As we head towards the Christmas months, the soccer comes thick and fast. Whether teams are embarking on a convoluted set of festive fixtures or they’re looking to continue momentum up until the cusp of the winter break, getting December off to a good start is imperative.
This weekend will have to go some to top last weekend’s stellar selection, with our five choices producing a remarkable 19 goals (Yes, yes. You’re all very welcome), but we’ve picked out five games that could produce comparable drama, flair and atmosphere.
You may have to tear yourselves away from your advent calendars though, as four of our games this week are on Sunday.
As per usual, all kick-off times are in Eastern Time. Enjoy the games!
Tottenham vs. Manchester United
Sunday, December 1, 7:00am, NBC Sports Network (Commentary From Arlo White and Tim Howard)
A big game in prospect for both sides after their respective failings in week 12.
Especially for Andre Villas-Boas, who’s position has come under significant pressure in the week following his team’s horror show at the Etihad. After the 6-0 spanking they were on the end of from Manchester City, Tottenham fans will be expecting a response at home to the champions.
But at the moment, it’s difficult to see exactly where this retort is going to come from. Spurs haven’t found the net in any of their last three Premier League games and a defence that looked so assured was torn to pieces last weekend.
Perhaps an even more ominous indicator for North London club is that their opposition seem to be clicking into gear. Granted, United put in a patchy performance away at Cardiff City last weekend, but they stuck five past Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena in midweek. David Moyes described that performance as United’s best of the campaign and it could be the spark their season needs.
Another positive for United is that they have an excellent record away to Spurs, who have failed to beat the Red Devils at White Hart Lane since 2001. Same again here?
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Olympique Lyonnais
Sunday, December 1, 3:00pm, beIN Sport Play
Arguably the two biggest clubs in France face off on Sunday as PSG host Lyon. Whilst there was a period not so long ago that OL used to runaway with Ligue 1 season upon season, these days the Parisians are comfortably the best team in France.
Currently, Laurent Blanc’s team sit four points clear atop of the French league and have shown no signs deviating from their sparkling form. They’ve yet to lose a domestic game this season and have won their last three in a row; scoring ten goals and conceding just once in the process.
It will take an almighty effort for Lyon to go to the Parc Des Princes and win. Especially when you consider the manner in which their performances have oscillated so far this campaign. Remi Garde’s team have regularly struggled away from home too and their form on the road so far makes for some pretty sorry reading having won two and lost four of their six away games.
Les Gones do have some players within their ranks to cause the champions problems; most notably the creative Yoann Gourcuff and the clinical Alexandre Lacazette. But keeping out Zlatan, Cavani and co. will be a big, big ask.
Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona
A stern test for Tata Martino’s Barcelona team as they travel to the Biscay province to play Athletic Bilbao.
Having suffered defeat in the Champions League midweek – their first of the entire campaign - La Blaugrana will be keen to get back to winning ways on the domestic front. No problem you’d suspect, especially when up to now, they’ve been superb in La Liga. Barca have dropped just two points all season but know that a win here is crucial to keep an equally impressive Atletico Madrid and a Real Madrid side gathering momentum off their tails.
But away games in La Liga don’t come much tougher than a trip to Athletic. The new San Mames stadium has retained the fervent Basque atmosphere that was so prevalent in Atheltic’s previous home and it has immediately become a fortress since its opening in September. Bilbao are unbeaten at home and in Barcelona, their fans will get to experience a raucous, big-game atmosphere at their new ground for the first time.
A win for Bilbao could propel them into a Champions League spot, so the new San Mames will be rocking for this one. Expect Los Leones to give the Messi-less champions a thorough examination in this one.
Lazio vs. Napoli
The season had started so well for Rafael Benitez’s new look Napoli outfit. They got off to an absolute flyer in Serie A and looked well set to qualify from a tough group in the champions league.
But three consecutive defeats – away to Juventus, at home to Parma and away to Borussia Dortmund – have gone a long way to derailing their season. Now they have a slim chance of qualifying for the last 16 of the champions league and find themselves six points behind leaders Juventus in Serie A.
They need to halt this losing run, but they face a tough game against Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico on Monday evening. Vladimir Petkovic’s side have been pretty hit-and-miss themselves as of late, but they remain a strong outfit on their own patch; they’ve won five, drawn one and lost one of their seven home games so far.
A big test for the Naples team, but a victory here would go a long way to reaffirming their faltering title aspirations.
Chelsea vs. Southampton
Sunday, December 1, 11:00AM, NBC Sports Network
Jose Mourinho claimed his side were tired after they suffered defeat in the Champions League during the week.
And if your team is a feeling a little fatigued, the least desirable opponents in the Premier League are arguably this galvanised Southampton outfit.
But that’s the task awaiting Chelsea this weekend as they look to reign in leaders Arsenal, who themselves have a tough trip to the Cardiff City Stadium this weekend. Mourinho could have – probably should have – lost his long-standing unbeaten home record with the club against West Brom in their last game at Stamford Bridge. And with the improving Samuel Eto’o out injured for this one, questions linger ahead of this one as to whether his side will be able to get the better of a pretty stingy Saints defence.
To do so, they will have to ensure Oscar sees as much of the ball as possible. The Brazilian playmaker has been the club’s outstanding man during Mourinho’s second stint in charge and he must wriggle into every little gap he can to escape the attentions of Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama.
Southampton will put Chelsea through their paces with their dynamic style and should be confident of getting a result despite last weekend’s defeat to Arsenal. Aside from Artur Boruc’s catastrophic blip, Southampton were well in the game against the league leaders.
If Mauricio Pochettino’s team can stay a bit more switched on here and close off the passing lanes into the likes of Oscar, then they have the attacking players to cause big problems for a Chelsea backline that looked pretty ponderous midweek.
What games will you be watching this week? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball