“I’m really tired.” “I don’t feel so good.” “You go on your own, I’ll only annoy you.” “What do you mean? I’ve already done mine!”
Feel free to use any of the above excuses to help avoid Christmas shopping this weekend. Why do you need them? Well, instead of plodding from store to store, why not put your feet up, take a break from the festive hyperbole and take in some top-class winter soccer fixtures.
And the hardest part – picking which games to watch. Of course, we’ve already done it for you, as we’ve selected our top five games ahead of this weekend. This week, we’ve got two crackers from the Premier League, a couple of games involving the best two sides in La Liga and a clash between two age-old rivals in Serie A.
Once again, we’ve looked to choose games spread over the whole weekend so you can enjoy them all if you so wish. As per usual, all kick off times are Eastern time.
Manchester City vs. Arsenal
Saturday December 14, 7:45AM, NBCSN
The weekend kick-starts with a cracking fixture at the Etihad, as Manchester City host league leaders Arsenal. It’s a game that looks set to provide us with a major indicator of each sides title credentials.
City will be on a major high coming into this one. Not only do they have an imperious record on their own patch, but that famous victory over German juggernauts and European champions Bayern Munich will be fresh in the memory. The Gunners are six points clear of City and many expect Manuel Pellegrini’s to eventually reign them in at the top of the Premier League table. A win here ahead of a tricky run of fixtures for both sides could set the tone over the congested Christmas period.
Perhaps for Arsenal even more so than Manchester City. After traveling to Manchester, their next fixture is Chelsea at home before they face tricky trips to West Ham and Newcastle United. And following a midweek defeat to Napoli in the Champions League, many expect the Gunners to suffer a similar fate at the Etihad and in doing so, relinquish some control atop of the Premier League.
But this Arsenal side are made of pretty stern stuff. They have shown bucket loads of resilience and character this season and to write them off here might be dangerous. Surely they will give City as good a test as any side on their home patch this campaign?
Barcelona vs. Villarreal
After suffering consecutive defeats to Athletic Bilbao and Ajax, La Blaugrana bounced back in style against Celtic in the Champions League.
Neymar scored his first Barca hat-trick in a 6-1 rout, and that will give the Brazilian a major confidence boost ahead of this weekend’s clash at the Camp Nou. Despite their recent ‘crisis’, Barca have been tremendous on their own patch this season having won all seven of their home games, scoring 25 goals in the process.
It is paramount they continue this winning run this weekend, as Atletico and Real Madrid are hot on their heels atop of La Liga. But in Villarreal, they will be facing one of the most impressive teams in Spain so far this season. Inspired by some marvellous performances from a rejuvenated Giovani Dos Santos, the newly promoted outfit find themselves in fifth place; just one place and one point behind at Athletic Bilbao and a Champions League spot. They actually won a friendly game against Indonesian side Mitra Kukar 13-0 in midweek!
It will be difficult for El Submarino Amarillo to prevent an eighth successive home win in La Liga for the champions, but they will go to the Camp Nou with no fear and with an intent to play some eye-catching football of their own. The result should be a fluid, open contest with goals aplenty.
Tottenham vs. Liverpool
Sunday December 15, 11:00AM, NBCSN
For Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool, this fixture prequels a difficult run of festive games. They travel to White Hart Lane, the Etihad and to Stamford Bridge in the space of two weeks, and with both Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge on the treatment table, this spell will be a major test of their top four aspirations.
But I suppose when you have Luis Suarez, you have to harbor some hope. He’s netted six goals in his last two games and his influence never seems to dwindle. In fact, if anything the Uruguayan prefers it when the responsibility is heaped upon him. Playing up top on as a lone forward gives him the freedom to roam and that can only mean bad things for opposition defenses, as we’ve seen in recent weeks.
As for Tottenham, after a rocky November they have started to put a bit of a run together. A 2-2 draw at home to champions Manchester United was followed by two hard fought away victories at Fulham and Sunderland. They look to be getting things back together under Andre Villas-Boas, but Liverpool will surely put that to the test.
A win for Spurs would put them level on points with Liverpool and thrust them right back into Champions League reckoning. A massive game lies in prospect for both sides’ European hopes.
Atletico Madrid vs. Valencia
A match-up between the two sides in Spain who typically finish in third and fourth place, as Atletico host Valencia at the Calderon.
This season, though, one side is right in the title scrap: Diego Simeone’s Los Colchoneros team. Atletico have been marvelous this season and they are very much a case of ‘what you see is what you get’. They are supremely well-drilled, exceptionally well-organized and thoroughly battle-hardened. In addition have an excellent input of creative flair from Koke and Arda Turan, and the wonderful goalscoring prowess with Diego Costa leading the line.
There are still some who doubt Atletico’s ability to go toe-to-toe with Barca and Real over the course of the whole campaign, but sitting level on points with La Blaugrana and three ahead of their city rivals, they must be taken pretty seriously. If they want to win their tenth domestic title, they need to be beating teams like Valencia, who are struggling in midtable.
Whilst Atletico have blossomed following the sale of their star striker Falcao, Valencia have really struggled to cope with the loss of Roberto Soldado. Miroslav Dukic’s side are typically an attacking, aggressive side, but they have only scored 21 goals in their opening 15 games and find themselves languishing down in ninth place. European football is taking its toll on a squad that looks pretty threadbare aside from their midfield riches and they are currently a massively unpredictable outfit.
Los Che Chotos won 3-0 at Osasuna in their last outing; can they put in another sterling showing on the road? Or will Atleti to continue to march on?
AC Milan vs AS Roma
After clinging onto their spot in the Champions League in midweek, the Rossoneri will be hoping to get their domestic form back on track at the San Siro on Monday evening. But a tough task lies in wait, as high-flying Roma come to town.
Massimo Allegri’s team were run ragged by Ajax for long spells in their final Champions League group game, but they managed to come away with a 0-0 stalemate, and being the only Italian team left in the competition will surely buoy them ahead of their game against the Giallorossi. Put bluntly, it must do as Milan have really been struggling on the domestic front.
Milan currently find themselves ninth in the Serie A standings, and whilst they are unbeaten in their last four encounters, they are struggling to get the beating of teams having won just four of their fifteen games. Rudi Garcia’s Roma side will be hoping to take advantage of these inconsistencies, and will be buoyed by the return of the talismanic Francesco Totti for this one.
Roma are still unbeaten, but they too have suffered an unfortunate amount of drawn games recently. Nonetheless, they are just three points in the wake of leaders Juventus and have happy memories of playing at the San Siro; they beat Inter 3-0 there earlier in the campaign.
What games will you be watching this weekend? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter @MattJFootball