but look to be in trouble.  They were dominated by Barcelona in the group stage and I would not expect this to much different. 3-1 to Real Madrid.

James’ thoughts: This is an exciting early match up.  Roma can really put a stamp on this season but they need to be flawless.  I don’t see it happening.  Real take control early with heavy possession and an early set of goals and win 3-1.

Top 4 in England, Top 2 In Italy

This weekend, we focus on the Premier League as the top four teams all face each other.  In Italy, the top two teams meet.  In Spain, the Capital vs the Basques is our matchup.  Lastly, we look at the bottom of the table in France.

  1. Arsenal vs. Leicester City ~ Emirates Stadium, London

Sunday, February 14th at 7:00 am EST on NBCSN

This weekend the top four teams in England all meet.  In our first featured matchup, the hottest team in England faces off with the team that everyone thinks this is their best chance to win it all.  Leicester City travels to London to face off with the Arsenal.  Leicester is looking for a second straight win against a title rival and their fourth in a row.  They are unbeaten in their last 7.  Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrezz seem to be scoring for fun.  Leicester is the story of the season and we will see how long this fairy tale can last.  A win this weekend puts Leicester as serious contenders for runaway champions.  A win for Arsenal puts them right back into the race.  The good news for Arsenal is that they are finally starting to get healthy.  Coquelin should return to the starting eleven this weekend.  Welbeck, Cazorla, and Wilshere are all getting closer but still out.  Look for Gabriel to start instead of Per due to pace.  Oxlade-Chamberlain could also start.  Ranieri should name the exact same 11 as last time.  This game will have goals in it.  Look for both teams to go for the win and the Leicester players to have fun.  A point is all Leicester needs this weekend.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Arsenal 4/6, Leicester 15/4, Draw 11/4

First Goalscorer – Giroud 4/1, Sanchez 9/2, Walcott 5/1

Predictions

My Pick – Arsenal 2, Leicester 2: Goals by Giroud, Sanchez, Vardy, and Mahrez

James’ Pick – Arsenal 2, Leicester 2: Goals by Giroud, Sanchez, Vardy, and Mahrez

  1. Juventus vs. Napoli ~ Juventus Stadium, Turin

Saturday, February 13th at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports

While the top four in England meet, the top two in Italy, and arguably the hottest two teams in the world, meet in Turin.  Juventus brings their 14 game winning run and Napoli brings an 8 game win streak.  These two teams are looking to stay at the top of the table and give themselves some breathing room.  Whoever wins this game will be on top of the table at the end of the weekend.  This should be an absolutely fantastic game and probably one of the best games on the season.  Juventus will be without their defensive leader as Chiellini is out injured.  This could lead to a shift to four at the back with Barzagli and Bonucci in the back with Evra and Lichtsteiner.  Mandzukic, Caceres, and Asamoah are all out injured.  Khedira is a doubt for the game.  Dybala and Morata will be leading the line and are a dynamic attack.  Napoli is only without Alberto Grassi.  This will leave them with their normal starting 11 that includes the best striker in the league in Gonzalo Higuain.  An interesting tid bit about this game is that there is some rumbling in the press that maybe a foreign referee should officiate this match due to the hype and importance.  It should be a thriller that could send the defending champions back on top, or end their massively impressive run.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Juventus 21/20, Napoli 14/5, Draw 23/10

First Goalscorer – Dybala 5/1, Higuain 5/1, Morata 6/1

Predictions

My Pick – Juventus 1, Napoli 2: Goals by Dybala, Higuain, and Insigne

James’ Pick – Juventus 3, Napoli 2: Goals by Dybala (2), Pogba, Higuain (2)

  1. Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao ~ Estadio Santiago Bernabeu

