Right, here we go again.
Clubs are back into the swing of things after the winter break and the early rounds of the domestic competitions in England and Spain have been boxed off.
So teams should have total focus on this weekends games, which have churned up some key ties in title challenges, races for European qualification and the battle to beat the drop. We’ve got a new Milan manager to run the rule over and a battle between two of the most dominant teams from the Premier League era.
You know the drill by now. We’ve got some honourable mentions for you to sample this week too. We certainly spoil you lot!
All kick off times are in Eastern Time. Enjoy the games!
Sunderland vs. Southampton (Saturday, January 18, 7:45AM, NBCSN)
The Black Cats will be confident of another victory after an Adam Johnson-inspired win at Fulham. They’ll come up against a Saints side who have endured plenty of off-field problems this week; it’ll be interesting to see how they might effect their performance in Saturday’s early Premier League game.
Ajax vs. PSV (Sunday, January 19, 10:30 AM, GolTV)
Always a huge game in Holland, and this one has added significance with Ajax locked in a title battle with Vitesse Arnhem atop of the Eredivisie. PSV have had a difficult season and currently find themselves down in seventh place, but their crop of talented young stars should see them pose problems at the Amsterdam Arena.
Worth watching for Lionel Messi alone? The Argentine started for the first time since his return from injury against Getafe in midweek. He bagged another brace, including a stunning second. Levante are a tough nut to crack at home, though and should provide a decent test.
Two sides who have threatened to gatecrash the duopoly of Spanish football in recent years; Atletico are making a real fist of it this season, though. After holding fellow league leaders Barcelona last weekend, a win here is a must to keep pace with La Blaugrana and keep their city rivals Real Madrid at bay.
Now for the top five…
St Etienne vs. LOSC Lille
It’s fourth versus third in Ligue 1 as Lille make the trip to St Etienne.
St-Etienne just missed out on Champions League football last season, and they have started this campaign with plenty of intent looking to keep on the coat tails of both Monaco and PSG. A win here over Les Dogues’ would put them within three points of third place and surely provide major impetus as they look to qualify for Europe’s Premier competition.
To do so, they’ll have to breach the best defence in France. Lille have conceded just five goals on the road all season and ten in total. In truth, they need a win here if they are to keep their slim title ambitions alive. They lost ground to Monaco and PSG last weekend as they suffered a shock defeat at home to Reims.
Neither side have been massively prolific throughout the course of the campaign, but this looks set to be a very even contest and one which could go a long way towards determining who will join PSG and Monaco as a French representative in the Champions League.
Leeds United vs. Leicester City
After being trounced 6-0 by lowly Sheffield Wednesday last time out, Leeds United certainly have something to prove when they tackle high-flying Leicester City in Saturday’s early kick-off.
Brian McDermott has been shuffling his squad and experimenting with a variety of formations as of late. So in many respects, it was little surprise that his side looked ropey, uncoordinated and lacking discipline at Hillsborough last weekend. Some of the defensive lapses and sloppy play that lead to the Wednesday goals would have been downright embarrassing to watch back for the Leeds players and managers.
Expect a much more cohesive performance at Elland Road on Saturday, and for the Leeds faithful to lift their players after such a harrowing defeat.
You could say a game against Leicester City takes the pressure off the home side going into this one. But if the Foxes rock up and perform with the swagger that has been so prevalent as of late, it could be another long afternoon for the McDermott and his players.
After crushing an in-form Derby County side 4-1 in their last outing, a win here for Leicester would send them seven points clear of second placed Burnley. After last season’s playoff heartache they look increasingly well placed to make a long awaited return to England’s top division.
Swansea City vs. Tottenham
Sunday, January 19, 8:30AM, NBCSN
Despite the derision when Tim Sherwood took up the post of Tottenham manager, things have been going pretty well for the North London club as of late.
After three wins on the bounce in the Premier League they travel to South Wales to face Swansea. A win there would guarantee they move up into fifth place above Everton, with the Toffees not playing until Monday night.
The Liberty Stadium is traditionally a tricky place to go for visiting teams. But Swansea have really struggled on home soil as of late and currently stand just three points clear of the bottom three.
Home form is essential if you are to survive in the Premier League and boss Michael Laudrup will be well aware that his injury-hit squad need to pick up a win here.
An interesting tactical battle is surely in store. Sherwood has stuck exclusively with his 4-4-2 system in the infancy of his tenure. It could give Swansea an edge in the middle of the park, and should certainly make for a free-flowing, entertaining contest.
Chelsea vs. Manchester United
Sunday, January 19, 11:00AM, NBCSN
A 2-0 win over Swansea City gave David Moyes some much needed breathing space last weekend. The former Everton boss has been coming under some serious pressure in his short tenure to date, and his primary aim now is surely to secure a Champions League berth ahead of next season. With all of the top seven teams looking in fine fettle, United need to put a run together if they are to take their place amongst Europe’s elite next season.
But Moyes faces a huge challenge if he is to secure back-to-back wins, as he takes his side to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are a side slowly clicking into gear; Jose Mourinho has made them increasingly compact and in recent weeks, some stardust from their mercurial Belgian Eden Hazard has been the difference.
The former Lille man has been in outstanding form as of late, scoring and making goals at vital stages in the game. He will most likely have a say in the result of this one and will be buoyed by Mourinho’s glowing recent comments about him being one of the best players in the Premier League.
United could welcome back Wayne Roonery for this one and like Hazard he has been a talismanic figure for his team this season. If a Red Devils team in transition is to breach Jose Mourinho’s outstanding Chelsea home record, then they need a massive performance from the England international.
After the dire 0-0 draw these two teams played out earlier in the campaign, they owe us a watchable contest. Surely we’re going to get one this time?
AC Milan vs. Hellas Verona
After Massimo Allegri was axed in his role as AC Milan boss following their 4-3 at minnows Sassuolo, the Rosonerri begin life under new boss Clarence Seedorf this weekend.
The Dutchman—who has no formal coaching experience—has left his playing contract with Brazilian club Botafogo to take up the reigns at the San Siro, and he will be tasked with galvanizing a Milan team that are loitering in eleventh place; they are 20 points off a Champions League spot.
In many respects, it’s an ideal time for Seedorf to come in. The Milanista have been so bad as of late that it would be difficult for them to be much worse! But in Mario Balotelli, Kaka and Keisuke Honda, Seedorf has some superb talent to work with and will be expected to move them up the table in the season run in.
His first game in charge looks like it could be a difficult one, though, as Milan welcome Hellas Verona to the San Siro. The newly promoted side have been very impressive at times this campaign. Look out for Jorginho in the heart of the Verona midfield; an excellent young player courted by some of Europe’s biggest sides.