The top two sides in the Premier League and the Bundesliga will go head-to-head this weekend in their respective divisions, providing a perfect beginning to what should be an engrossing weekend of soccer.
German top flight football gets back underway after the festive hiatus and the league leaders visiting the team in second place represents the best possible start to the weekend. That’s followed by the equivalent fixture in the Premier League, a match that will have enormous ramifications when it comes to the race for the title.
There’s another enticing clash to savor from the Bundesliga and a game between two of La Liga’s in form sides to take in too. In addition, the Africa Cup of Nations is at the quarter-final point and arguably the two best sides in the competition will battle it out for a spot in the semi-finals.
All kick-offs are in Eastern time, enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Wolfsburg vs. Bayern Munich
The Bundesliga gets back underway in the best possible fashion, as second placed side Wolfsburg take on league leaders Bayern Munich at the Volkswagen Arena.
Wolfsburg have enjoyed a real breakthrough campaign so far. Orchestrated by the wonderful playmaking abilities of former Chelsea man Kevin De Bruyne, they’ve played a real incisive brand of football so far this season and a win here would be a major statement of intent. With Dortmund struggling in the lower reaches of the table, Champions League football is a realistic target for the hosts.
Bayern Munich are a formidable outfit, though. They’re 11 points clear atop of the Bundesliga and look poised to run away with the German championship once again under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola. But they won’t face any tougher tests in the remainder of the campaign than a trip to Wolfsburg.
The game will be tinged with massive sadness the home side. It’ll be the first competitive match that they’ve played since the tragic passing of the club’s midfielder Junior Malanda, meaning that there will be a sombre atmosphere at Volkswagen Arena. A minutes silence will be observed ahead of the game and both sides will be honor the memory of the Belgian by wearing black armbands.
Chelsea vs. Manchester City
Saturday, January, 12:30PM, NBC & NBC Sports Live Extra
The two best teams in the Premier League will be looking to bounce back from embarrassing FA Cup exits at the hands of lower league opposition when they lock horns at Stamford Bridge. And for Manchester City, the game against Chelsea is looking as though it could well be make or break for the reigning champions.
Lose here and they’ll fall eight points behind the table toppers. Manuel Pellegrini’s side will be without Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony for this one too after Ivory Coast qualified for the knockout stages of the Africa Cup of Nations. But they still have enough class to cause big problems for any side on their day.
Chelsea could well be vulnerable in this game as well. Jose Mourinho’s men were pushed close in 120 minutes of pulsating action against Liverpool in midweek and City will be well rested in comparison. They also look as though they’ll be without Diego Costa (suspended) and Cesc Fabregas (injured) for this one; the club’s top goalscorer and most prolific assist maker.
It may not be an open, entertaining game, but the stakes are so high here. Chelsea will feel as though they have one hand on the Premier League title should they triumph and subsequently, City simply cannot afford to lose at Stamford Bridge.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund will be looking to put a torrid end to 2014 behind them when the Bundesliga gets back underway, but they will face a very difficult first game following the winter break, as they travel to the Bay Arena to face Bayer Leverkusen.
Leverkusen will be hoping that Bayern can do them a favour against Wolfsburg, meaning that a win for the hosts in this clash will see them move back to within three points of second place in the table. The effervescent attacking talents of Karim Bellarabi and Son Heung-min were a hallmark of their early season form and should have enough to cause big problems for this Dortmund side.
Jurgen Klopp’s team will resume domestic action in the thick of a relegation battle. They’re joint bottom of the Bundesliga table coming into this one, having won just four of their 17 games so far. With Marco Reus set to come back into the side, they should be confident of pushing up the table, but a win in this one looks as though it’s beyond them.
The break could have done Dortmund good, though. They’re a team who thrive on momentum and if they can somehow notch a win here they should streak clear of the bottom end of the table. But Leverkusen are no mugs and should have real incentive of catching Wolfsburg by the time this game comes around on Saturday evening.
Ivory Coast vs. Algeria
Sunday, February 1, 2:30PM, beIN SPORTS Connect
The Africa Cup of Nations has been an intriguing spectacle so far. Admittedly, the quality on show hasn’t been of the highest standard, but all eight teams left in the draw at the quarter-final stage will feel as though they have a fair chance of sampling glory, especially with Ivory Coast and Algeria set to face each other.
These two sides are the favourites to go on and win this competition, but after the Fennec Foxes were only able to finish in second place in a very difficult Group C, what could have been a potential final will be played out in the quarters instead.
Algeria are the most well balanced squad in this competition but as of yet they’ve failed to really get going. Their 2-0 win against Senegal showed some signs of progression, but Christian Gourcuff will be hoping that the knockout stages of this tournament along—along with the clash against the might of the Elephants—will see his side crank up the gears.
While Ivory Coast have been perennial underachievers in this competition in seasons gone by, writing them off would be naive. With the likes of Bony and Toure in their ranks they have genuine world-class players that are capable of changing a game in an instant; you suspect they’ll have to be at their very best to overcome this capable Algeria team.
Barcelona vs. Villarreal
Buoyed by an excellent win away to Atletico Madrid in midweek, Barcelona will go into their clash with Villarreal at the Camp Nou in excellent spirits. But the visitors have been one of the standout teams in La Liga so far this season and are a side that look well capable of springing a big surprise against the Catalonians.
Indeed, Marcelino’s men are currently on an 11-game undefeated run and well in the hunt for a Champions League place. Their superb campaign has been founded on an underpinning defensive fortitude, but they have some vibrant attacking talent too. Russian winger Denis Cheryshev has been the standout man for them, bagging five goals and eight assists so far this season.
Their qualities will be tested in earnest at the Camp Nou, however. Barca have won all but one of their home games this season and somewhat ominously for the rest of the teams in the division, the front three of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi is beginning to click into a devastating groove. The latter is in particularly dazzling form at the moment, bagging eight goals in his last five league games
It’ll be interesting to see just how Villarreal handle the threat posed by Barca’s offensive triumvirate, especially after the sale of defender Gabriel Paulista to Arsenal. But if they play with the swagger that’s been on show in recent weeks, they definitely have the quality to cause some big problems of their own for the Barcelona back-line.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball