Momentum is a word that’s thrown around regularly in soccer, and it’s a valuable, intangible commodity for managers. Especially at this time of year with the fixtures coming up thick and fast ahead of a frenetic festive period.
The best way to accrue some momentum is arguably by beating a city or positional rival, and this weekend’s selections feature three games that fall into that enticing bracket. We’ve also got the Bundesliga’s surprise package hosting the runaway leaders, as well as a clash between two of the Premier League’s most unpredictable outfits.
All kick-off times are in Eastern time.
Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
FC Augsburg vs. Bayern Munich
Saturday, December 13, 9:30AM, GolTV
Augsburg have shocked plenty in this season’s Bundesliga and ahead of this clash with Bayern Munich they find themselves in a lofty third position in the table.
Markus Weinzierl has fashioned a team that may not be the easiest on the eye, but they’re tough to beat, dynamic in their play and are a team in every sense of the word. Indeed, while the majority of the squad have enjoyed an excellent season, there is no standout performer. The fact that right-back Paul Verhaegh is their top goalscorer epitomizes their team ethic.
You suspect that their mettle will be tested by Bayern however. The German champions are currently on a five-game winning run and will be hoping to preserve or better their seven-point lead atop of the Bundesliga standings. Pep Guardiola’s team are yet to lose a league game this season and he’ll be desperate to keep that record intact with the winter break looming.
There may not be many tougher tests for Bayern this season than this one. After all, following a 3-2 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in their first home game of the season, Augsburg have won every since one of their Bundesliga matches at the SGL Arena.
Arsenal vs. Newcastle United
Saturday, December 13, 12:30PM, NBCSN & NBC Sports Live Extra
Arsene Wenger came in for a host of criticism in the wake of his team’s embarrassing 3-2 defeat against Stoke City, and after toppling a deplorable Galatasaray team 4-1 in the Champions League in midweek, the Gunners supporters will be hoping for another strong performance when they welcome Newcastle United to the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal’s perennially poor defending manifested itself into a horror show at the Britannia Stadium in their last Premier League game. The Gunners were out-fought, out-thought and out-played by Stoke for long spells and were unable to recover from going in 3-0 down at halftime. The supporters were naturally unhappy, but will have been sated a little by the midweek display, especially Aaron Ramsey’s wonder strike.
Alexis Sanchez was rested for that one and you have to say, it was a much deserved breather for the Chilean. He’s played more minutes than any outfield player in the Premier League this season after all, and his goals, assists and ferocity have saved Arsenal from further embarrassment on many an occasion so far this season.
This game could be perfectly set up for Newcastle though. They counter-attacked with a real distinction in their 2-0 win over league leaders Chelsea last time out, and after the success Manchester United enjoyed utilizing this tactic at the Emirates in their 2-1 recent victory, expect Alan Pardew’s team to try and capitalize on the Gunners’ defensive frailties with some incisive breaking.
Manchester United vs. LiverpooL
Sunday, December 14, 8:30AM, NBCSN & NBC Sports Live Extra
Neither of these two giants of the English game are enjoying a golden spell at the moment, but the early stages of this campaign suggest one team is making much more positive strides than the other in an attempt to re-establish themselves amongst the Premier League’s elite.
United have won their last five league games in a row without really hitting top gear. Robin van Persie’s brace against Southampton snatched the points for the Red Devils last time out and although Saints will have felt desperately unlucky not to have taken something from the game, Louis van Gaal’s team are developing an ominous patent for grinding out results.
For their great rivals Liverpool, the same cannot be said. An abrasive stalemate against Sunderland in their last Premier League outing was followed by Champions League disappointment against Basel in midweek; Brendan Rodgers’ side look like a team devoid of confidence, cohesiveness and ingenuity on the cusp of their visit to Old Trafford.
Despite the respective plights of both teams, this one remains a massive occasion on the English football calendar. United versus Liverpool commands a bigger gravitas across the world than any other Premier League fixture and this match represents a fine opportunity for either team to get one over on their longstanding rivals in a season that looks unlikely to yield little else.
Real Sociedad vs. Athletic Bilbao
If David Moyes thought the job at Real Sociedad was going to be a stroll in the Spanish sun, last weekend’s 4-0 defeat to Villarreal will have changed his mind. And the tough games keep on coming for La Real as they welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Anoeta for the Basque derby.
These teams have flirted with the Champions League in recent seasons, but La Liga is proving difficult for both this season. The humbling at the Madrigal last time out means that Moyes’ men are languishing down in 14th place in La Liga, just three points clear of the relegation zone; a defeat here, and some early pressure will surely come the way of the former United boss.
Things have been better for Athletic, but not that much better, truth be told. They’ve struggled to balance domestic and European commitments and after recovering from a very turbulent start to the season, they find themselves in tenth spot. Ernesto Valverde’s team will surely feel a lot better about themselves should they triumph at the home of their biggest rivals, however.
While both sides have enjoyed better recent days, the attacking talent that each team boasts should make for a fascinating contest here. Carlos Vela will be the major threat for the hosts—he scored a hat-trick in La Real’s previous home match—and Iker Munian is a wonderful young winger to keep an eye on for Los Leones.
FC Porto vs. Benfica
Sunday, December 14, 3pm, Univision Deportes
If the clash from the Basque country doesn’t tickle your fancy, there’s a wonderful match from Liga Sagres that can help you round the weekend off in style, as Porto and Benfica meet in what is known in Portugal as O Classico.
Whenever these two eternal rivals go head-to-head it always makes for an intriguing contest, but when you consider their standing in the table, the game has even more significance attached to it. Porto have the chance to inflict Benfica with their second consecutive domestic loss, and if the home side take all the points at the Estadio Dragao, they’ll overhaul their rivals to take top spot.
Porto certainly have the attacking talent to win this match too, with Colombian forward Jackson Martinez in sparking form. The 28-year-old has notched an impressive 10 goals in 12 domestic matches this season, including seven from his last seven in all competitions. Factor in the creative talents of Yacine Brahimi and Juan Quintero, and Porto have some formidable offensive options.
There’s a reason Benfica currently top the standings however, and in Anderson Talisca they’ve pulled off one of the signings of the season. The rangy, capricious Brazilian is reportedly on the radar of a host of Europe’s most illustrious clubs, and if his team are to pick up a win at the Dragao—where Porto have won five and drawn one of their six league games so far—you suspect he’ll have plenty to do with it.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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