Saturday, February 13th at 10:00 am EST on beIN Sports

This weekend in Spain, two teams that have never been relegated from the top flight meet.  Both of these teams started the year with high hopes of a great season and are now adjusting those goals a little.  Madrid has a new manager in Zidane and Bilbao is trying to climb up the table.  Real Madrid is in the midst of an 8 game unbeaten run but see themselves four points behind the leaders and 1 point behind their city rivals Atletico Madrid.  Athletic Club meanwhile is coming in on a 3 game unbeaten run, but they are 10 points behind fourth place Villarreal.  If they want to make it to the Champions League, 3 points this weekend is a must.  Bale, Pepe, and Marcelo are all out for this game.  Look for Kovacic to come into the midfield for Isco this weekend.   Bilbao is without San Jose and Inaki Williams due to suspension.  Raul Garcia and Ibai Gomez are out injured.  Etxeita and Susaeta are doubts.  This game could be very tight or Real could run away with it.  If Bilbao can find the form that saw them hammer Barcelona at the start of the season, we could be in for a great game.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Real Madrid 3/10, Bilbao 9/1, Draw 19/4

First Goalscorer – Ronaldo 11/5, Benzema 15/4, Jese 4/1

Predictions

My Pick – Real 3, Bilbao 1: Goals Modric, Benzema (2), Aduriz

James’ Pick – Real 3, Bilbao 1: Goals by Ronaldo (2), Benzema, Aduriz

  1. Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur ~ Etihad Stadium, Manchester

Sunday, February 14th at 11:15 am EST on NBCSN

This is the other top four showdown in England this weekend as Manchester City hosts Tottenham Hotspur.  Tottenham currently sits in second place, 5 points behind Leicester.  Manchester City is in fourth place, a point behind Tottenham.  Tottenham is currently second in the form table as well having won their last four games.  City, meanwhile, lost big last weekend against Leicester City.  This game will feature two teams that with a win can make a serious title chase.  A loss for either side is not the end of their title hopes but is a serious dent.  Nasri, Mangala, Bony, De Bruyne, Navas, and Delph are all out with injury.  Silva is facing a later fitness test.  Vincent Kompany is also due for a late fitness test which could be a good or bad thing for City.  Kelechi Iheanacho might be in line for another start alongside Aguero.  Tottenham are just without N’Jie and Vertonghen.  Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier are expected to continue to start.  This will be a very tight game and could go either way.  Will the pending arrival of Pep Guardiola still impact Manchester City?

Betting Odds

Match Result – Mancehster City 1/1, Tottenham 27/10, Draw 13/5

First Goalscorer – Aguero 7/2, Iheanacho 5/1, Kane 5/1

Predictions

My Pick – Manchester City 1, Tottenham 2: Goals by Aguero, Kane, and Chadli

James’ Pick – Manchester City 1, Tottenham 2: Goals by Aguero, Kane, and Alli

  1. Montpellier vs. Toulouse ~ Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier

Saturday, February 13th at 2:00 pm EST

This game has taken on new meaning lately, as Ligue 1 has decided to reverse its decision to relegate only 2 teams and go back to 3 teams getting relegated.  This means that Montpellier is now in the relegation zone.  They are in 18th place in the table and have 26 points.  They sit just 1 point behind GFC Ajaccio and safety.  This game could send Montpellier to safety if they are able to win.  A loss would mean that they are in for a tough fight to escape their new relegation spot.  Toulouse, meanwhile, is hoping that they can start their climb out of the bottom 3.  They lost 4 in a row before drawing last weekend with Nantes.  This game is a showdown at the bottom of the table and a look at some new teams in Ligue 1.  Montpellier has a rich history and won the title just a few years ago.  Their leading goal scorer is Casimir Ninga.  Their major playmakers are Bryan Dabo and Ryad Boudebouz.  Wissam Ben Yedder is the leading goal scorer for Toulouse.  Their top playmaker is Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro.  This will be a big game for both sides and both teams will look to get a vital 3 points.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Montpellier 11/10, Toulouse 14/5, Draw 11/5

First Goalscorer – Berigaud 6/1, Braithwaite 6/1, No Goalscorer 13/2

Predictions

My Pick – Montpellier 1, Toulouse 1: Goals by Boudebouz and Yedder

James’ Pick – Montpellier 1, Toulouse 1: Goals by Ninga and Yedder

Other Games on TV This Weekend

England – Premier League

Sunderland vs. Manchester United – Saturday at 7:45 am EST on NBCSN

Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on NBCSN

Norwich City vs. West Ham United – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on USA

