The Weekend Football Digest
Liverpool host defending champions Manchester City as the feature match of the weekend. Today on the blog, David delivers his weekend football digest taking a close look at the key matchups for the Premier League, Primera and Serie A.
Premier League : Not Yet Queens
With the transfer market still open until the end of this month many clubs are still in their facelift process. Some have made marginal changes but many others have sought to revolutionize their squads, targeting a stay in the Premier League which will guarantee ever richer returns on their investment.
Liverpool vs Manchester City
Even if he thrashes opponents Mancini will never stop saying how his team is definitely not the favourite for anything and that they need reinforcements. Knowing the owners have the cash is reason enough for him to ask for extra insurance against being defeated. In truth they do need a solid right-back and perhaps a midfielder who can sit comfortably in front of defence and dictate the pace of the game in order to be a more complete side. This visit to Anfield might be a good chance for him to validate his arguments as Liverpool are the kind of danger team which can really defeat anybody in the league at home. The problem is they evidently need more time to get acquainted with the ideas of manager Rodgers.
Last season the team had grown accustomed to the Dalglish style, which meant the old English style that does not really cut it in today’s game. Rodgers is the man to bring the club forward but he has to work hard to instill the new mentality. Both at West Brom and against Hearts in midweek they were far from impressive. Although they start their home campaign right here and have very often troubled City in the past years the champions should be too steep a mountain to climb for their abilities at the moment.
Tottenham vs West Bromwich
Two new managers with new ideas. West Brom were quite solid in defence last year adopting Hodgson’s now infamous counter-attacking stance that worked so well in disgracing his qualities at the Euro. They had Liverpool well under their control in the first outing with Steve Clarke but the focus was markedly on an attack which left the opponent breathless.
As for Villas Boas we have now grown familiar with what he thinks of the defensive line. Last season it was quite rare to see Chelsea keep it clean at the back and with Tottenham in the process of adding new faces to their squad we should not expect much stability at this point of the season. In fact, we might see a number of goals at White Hart Lane. Lukaku, who was permanently put on the sidelines by Villas Boas during their time at Chelsea, would want to get his name on the score sheet to prove a point to his former manager.
Norwich vs QPR
None of them survived the first kick off of the season as they both got murdered, conceding five goals each. The two got promoted to the top flight last season and although the London-based club managed by Hughes struggled until the end to secure permanence it is them who have splashed the cash to ensure they will have it easier this time around.
However, it is undeniable that introducing as many as five new players to the first team will equate to some form of trouble even if it is a skilled man like Hughes who is at the helm. A well oiled Swansea team hammered them without mercy in London and in a very vociferous Carrow Road where even the better sides in the Premier League felt the pressure last season, it will not be any easier. It was a double for Norwich last year and this might be half that job concluded already as QPR still indulge on the team blueprints.
Primera : Europa League Déjà vu
Only the giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, seem to be oblivious to the financial crisis Spanish football is going through at the moment. A wise manager like Michael Laudrup, with a past as coach in the Liga, has been crafty enough to take advantage of this situation and plundered the Spanish market, signing on value players like Chico, Michu and de Guzman for his Swansea at bargain prices.
Quality players will inevitably be attracted towards the rich leagues in Europe, and that would basically be the Premier League right now. This means that many clubs in Spain have turned to their own cantera for new faces, hoping they might discover they had their own Leo Messi playing in the reserves. Talent will never really be scarce amongst Spanish teams and the economic turmoil might, ironically, serve to give more chance for Spanish youth to actually make itself known.
Osasuna vs Barcelona
Mendilibar performed extremely well with Osasuna last season so it would have been an unbelievable fact if he was not confirmed as the manager this year. Again, as expected, they have been unable to add any sensation names to their side, getting a number of men on a free transfer and selling two relevant players like Balde and Nekounam.
Last February Mendilibar won this fixture 3-2 but with how things stand at the moment it should be difficult to witness a repeat. Vilanova has won his first two official matches against Real Sociedad and Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Jordi Alba and Song were added to the team, taking Barca’s expenditure this summer to €33 million. The game has remained the same though with Vilanova charged with carrying on the legacy of the fast-paced style that has survived all the recent managers at the club and which is essentially rooted in Cruyff’s import from the Dutch school.
Valencia vs Deportivo la Coruna
The club has invested the money collected from sales, especially the one of Spanish international Jordi Alba to Barcelona, on some valid reinforcements in an attempt to give new manager Pellegrino enough to confirm Valencia as the third force in la Liga. They went close to giving that niche up last season, much closer than usual as clubs like Malaga and Atletico Madrid mounted a serious challenge.
Pellegrino has relatively little experience as manager though. Nonetheless he did form part of the team when they lived through their recent spell of glory years. He was also the man to have missed the penalty that handed the Champions league trophy to Bayern Munich in the 2000 final.
A team which flew the Spanish flag proudly in Europe for some time a few years back is Deportivo la Coruna, mostly remembered for their 0-4 turn around against then current Champions League holders Milan. They marked their return to la Primera with a victory over Osasuna last weekend. However, they will have a more difficult task on Sunday night but the team has invested wisely by bringing in two players from bankrupt Villareal, Marchena and Camunas, and two players from Benfica, Nelson Oliveira and Miranda.
Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao
One of the two Monday night games, which will still not step on each other’s toes as the Valladolid vs Levante game will kick off at 20:00 CET, will be a replay of last May’s Europa League final. Falcao and co. were too much for Bielsa and Llorente on the day. Yet have things changed since?
