The Weekend Fat Five
It's Friday and we're getting set for another big weekend of football. Starting a new regular weekly feature, David takes a close look at the 5 biggest matches of the weekend. It's the Fat Five.
Liverpool vs Arsenal
Wenger knows the Reds well
Neither side has had the expected start to their campaign and each of the managers, with chalk in hand, is still sketching plans on the drawing board. Rodgers’ job will have to be the more tasking of the two as there still linger talks about two key men from last year’s campaign being on the verge of walking out at the moment. However, on Sunday afternoon they have proven the Reds’ project is on the right track by dominating for large patches the game against the current champions.
Theo Walcott contract talks stalling has had Gunners fans stand on their toes again. He is rumoured to be ready for a switch to Anfield in the coming months and that is an all too familiar scenario for the poor Arsenal supporters. Losing out on the services of van Persie and Song, both of which having been the heaviest contributors to their goal and assist tally last season (a combined total of 37 goals and 22 assists), cannot but be linked to their goalless draws so far. Although their slick game has not been annihilated the newcomers have had different impacts. Giroud was the most disappointing whilst Cazorla has looked the more resourceful.
At home Liverpool will be a very dangerous team this season. Nonetheless, the match with Arsenal is always a strange one with Liverpool having failed to win this fixture in the Premier League at home for five consecutive seasons. With the need to take the Hearts game seriously and Lucas having shocked the team with his long term injury, Rodgers might be unable to offer some form of solid enough resistance in midfield in time for this match. Both teams to score is a good option and so are handicap odds giving the advantage to Arsenal.
Obscure Stat: Liverpool have lost just once at home in 17 matches played through August/September over the last 5 seasons, drawing on 7 occasions.
Barcelona vs Valencia
Still burning after Madrid loss
Unlike last year the Blaugrana lost the Super Cup to Real Madrid this week but they will hope to go for honours Mourinho himself has entitled as more glorious. So far it does look la Liga is heading their way and although it definitely is still in its wake, in a league which rarely offers strong enough opposition to hinder either of the two giants, a five-point gap is already quite significant.
In the past years Valencia have always proven to be the first among the mortals in the Liga but they have had a stuttering start with two draws. The one with Real Madrid looked somewhat unlucky as they did play well there but they relaxed against Deportivo at the Mestalla on Sunday night to allow them back in the game. Their game has been good with much of the same players still part of the team. However, if we take into account Barcelona’s second half in Madrid on Wednesday it still is a menacing scenario for Los Che at the Nou Camp.
Obscure Stat: Barcelona have won 23 of 26 home matches over the past 3 seasons when positioned in 1st place on the table, drawing on 3 occasions.
Udinese vs Juventus
The Champions League elimination in the third qualifying round for a second year running has hit Udinese hard. They are downright depressed at the moment after having invested so much hope in them being amongst Europe’s elite clubs but then having failed again one step from the finishing line.
Needless to say that Juventus will be all over this and they will gobble it up in one big mouthful without mercy. Udinese manager Guidolin had been contemplating stepping down at the end of last season after having learnt of how he would need to start from scratch with Isla, Asamoah and Handanovic sold off to Juventus and Inter. The season before he had to part company with three other stalwarts in Inler, Zapata and Alexis Sanchez. The only motivation left for him was trying to get into Champions League football for the first time in his career.
At the end of an unlucky Tuesday night he seemed really upset and only the night after did he meet with the club boss. They confirmed he will still be manager but the way things are building up it seems it will be a very different season for Udinese this time. Guidolin’s lack of conviction will infect the players eventually. Expect Juventus to impose their game on a tired and demoralized team in the Sunday evening kick off. Odds for an away victory are already quite low though with 1.85 the best one can currently get.
Obscure Stat: Udinese have won 8 of their last 16 home matches against the four elite Serie A clubs, with the match ending in a draw just twice.
Inter vs Roma
The Totti dilemma
Totti has always been the Roma player to wreak most havoc at the San Siro whenever he visited but is there really a place for him in Zeman’s Roma? The Czech manager will never modify his 4-3-3 and his philosophy of direct passing that requires all the forwards to run into the spaces as much as they can. Totti can never fit that profile and in fact he was quite anonymous against Catania. 18-year old Lopez fits the bill more readily but will Zeman hesitate in relegating Totti to the bench or will he turn to the cold calculating man pundits believe he is and turn to other alternatives in attack?
As ‘il boemo’ ruminates on this tactical dilemma the young Stramaccioni might be ready to pounce on this chance and ensure a positive result before Roma grows into a team difficult to play against. Although Maicon has now officially been sold to Manchester City the offensive side of things looks slick enough for Inter. When it comes to movements with the opponents holding possession there are a few things to play around with but once they have the ball the Inter forwards have proven quick and rapid enough …more than enough to cut through the still immature Roma defence. 2.00 for a home win is excellent news.
Obscure Stat: 5 of the last 10 meetings between the clubs has ended with at last 4 goals scored including 8 goals in a 5-3 home win for Inter back in 2010/2011.
Napoli vs Fiorentina
Last season Napoli had travelled to Palermo and won after years playing the victim of humiliations at the Barbera. However, the manner in which they won last Sunday has presented a much more mature team, having fully assimilated Mazzarri’s tactical intuitions. It was high time many would exclaim. The attempt at playing Hamsik deeper in midfield, with a role similar to that of Behrami as they are both asked to run forward when in attack mode, has worked wonders. Introducing Britos to a defence that had always been the team’s weak spot has served to strengthen the first eleven too.
We have been entertained by the Viola as well in the Serie A opener with Udinese and if we are to leave it to that they certainly have enough potential to offer thrilling moments. They will be a fun team to watch but I have my doubts on their defensive solidity. They also sold their best defender Nastasic to Manchester City this week and their midfield, unlike that of Napoli, is less devoted to providing cover. On Sunday night this level of maturity in the two setups should show clearly and help Napoli to a brilliant start six-point start. Considering the value of both sides odds of 1.81 on Napoli are relatively high.
Obscure Stat: 4 of the last 10 meetings between the clubs has seen just 1 goal or fewer scored, with a total of just 19 goals scored across those 10 contests.
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