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United – Saturday at 12:30 pm EST on NBCSN

Aston Villa vs. Liverpool – Sunday at 9:05 am EST on NBCSN

Spain – La Liga

Getafe vs. Atletico Madrid – Sunday at 12:15 pm EST on beIN Sports

Italy – Serie A

Milan vs. Genoa – Sunday at 6:30 am EST on beIN Sports

Fiorentina vs. Internazionale – Sunday at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports

Germany – Bundesliga

Borussia Dortmund vs. Hannover 96 – Saturday at 9:30 am EST in Fox Sports 2

Darmstadt 98 vs. Bayer Leverkusen – Saturday at 9:30 am EST in Fox Soccer Plus

Koln vs. Eintracht Frankfurt – Saturday at 12:30 pm EST in Fox Sports 2

Hamburger SV vs. Borussia Monchengladbach – Sunday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 1

Augsburg vs. Bayern Munchen – Sunday at 11:30 am EST on Fox Sports 2

Leicester could win the league!

Serie A – We are in for an exciting two horse race now.

A couple of weeks ago, this was a four or five team race for the title but recent form has made it clear that we are in for a two horse race. Juventus and Napoli have started to pull away from the pack. Both teams are on spectacular winning streaks. Juventus defeated Frosinone 2-0 this weekend in their 14th straight win. Napoli defeated Carpi 1-0. Gonzalo Higuain netted his 24th league goal in the game. Napoli is currently top of the table on 56 points. Juventus is two points behind them. Fiorentina are in third and 8 points behind them. The race for the final Champions League spot is heating up as Fiorentina, Inter Milan, and Roma are separated by just 2 points. The bottom end of the table is starting to separate as well, as Sampodria are 5 points clear of the bottom 3. Next weekend is a big one as Juventus hosts Napoli and Fiorentina hosts Inter Milan.

Ligue 1 – PSG remain unbeaten.

The domination of the league continues for PSG. They took on rivals, Marseille, this weekend and came away with a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Ibrahimovic and Di Maria. They have now gone 25 games unbeaten and are looking at a very real possibility of going unbeaten all season. Their lead at the top stayed at 24 points. Monaco is now on 45 points with just 13 games to go. That means that they can reach a maximum of 84 points in the season. This also means PSG is just 5 wins away from the title. Done by the end of March? In the race for the other two Champions League places, Monaco is starting to pull away as they have a 6 point lead on Nice and Saint-Etienne. The race for that final spot should be good as Angers, Lyon, Nantes, and Caen are all within 3 points of third place. At the bottom of the table, only two teams failed to get at least a point. Troyes seems destined for relegation as they are 15 points from safety following their 2-0 defeat to Bastia. Toulouse is in the other relegation spot and 5 points from Montpellier. Both teams drew this weekend ahead of their relegation 6 pointer next weekend.

Bundesliga – Top 2 drop points while race for fourth heats up.

This weekend was a rare one in which both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund failed to win and failed to score. Bayern was held to a scoreless draw at Bayer Leverkusen. Dortmund drew 0-0 with Hertha Berlin. The draws meant that both teams stayed 8 points from each other and that the gap from Dortmund to Berlin remained at 10. However, it did make the race for the final two spots a whole lot tighter. Hertha remains in third place on 35 points. Schalke took advantage of the other teams drawing and defeated Wolfsburg 3-0 to jump into fourth place. They now have 33 points. Bayer dropped to fifth place thanks to the draw on 32 points. Monchengladbach also jumped into the race thanks to their 5-1 win over Bremen and also have 32 points. Mainz is just on the outside at 7th with 30 points. The bottom of the table is not as close. The bottom two teams of Hannover and Hoffenheim both suffered defeats this weekend and sit on 14 points each. They are 5 points behind Bremen and 7 behind Eintracht. It might be a long rest of the season for them. Next weekend, Mainz could make a big statement as they host Schalke on Friday.

