Midfield swamps, early kick-offs and chewing gum routines

Carlos Tevez has scored four goals in his last four games versus Chelsea, could he hold the key in a tight clash?

There are a lot of very interesting and equally important matches to get through this weekend so let’s cut straight to the chase and head for Eastlands where title pretenders Manchester City host Champions Chelsea in what will be Carlo Ancelotti’s first stern test of the season.

Many will be hoping for a thrilling game but, rather in a Spain/Germany World Cup semi sort of way, it will be more interesting than entertaining. Who will thrive in the midfield swamp of Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure, Ramires, Jon-Obi Mikel and Michael Essien? Will it be the brutal form of Didier Drogba or the sheer goalscoring consistency of Carlos Tevez that can force an opening? Whatever happens, it is unlikely, sadly enough, to have much of an impact on the title race; City aren’t in it, and Chelsea will regroup should they lose.

Whatever happens the result will be of particular interest to Manchester United, although they will probably not be able to watch the highlights on Match of the Day due to their very early start at Bolton on Sunday. The match gets under way at midday on a day full of strange kick-off times (Wolves vs. Villa 14:05, Newcastle vs. Stoke 16:10), surely Sky aren’t somehow trying to recover the money lost by airing for free at the weekend by showing more adverts?

And on the subject of early kick-offs, bets are being taken on which event will reach the highest number as Cardiff host Millwall: goals for the home side or number of arrests made. The Bluebirds may have their own problems but Millwall are reeling from a 6-1 hiding by Watford last weekend, and will be hoping that Craig Bellamy’s infamous knee troubles continue to keep him out of the side.

Before we move on to more glamorous ties a special mention must go to the clash that literally nobody is talking about as Coventry take on Preston North End at the Ricoh Arena. Having spent a considerable amount of time in and around both ‘cities’ the blog can tell you that, despite being over 100 miles apart, this is the closest to a home tie travelling fans could ask for, such is the similarity between the two places. One word on the game; Coventry should win, but look out for Adam Barton who plays in the centre of midfield for North End. He should prove to be a rose between many, many thorns.

Now, we did promise you some more glamorous ties so let us quickly arrive in Valencia for the clash of Levante and Real Madrid. Well, it sounds attractive anyway. In truth, the Madrid leviathan should notch up an easy three points against the newly-promoted side who will do well to stay in the division. Still, it will give Jose Mourinho something to chew over, especially should any travelling fans bring their loudest jeers in the event of their team only winning by three or four goals.

The likely win could see Madrid go top of the table in their own right with both Valencia and Barcelona facing tougher-looking away trips. Valencia, who sit second on goal difference at this early stage, travel to a fully-rejuvenated Sporting Gijon who rested nine members of their first-team for the midweek trip to the Nou Camp. Last weekend Manuel Preciado’s Sporting held on to a point against an impressive Athletic Bilbao outfit and will no doubt prove a tough test for Los Che.

Barcelona, meanwhile, travel to said impressive outfit in the Basque Country still without Lionel Messi. Pep Guardiola’s side looked toothless on Wednesday night in the Argentine’s absence and a similar performance at San Mames could see his side drop more points and fall further behind Real Madrid. The likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta will have to better their midweek efforts and return to the top of their game to unpick Bilbao’s tight back line.

Speaking of those tight at the back, we’re brought, somewhat surprisingly but by no means unwillingly, to Shakira. The Colombian singer was this week ‘romantically linked’ to Barca centre-back Gerard Pique, only for the World Cup-winning defender to quash any rumours, but perhaps stir the pot of some others: “Me and Shakira? If all the rumours about my personal life would be true, Ibrahimovic would be very sad now.”

Moving away from potentially bent activity we’re brought nicely to Italy…well, maybe not. Anyway, the big game of the weekend sees struggling Roma, two points off the bottom of Serie A, host Champions Inter on Saturday evening. Claudio Ranieri’s team, somewhat ironically, finished two points off Mourinho’s Inter last season but after a run of no wins in their first four league matches the ex-Chelsea manager finds himself under extreme pressure, not least from Marcello Lippi who is said to be after a job in the Roma hot-seat.

“Certain people like to sail in the dark.” Claudio Ranieri can see Marcello Lippi hovering in the shadows.

Elsewhere, Massimiliano Allegri’s inconsistent Milan welcome Genoa to the San Siro in a tie that won’t be anywhere near as pre-planned as the deal the two clubs struck for Kevin Prince Boateng (supposedly), while faltering Fiorentina, level on points with Roma, face Hernan Crespo and little Giovinco’s Parma.

Moving quickly to the Bundesliga now and the unquestionable tie of the weekend takes place at the BayArena where a Robben- and Ribery-less Bayern Munich host table-topping, 100% record-holding Mainz 05. A win for the visitors, who have beaten Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg and Stuttgart on their way to the summit, would put them one game away from equalling a league record best start. The current record of seven wins from seven games is held, almost inevitably, by Bayern Munich, who took it in 1995 before Kaiserlautern matched it in 2001.

And an away win is by no means out of the question for a side who have been equally impressive in attack and defence as they face a Munich side who were struggling for inspiration even before Franck Ribery was ruled out for a month on Wednesday night. If you feel like putting your money where my mouth is, you can find Mainz as high a price as 7/1 with the bookmakers!

Elsewhere, second-placed Borussia Dortmund travel to cult club St. Pauli, who everybody likes. Everybody apart from bitter rivals Hamburg, that is, as the story of 50 arrests after last weekend’s derby will tell you. Dortmund have recovered excellently after an opening-day defeat to Bayer Leverkusen and make the trip north coming off the back of a 5-0 midweek victory.

Of all the inconsistent performers around Europe at the moment the most unpredictable team has to be Thomas Schaaf’s Werder Bremen. Capable of utter brilliance from the likes of Markoes Marin and Arnautović one minute and utter foolishness the next, Bremen find themselves a point above the relegation zone after turning several proverbial corners, only to mess it up again. This weekend they take on Hamburg who started brightly but are without a win in three.

A quick mention should go to Schalke who picked up their first win of the season away at Freiburg on Wednesday night. Felix Magath, who tore up last season’s solid defence and brought in Raul and Klaas Jan Huntelaar, will see a perfect opportunity to double their points total when his side play host to Borussia Monchengladbach, who have conceded 13 goals in their last three matches.

Had it not been for the need for a catchy description of this blog, and the fact that the one we have used is the first one we thought of, Pickles would probably leave out France’s Ligue 1. But, as it transpires, here we are, and we’ll be quick, honest.

Struggling St Etienne take on table-topping Lyon in a cla….woah, wait. That should read: struggling Lyon take on table-topping St Etienne in what is, probably, the pick of the weekend’s French fixture list. Claude Puel’s team are only above the relegation zone by virtue of goal difference and he can not expect an easy ride as his side travel to a side who are unbeaten in six.

Last season’s Champions Marseille got back to winning ways last weekend when they ran out 3-0 winners over newly-promoted, ‘French Blackpool’ Arles, but three points against the smallest side in the league will not do much to paper over the cracks of a poor start to the season that sees Didier Deschamps’ side five points off top spot. They host a side who can’t seem to put two identical results together, meaning the Champions should not be Sochaux of victory (groan).

We finish this week with a comprehensive preview of the Scottish Premier League. Only joking, I think you’ve had enough. Check back on Monday for a review on all the talking points from an intriguing footballing weekend.

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  1. […] Werder Bremen, the team who are ‘capable of utter brilliance one minute and utter foolishness the next’ beat Hamburg 3-2 after throwing away a two-goal […]

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