With the World Cup roster settled, at long, long last we can look forward to extended spell of domestic soccer. Bliss indeed!
And as some leagues start to simmer and take shape, others are drawing to a dramatic conclusion. The result is that we have a host of different fixtures to look forward to across the globe this weekend, each with their own backstory and varying connotations.
So, we’ve got one of the biggest city derbies in world soccer, a repeat of the 2013 Champions League Final and a top of the table Premier League clash to sample. Not to mention, a couple of crucial games in the MLS playoffs.
As per usual, all kick off times are Eastern Time.
First up, here are some games that didn’t quite make our final five but may well take your fancy:
Arsenal vs. Southampton, Saturday November 23, 10am; NBCSN – Both sides have enjoyed superb starts to the season. Going to the Emirates will be a great test of Southampton’s credentials. Incisive passing against relentless pressing should make for an intriguing battle.
West Ham vs. Chelsea, Saturday November 23, 12:30pm; NBC – Always a great occasion as Chelsea make the trip to East London to take on the Hammers. Both sides have struggled in recent weeks and will be desperate to get one over their city rivals. West Ham won this fixture 3-1 last season.
Sevilla vs. Real Betis, Sunday November 24, 3pm; beIN SPORT Espanol and DishWorld - The Seville derby is always a feisty, passionate contest. There were goals aplenty in the two ties last season; a 3-3 draw at Betis before Sevilla ran out 5-1 winners at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Betis will be out for revenge in this one.
Nantes vs. Monaco, Sunday November 24, 3pm; beIN SPORT Play – Newly promoted Nantes have been the surprise package of Ligue 1 this campaign. They’re flying high in fourth place this season, but face a tough task if they are to overcome moneybags Monaco and an in form Falcao.
Now for the main events. Enjoy the games!
Everton vs. Liverpool
Saturday November 23, 7:45am; NBCSN
The weekend starts with the 221st Merseyside Derby. Goodison Park will play host to a game that is ferocious, passionate and bestowed with marvellous history.
The enthusiasm can sometimes overflow – no Premier League fixture has produced more red cards than this one – and that can sometimes lead to tight, scrappy affairs. But on the brink of this game, there is a sense this could be the most open derby in many a year. Primarily because of the respective mentalities of Brendan Rodgers and perhaps more significantly Roberto Martinez.
Put bluntly, Martinez’s predecessor David Moyes was hopeless at preparing his team for the Merseyside Derby. Everton were regularly playing well in the league going into these fixtures, but when pitted against Liverpool, they crumbled.
For those of a blue persuasion, the hope is that Martinez will let Everton of the leash and really go at this Liverpool team. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t; Everton have finished above their red neighbors in the last two league campaigns. The Toffees could go level on points and up to third in the Premier League if they triumph on derby day.
But that won’t be easy, as Liverpool are a fine side in their own right. They are playing a dynamic, attractive brand of football spearheaded by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. Any win in the derby is sweet, but a win here at the home of their city rivals would send them to the top of the Premier League table. How’s that for incentive?
I’ll be at this one, so be sure to look out for my column on Tuesday, which will give you a fan’s insight to Merseyside Derby day.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich
Saturday November 23, 12:30pm; GolTV
A repeat of the 2013 Champions League Final as Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich clash for the first time in this season’s Bundesliga.
Ahead of this one, things are looking good for the Bavarians. They have settled into Pep Guardiola’s style of play nicely and have extended their unbeaten domestic run to 37 games. Die Bayern are four points clear atop of the Bundesliga and a win here would make it very, very difficult for Dortmund – their only realistic title challengers – to overhaul a seven point deficit.
Whilst Bayern will rue the loss of Ballon d’Or favorite Franck Ribery and talisman Bastian Schweinsteiger to injury, their plight is nothing compared to that of Dortmund’s. Jurgen Klopp will have to contend with his entire back-four being crocked against the European Champions. It is far from ideal, and Klopp has drafted in 34-year-old free agent Manuel Friedrich to help alleviate the crisis.
Dortmund will still pose an enormous attacking threat through the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhirtaryan, but keeping out Guardiola’s rampant Bayern team with a make-shift back-four will be nigh-on impossible.
That won’t defer the Dortmund fans however, who will create a stellar atmosphere for this fixture. Should he feature, it will be particularly interesting to see the reception former Dortmund wunderkid Mario Gotze receives from the yellow wall. Expect a pulsating atmosphere and dynamic game of football from two marvelous sides.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo
Saturday November 23, 7:30pm; NBCSN and Univision Deportes
After a scoreless first match, this MLS Conference Final is delicately poised ahead of the return leg in Kansas. The first game was uninspiring to say the least, with neither of these emerging rivals able to impose themselves within a frantic atmosphere.
In truth, both sides looked a little jaded having to dealt with some pretty packed schedules. So hopefully the international break will see both Sporting and the Dynamo refreshed and readied for this one. It should certainly be a much more attacking affair, and both sides will be confident of securing the win needed to qualify for the December showpiece.
Houston could welcome back key players Ricardo Clark and Will Bruin ahead of this one. With those two coming back into the side, and Houston’s recent hold over Sporting in playoff contests, Dominic Kinnear’s side might feel as though they have the edge over their conference final opponents. They’ve been there and done it recently too; the Dynamo will take their place in a third consecutive MLS Final with a win here.
On the flipside, Sporting will be desperate to get one over Houston and as the home side, they have to take the initiative and go at their opponents. A win here will see Kansas take their place in their first final since 2000; falling in the post-season again, especially to Houston would be heartbreaking.
With no away goals rule in the MLS playoffs, Saturday’s clash will be a set to be a straight shoot-out between two of the best teams in the MLS this season. Drama guaranteed.
Manchester City vs. Tottenham
Sunday November 24, 8:30am; NBCSN
After a host of away day woes, Manchester City will be delighted to sample some home comforts this weekend against Spurs.
On their own patch, City have been imperious. They have won every one of their games at the Etihad this season and a victory over a stuttering Spurs team is a must here if they are to thrust themselves back into the title reckoning.
Tottenham should be under no illusions as to how difficult getting a result at City will be, especially when you consider recent results. In games against Everton and Newcastle prior to the international break they picked up just one point and failed to score against either of their opponents.
In some respects though, they are a side that can exploit a lot of City’s weaknesses. Andre Villas-Boas’s side is rife with pace and power, and if they can defend well and spring forward against City, they might yet have a chance.
But if any side has players that can unlock Tottenham’s stingy defence, it’s Manchester City. David Silva looks back to his mesmerising best, Sergio Aguero is on fire and Alvaro Negredo is quickly looking like a complete centre-forward.
A must win for City and a real test of Tottenham’s character.
Portland Timbers vs Real Salt Lake
Sunday November 24, 9:00pm; ESPN and ESPN Deportes
The first leg between these two was a classic contest, toing and froing between both sides. Real Salt Lake stormed into a 4-1 lead over the Timbers, but a late, late Freddy Piquionne header gave Portland a slither of a chance ahead of the second leg.
If they can overturn a two goal deficit, it will be the first time it has been done in an MLS playoff game since 2004.
Despite that Timbers goal, RSL would have surely taken a two-goal lead had it been offered to them prior to the first leg. And after a strong season they will be confident of completing the job here. They are, after all, unbeaten in nine games.
If anything, Real will be hopeful of scoring more goals in this one. In the calendar year, they have scored thirteen goals in five games against Portland.
The Timbers do have an excellent home record and will be confident of netting twice to take the game into extra-time. But Caleb Porter’s side must sure up defensively to have any hope of going through.