La Liga – Big 3 all win, Valencia remain winless under Neville

At the top of the table, Atletico comfortably defeated Eibar 3-1 this weekend and Barcelona defeated Levante 2-0 despite not being at their best. Real Madrid was close to drawing 1-1 with Granada but pulled out the win thanks to Luka Modric. Barcelona maintains their 3 point lead on Atleti and 4 point lead on Real. Real Madrid is now 5 points clear of Villarreal, who drew 0-0 with Bilbao. They do have some breathing room in the last Champions League spot since they are 8 points above Sevilla in 5th. At the bottom of the table, Levante and Granada will feel bummed that they did not get any points this weekend, despite playing Barcelona and Real Madrid this weekend. Levante is bottom with 17 points, Granada is 19th with 20 points and Las Palmas is in 18th with 21 points. Valencia’s struggles continued, as they are now just 4 points from the relegation zone after losing 1-0 to Real Betis. Next weekend is a must win for them and 17th place Espanyol when the two clubs meet. Can Espanyol do what Real Betis did and jump Valencia in the table?

Premier League – Leicester really can win the title.

Where else can I start but in Manchester where Leicester City completely dominated Manchester City and put themselves 6 points clear of their opponents. By the end of the weekend, they were 5 points clear of their nearest challenger and now it has to be said that they really can win the title. Robert Huth put in a great performance scoring two goals and organizing their great defense. Riyad Mahrez scored the other goal that had a suburb move to free him up. Tottenham now sits in second place following their 1-0 win over Watford. Arsenal finally won in the Premier League to stay level on points with Spurs. They defeated Bournemouth 2-0. United remain in 5th following their 1-1 draw with Chelsea. Jesse Lingard gave them the lead, but Diego Costa drew the game level late on, causing United to sit 6 points from the top four. At the bottom of the table, Aston Villa picked up a big win over relegation rivals Norwich. They are now just 8 points from safety on 16 points. Norwich is now in the relegation zone at 18th place with 23 points. Sunderland recovered in the final 15 minutes to rescue a point against Liverpool. They are in 19th place with 20 points. Newcastle jumped out of the relegation zone following their 1-0 win over West Brom. They have 24 points. Next weekend is a big one as the top four teams all meet. Arsenal hosts leaders Leicester City and Tottenham travels to Manchester City. Will we see a reshuffle at the top?

Goal of the Week…

My pick is going to be the wonderful strike from Luka Modric that rescued all three points for Real Madrid.

James’ goal of the weekend is the beautiful run and finish by Riyad Mahrez!

Chelsea vs. United plus Le Classique

This weekend we take a look at two of the giants who are struggling in England, a top four matchup in Germany, Le Classique in France, a top 2 matchup in England, and two struggling sides in Spain.

  1. Chelsea vs. Manchester United ~ Stamford Bridge, London

Sunday, February 7th at 11:00 am EST on NBCSN

This weekend two of the England giants face off, but this year has not been as great as they both would have hoped.  Both teams enter this match outside of the top 4 and having very disappointing campaigns.  Chelsea is in 13th place and have been flirting with being in the relegation fight this season.  United has struggled recently and dropped to 5th in the table, 5 points behind Arsenal in 4th.  Chelsea is in the middle of a nice unbeaten run that has seen them move slightly up the table, as they are unbeaten in their last 8.  United won their last game out but have been very hot and cold.  New signing, Alexandre Pato, might find a place on the bench but he is a long way away from being match fit according to his manager.  Look for Obi Mikel and Matic to partner in the midfield two with Willian, Fabregas, and Hazard in front of them.  United could name an unchanged eleven following their 3-0 win over Stoke.  Only change possible could be Schneiderlin for Fellaini.  Martial, Mata, and Rooney seem to be firing on all cylinders right now.  They may be the difference, but do not count out Chelsea and Costa for some drama.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Chelsea 23/20, United 29/10, Draw 23/10