The two teams are known to be very difficult to deal with on transfer market business terms and in fact the Madrid-based club were rumoured to have refused a sum close to €70 million for their diamond striker whilst Bilbao are asking for extremely high price tags for their stars Javi Martinez and Llorente. These situations may impact on the performance of either team and if we consider Llorente’s threat on the lines of ‘it’s either me or Bielsa at Bilbao’ it looks even tougher for Athletic to come to terms more readily and in time for this game.
However, HJK Helsinki felt the wreath of the Bilbao club on Thursday as they theoretically sealed qualification to this year’s Europa league edition. Neither of their in-demand stars were on the team though, hinting that things are not settled yet for Bielsa. The two defeats ahead of that easy game against the Finns are testament to a foggy situation that might place Bilbao at a disadvantage ahead of this potentially missed chance for revenge.
Serie A : Smokin' Aces
Exciting times as Serie A kicksoff this weekend and there does seem to be some justified hype with an ‘unlikely’ winner getting its hands on the Scudetto this season.
The turmoil that has, once again, ran wild over Serie A affairs has deprived Juventus of their manager (albeit that’s just affects his on field presence – he will still be able to coach the players during the week) whilst financial reassessment has had Inter, but especially more so Milan, rethink their plans and make obligatory sacrifices.
The likes of Napoli and Roma can take advantage of the situation with the solid, tried and tested proposition from Mazzarri and Zeman’s intriguing brand of attacking football ready to take the Serie A by surprise.
Let’s take a look at the first full weekend of matches. With most of the Italians traditionally still on their Ferragosto vacations the calendar for the first two weekends will exclude early afternoon kick offs. Most games will be played at 20:45 CET. As for betting advice I can only stress the importance of letting things settle down before we can all make judgements with any reasonable level of certainty so for now, if you must, let them just be fun bets.
Fiorentina vs Udinese
The very first match to kick off the 2012/13 Serie A season. Udinese gave away important players again whilst Fiorentina dug in deep to rebuild a new budget squad. Montella, the Viola’s new manager, has a remarkable work ethic and is sure to bring in good stuff to the Franchi this year. Guidolin’s men have had to travel to Portugal as they seek to secure a Champions League place that eluded them last season when they got marginally bested by Arsenal. This should be a strong distraction which, under 72 hours later, will have to be a plus point in favour of the home side.
Juventus vs Parma
A furious Conte reiterated his innocence and condemned the judges who slapped a ten-month ban to last season’s manager of the year. We would not have expected otherwise from him. Nobody is accountable and everyone is innocent. Juventus, in any case, have made it a habit of giving their best when under pressure. Especially when it is off the pitch matters that disturb their sleep. Which coincidentally has been happening quite often in recent years. Parma, with last season’s diminutive leader Giovinco having passed on to the other side, should struggle to defeat the Bianconeri in front of a stadium pushing the players on for a vindicating victory.
Milan vs Sampdoria
The Rossoneri do not have very good records of starting their campaigns well. With the big changes having left their defence, let’s say, vulnerable, and Maxi Lopez visiting after having seen his dream of wearing the Milan jersey shattered by Galliani’s snub when it came to signing him on permanently, it should be more of the same for the Diavoli. Expect a tough evening at the San Siro.
Atalanta vs Lazio
It seemed an easy trip for Lazio on Thursday against Mura but extra hassle nonetheless for the new manager whose work seems at the very start with Lazio according to summer friendlies. The solidity of Atalanta from last season has been left untouched and we ought to expect them to make themselves very hard to beat on Sunday. They would be the team to bet on from what we know right now as the two sides stand ready to run this long race.
Chievo vs Bologna
The core of the team is basically the same as that of last year for Di Carlo although the Chievo manager will not be able to count on two quality players they have had to sell over the summer – Acerbi in defence and Bradley in midfield. Bologna might have more quality in their team but Pioli has a number of players unavailable and will be needing to introduce some five new faces for this match. It might be too much for this trip to Verona.
Genoa vs Cagliari
De Canio and Ficcadenti are both looking to convince their club presidents that they can make their place at the helm definite after having taken over mid-season some months ago. Both have tough tasks ahead though because both bosses are hot-headed, trigger-happy types. They will both also line up with a 4-3-3 but Ficcandenti’s defensive outlook should direct this game towards a low scoring one nonetheless.
Palermo vs Napoli
This is traditionally a very difficult away game for Napoli. They won last year after six defeats on the trot. Surely, Napoli look better geared for this new season than Palermo are, whose boss Zamparini has again gambled on some exotic names and sold important ones. With Dossena, Zuniga and Pandev suspended Napoli will still be able to field a more solid side but the atmosphere in Sicily will be hot for the Partenopei.
Pescara vs Inter
Stramaccioni virtually secured safe passage into the Europa League proper on Thursday night with a 0-2 victory in Romania. This will be a good test to check whether they are over their particularly grey season as they face up to Serie A newcomer Pescara. There are no easy games in the division of course but with Pescara unable to count on legendary manager Zeman and the youngsters he launched to stardom, Verratti, Insigne and Immobile, Inter have a duty to secure all the points this weekend.
Roma vs Catania
Catania have particularly weakened themselves this summer and they are top candidates for relegation in my opinion. It has been quite the very opposite for Roma so despite this being the first match it would be a surprise if the Giallorossi slipped up in this relatively easy opener.
Siena vs Torino
Siena coach Cosmi has warned that he will stick to his defensive tactics especially now that they have lost young attacking sensation Destro to Roma. Torino, back to the Serie A after quite a number of years sweating blood in the inferior category, might thread lightly and try to keep the profile low on away turf and with Ventura still seeking to introduce the new acquisitions to the first team.
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