First Goalscorer – Costa 9/2, Remy 11/2, Pato 11/2, Hazard 11/2

Predictions

My Pick – Chelsea 1, United 1: Goals by Costa and Martial

James’ Pick – Chelsea 1, United 2: Goals by Costa, Rooney, and Martial

  1. Marseille vs. Paris Saint-Germain ~ Stade Velodrome, Marseille

Sunday, February 7th at 3:00 pm EST on beIN Sports Connect

This weekend is Le Classique, as the teams from the two largest cities in France face off.  Olympique de Marseille will host Paris Saint-Germain.  This is a matchup that pits the center of French style and society against the working class port city.  In most years, these teams are very close in the standings and have a lot to play for.  This year however, the title race is all but over.  PSG have played 24 games and has not lost once.  They have a 24 point lead on their nearest rivals Monaco and are looking to wrap up the title by March.  Marseille, meanwhile, has been hot and cold in the congested table.  They sit just 5 points out of a Champions League spot and are only 9 above the relegation zone.  However, they are currently on the second longest unbeaten run in the league, behind PSG of course.  They are unbeaten in their last 11 matches.  Marseille will have Michy Batshuayi and Abdelaziz Barrada back from suspension but will be without Thauvin through suspension.  Mendy, Ocampos, and Diaby are all out as well.  Meanwhile, PSG are still without Van der Wiel and Verratti.  Pastore is a doubt for the game.  Look for either Adrien Rabiot or Benjamin Stambouli to start in his place.  This is a big rivalry game and Marseille could end the unbeaten run, but PSG will want to keep their hopes of an unbeaten season alive.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Marseille 17/4, PSG 8/11, Draw 13/5

First Goalscorer – Ibrahimovic 3/1, Cavani 15/4, Batshuayi 5/1

Prediction

My Pick – Marseille 1, PSG 3: Goals by Batshuayi, Ibrahimovic (2), and Di Maria

James’ Pick – Marseille 0, PSG 3: Goals by Ibrahimovic (2), and Di Maria

  1. Hertha Berlin vs. Borussia Dortmund ~ Olympiastadion Berlin, Berlin

Saturday, February 6th at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 1

This weekend in Germany sees third place, Hertha Berlin, host second place, Borussia Dortmund.  The two teams have been two of the more fun teams to watch this season and could provide some fireworks.  Hertha Berlin has been the somewhat surprise story of the season as they finished in 15th last season and are now fighting for a Champions League spot.  Meanwhile, Dortmund has played wonderful football this year and has the highest scoring offense in the league led by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.  However, they are 8 points behind the leaders in Munich.  They do have a massive 10 point lead on Hertha and look all but certain to finish second in the league.  Hertha, meanwhile, are in a pretty tight race for a top four spot.  They are 3 points above Leverkusen.  The difference between Leverkusen in 4th and Monchengladbach in 6th is just 2 points, so this race could tighten up this weekend.  Hertha comes into the match with good health.  Allagui has been out for a while now and the only other name to miss is Skjelbred due to suspension.  Dortmund is also healthy with just Sahin and Bender out injured.  Look for Gundogan to return to the lineup and play alongside either Kagawa or Castro.  Reus should start on the left wing.  Hertha needs this win and will try to pull themselves closer to the top 2.  They will have to overcome the pressure that Dortmund will put on them if they are to win.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Hertha 11/2, Dortmund 1/2, Draw 10/3

First Goalscorer – Aubameyang 10/3, Ducksch 9/2, Ramos 9/2

Predictions

My Pick – Hertha 2, Dortmund 3: Goals by Kalou, Ibisevic, Reus, and Aubameyang (2)

James’ Pick – Hertha 1, Dortmund 3: Goals by Kalou, Aubameyang (2), Mkhitaryan

  1. Manchester City vs. Leicester City ~ Etihad Stadium, Manchester

Saturday, February 6th at 7:45 am EST on NBCSN

One and Two meet in England this weekend and it is not the big match in London, but rather the other side of Manchester that will host this weekend.  Surprise team Leicester City sit atop the Barclay’s Premier League with a 3 point lead over Manchester City.  A win this weekend could open up a nice lead for Leicester, as they would be 6 points clear of City and at worst 5 points clear of Totttenham and Arsenal if they both win.  A win for City would send them to the top of the table, as they look to regain the title lead.  Both teams come in to the game on unbeaten runs.  Manchester City is unbeaten in their last 7 and Leicester in their last 6.  This will be a fascinating match.    Pellegrini has recently turned towards youngster Kelechi Iheanacho due to some injuries and it has been paying off.  The young striker has scored 8 goals all season including a hattrick last weekend in the FA Cup.  He should partner Aguero up front.  Pellegrini is going to be without Nasri, Mangala, Bony, De Bruyne, and Kompany for the match.  Delph and Navas are both a doubt.  Claudio Ranieri is expected to name the same lineup that defeated Liverpool on Tuesday.  Schlupp and James are still out injured and Amartey is unfit.  This is going to be Pellegrini’s last run in with Manchester City as it was announced that he is leaving at the end of the summer.  How will this impact his team?

Betting Odds

Match Result – City 8/13, Leicester 5/1, Draw 16/5

First Goalscorer – Aguero 3/1, Iheanacho 9/2, Sterling 9/2

Predictions

My Pick – City 2, Leicester 2: Goals by Aguero, Sterling, Vardy, and Drinkwater

James’ Pick – City 2, Leicester 1: Goals by Vardy, Aguero, and Iheanacho

  1. Real Betis vs. Valencia ~ Estadio Benito Villamarin, Sevilla

Sunday, February 7th at 10:00 am EST on beIN Sports Connect

How could I avoid not picking a match involving Valencia this weekend?  The pressure on Gary Neville is mounting rapidly as he is still looking for his first league win and was just humiliated in the Copa del Rey, losing 7-0 to Barcelona in a match that could have been double digits if Barcelona had their shooting boots on.  Gary Neville could not have asked for a better opponent this weekend as they travel to Sevilla to face Real Betis.  Both teams are on long winless streaks with Betis at 9 games and Valencia at 11.  A loss for either side would see them slip into the relegation fight, as Betis is 2 points clear and Valencia is 5.  Juan Vargas returns from his ban this weekend to help Betis.  They will be without Piccini, Kadir, and Fabian through injury and Cejudo is suspended.  Portillo is facing a late fitness test.  Valencia is still without youngster Alcacer.  Perez and Fuego will face late fitness tests.  This is a must win for Valencia.  We will see how good he really is in the next couple weeks as he faces a tough couple weeks.

Betting Odds

Match Result – Betis 13/8, Valencia 15/8, Draw 21/10

First Goalscorer – Castro 9/2, Molina 5/1, Negredo 5/1

Predictions

My Pick – Betis 2, Valencia 2: Goals by Castro, Ceballos, Feghouli, and Parejo

James’ Pick – Betis 1, Valencia 1: Goals by Castro and Parejo

Other Games on TV This Weekend

England – Premier League

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on NBCSN

Liverpool vs. Sunderland – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on USA

Southampton vs. West Ham United – Saturday at 12:30 pm EST on NBC

AFC Bournemouth vs. Arsenal – Sunday at 8:30 am EST on NBCSN

Spain – La Liga

Atletico Madrid vs. Eibar – Saturday at 10:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Levante vs. Barcelona – Sunday at 6:00 am EST on beIN Sports

Granada vs. Real Madrid – Sunday at 2:30 pm EST on beIN Sports

Italy – Serie A

Bologna vs. Fiorentina – Saturday at 12:00 pm EST on beIN Sports

Genoa vs. Lazio – Saturday at 2:45 pm EST on beIN Sports

Hellas Verona vs. Internazionale – Sunday at 6:30 am EST, starts at 7:55 am EST on beIN Sports

Napoli vs. Carpi – Sunday at 9:00 am EST on beIN Sports – Multi Game

Frosinone vs. Juventus – Sunday at 9:00 am EST on beIN Sports – Multi Game

Germany – Bundesliga

Schalke 04 vs. Wolfsburg – Saturday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 2

Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Stuttgart – Saturday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Soccer Plus

Hamburger vs. Koln – Sunday at 9:30 am EST on Fox Sports 1

Hoffenheim vs. Darmstadt 98 – Sunday at 11:30 am EST on Fox Sports 1

 

Quick Recap of The Weekend

Here is just a quick recap of the weekend

La Liga – Barcelona have moved 3 points clear at the top thanks to 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid.  Atleti dominated the first 25 minutes and took the early lead.  However, they started to drop behind the ball and this gave Barcelona more possession.  Just like that the lead flipped.  Then Filipe Luis got a red card just before the first half ended.  This changed the game.  Godin would also see a red in the second half.  The game would end 2-1 and Atletico would have 9 men on the field.  In the other games this weekend, Ronaldo scored another hat trick as Real Madrid defeated Espanyol 6-0.  Las Palmas got a vital 3 points with a win over Celta de Vigo.  They have jumped out of the bottom 3.  Gary Neville’s struggles continued as they lost 1-0 to Sporting Gijon.  In the relegation fight, Levante are in trouble but above them Granada, Vallecano, Sporting, Las Palmas, Espanyol, and Real Betis are all within 2 points.

Ligue 1 – Paris Saint-Germain remain unbeaten thanks to Zlatan and his two second half goals.  They remain on top and their lead extended to 24 points.  Their lead was extended thanks to Angers defeating Monaco.  The newly promoted side pulled themselves back into the top 3 with a high win over 2nd place Monaco.  Lyon’s struggles continued as they lost 1-0 to Bastia.  Toulouse is starting to slip away following their 2-1 loss to Guingamp.  They are now 5 points from safety.  In the showdown between 4 and 5, Caen came up with a big 2-0 win over Nice.  This means that the gap closed to just goal difference.

Bundesliga – The big two continue their impressive form as the both won this weekend.  Munich beat Hoffenheim 2-0 as Lewandowski scored both.  Dortmund also won 2-0 over Ingolstadt thanks to Aubameyang.  Hertha Berlin and Werder Bremen drew 3-3 in a fantastic game.  Berlin jumped out to an early lead but Pizarro scored a 3 minute brace with just 15 minutes left.  Hoffenheim and Hannover are really being left behind as they are level on points with each other but 5 points behind Bremen.  Honestly, while the games are probably the most entertaining, the race for the title, the race for second place, and the relegation races.   The race to watch will be for the third and fourth spots in the Champions League.  That is a lot tighter and will be what we start to focus on.

Serie A – Napoli remain on top of the league thanks to a 5-1 win over Empoli.  Napoli fell behind but found their form to make it 6 wins in a row.  Juventus won their 12th game in a row when they defeated Chievo Verona 4-0.  Morata scored a first half brace to set up the big win.  These two are starting to distance themselves from the rest.  Fiorentina dropped points this weekend thanks to their draw with Genoa.  Milan defeated their city rivals Inter 3-0.  They really dominated the game following the missed penalty by Inter’s Icardi.  The relegation race in Italy is not very tight as Carpi sit 4 points behind Sampdoria and safety.  Frosinone is a further 3 points behind Carpi.  This race could tighten up but the race for the Scudetto is looking more and more exciting.

FA Cup – This weekend was the fourth round of the FA Cup.  While there were no major upsets, there were some great performances.  Manchester United started the weekend with a big win over Derby County.  Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea all dominated their games.  Only two games ended in a draw to force a replay were Liverpool vs. West Ham and Petersborough United vs. West Bromwich Albion.  The major talking point from the weekend is that Chelsea and Manchester City have drawn each other in the fifth round and this should make for a fascinating match.

Goal of the Weekend

For my goal this weekend, I am going with a fantastic piece of play from the Atletico vs. Barcelona game.  While I could have gone with either Barcelona goal, I am picking Koke’s goal and the great pass from Saul Niguez.

What to Watch This Weekend

This weekend there are Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1, and Copa del Rey games.  Here is one game to watch in each of these competitions.

  1. Montpellier vs. Olympique Marseille – Ligue 1 – Tuesday
  2. Arsenal vs. Southampton – EPL – Tuesday
  3. Lazio vs. Napoli – Serie A – Wednesday
  4. Barcelona vs. Valencia – Copa del Rey semifinal match – Wednesday