Top 5 Must-See Soccer Games: Dec.18, 2014

Skrtel

We’re on the cusp of the Christmas period, and although that might mean different things for clubs scattered across the globe, the need for points is no less vital. It’s conceivable that there’s no worse feeling than going into a winter break on the back of a defeat after all, while a win going into a convoluted calendar can also do plenty to lift spirits.

This weekend we’ve got a showpiece game to look forward to, as the best club side in the world will be crowned. There’s also two enticing clashes from the Premier League, as well as teams in Italy and Spain who face tough challenges as they look to cement their title credentials.

All kick-off times are in Eastern time.

Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!

 

Real Madrid vs. San Lorenzo

Saturday, December 20, 2:30PM, FOX Sports 2 & FOX Sports GO & FOX Soccer 2GO

Ramos

It’s the final the majority expected and in truth, the final everyone wanted. A perceived lesser side making a run to the final of a major tournament is always enjoyable, but if any team is going to challenge the might of Real Madrid at the Club World Cup, it’s South American champions San Lorenzo.

The Argentinean side triumphed after extra-time over New Zealand’s Auckland City, but they will be well aware that it’s vital they up their game a level in the final if they’re to avoid a hammering at the hands of the Spaniards.

Real Madrid made it 21 consecutive wins when they beat Cruz Azul in the semi-finals without really breaking a sweat. They’ll be the overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy in Morocco, and with the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and of course, Cristiano Ronaldo in red-hot form, it’s difficult to see anything other than a comfortable win for the European champions.

There have been plenty of shocks in this tournament down the years, though. Often European sides have struggled against the intensity that’s brought to matches by their South American opponents; San Lorenzo will be hoping to knock Madrid out of their rhythm early, remain cohesive in defence and hopefully nick a goal.

 

Roma vs. Milan

Saturday, December 20, 2:45PM, beIN SPORTSDishWorld

Milan - Napoli

Roma may be without manager Rudi Garcia on the sidelines after his recent ban, but it’s imperative that they keep up the pressure on Juventus at the top of Serie A when they welcome Milan to the Stadio Olimpico.

The Bianconeri moved four points clear in the race for the Scudetto after their 3-1 win over Cagliari on Thursday, but if the Giallarossi can keep on the coattails of the reigning champions, there is a chance they could make this a proper title race yet. Especially after winning four of their last five outings in domestic competition.

Milan are a dangerous team, though. They won last time out against Napoli, but poor results have punctured their season so far. They’re capable of going to the capital and making a real fist of this game, but in the same breath, Filippo Inzaghi’s side are just as likely to capitulate before the baying crowd and falling to a heavy defeat.

The Rossoneri will be chasing Champions League football this season, and a win over Roma would push them up from sixth to second in the Serie A table. This is a match that will tell us plenty about the credentials of each team as they build towards their respective goals in the 2013/14 season, and as is often the case when giants of Italian football meet, expect a wonderfully raucous atmosphere.

 

Newcastle United vs. Sunderland

Sunday, December 21, 8:30AM, NBCSN & NBC Sports Live Extra

Fans

Alan Pardew’s team will be hoping to bounce back from their humbling at the Emirates last time out, and they have the perfect opportunity to accrue some impetus when they welcome north-east rivals Sunderland to the Sports Direct Arena on Sunday.

Newcastle were unable to reach the same admirable levels against Arsenal that they showcased against Chelsea in their recent 2-0 win over Jose Mourinho’s men, but they are set to welcome Moussa Sissoko back from suspension. He’s been the Toon Army’s standout player this season and will add a critical dynamism to the midfield.

That’ll be vital for the home side in a fixture that is played at a ferocious tempo, and they’ll be desperate to set the record straight against their rivals. Sunderland have won 3-0 on their last two trips to Newcastle after years without a victory there and with the Black Cats struggling for wins, the Geordie faithful will see this as an excellent opportunity to get back to winning ways.

But Sunderland have drawn a staggering amount of games this season. They’ve been solid enough at the back, but have lacked a cutting edge in advanced areas. There’d be no better place to rediscover some incisive, attacking football and there’s little that’d make the travelling Black Cats supporters happier.

 

Liverpool vs. Arsenal

Sunday, December 21, 11:00AM, NBCSN & NBC Sports Live Extra

Sterling

Liverpool’s surge into the semi-finals of the League Cup will have helped banish the bad memories of their recent surrender at Old Trafford, but after beating second-tier Bournemouth 3-1, the Reds face an altogether more difficult challenge in the Premier League this weekend when they welcome Arsenal to Anfield.

It’s a Gunners side that looks to be getting their swagger back, too. Arsene Wenger’s side tore through Newcastle United over and over again in their previous Premier League outing; the likes of Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and this season’s star-man Alexis Sanchez will surely be hoping for a similar outcome when they come up against the Reds’ ropey back-line.

Indeed, Sanchez will be desperate to show the Liverpool supporters what they’ve been missing. Brendan Rodgers was reportedly keen on signing the Chilean sensation in the summer, but the then Barcelona man turned down a chance to move to Merseyside in favor of the bright lights of London.

Last season the home side blitzed Arsenal with a stunning 5-1 win, and although much has changed since then, it will interesting to see if the visiting players on Sunday have shed the scars of that memorable afternoon. Liverpool—who at this juncture, will draw on any incentive they can find—will certainly be hoping so, as they look to breach the top half of the table.

 

Athletic Club vs. Atletico Madrid

Sunday, December 21, 3:00PM, beIN SPORTS EspańolDishWorld

Bilbao

With their city rivals off on World Club Cup duty, Atletico Madrid have a chance to put some pressure on in the title race this weekend. But it’s set to be a very difficult 90 minutes for Diego Simeone’s champions, as they head to the Basque country to face Athletic Club at the San Mames.

It’s look increasingly unlikely that the Rojiblancos will defend their title this year—currently seven points back on Real Madrid—but you can bet this team will not relinquish in the ferocious defence of their crown. Atletico suffered a hugely disappointing result in their last La Liga outing, as Villarreal took all three points away from the Vicente Calderon.

Typically, Atletico have bounced back well from poor results under Simeone and they’ll fancy their chances against an Athletic team that have been up and down this season. In many respects, the draw in the Basque derby last weekend was a microcosm of Bilbao’s entire season: starting games poorly and a subsequent lack of cutting edge in dangerous areas.

Defensively, the Basque side have been pretty good and that could cause some problems for an Atletico side that have struggled to find an attacking rhythm from open play so far this season. Subsequently, this one could be low scoring, but given the unwavering intensity with which both teams play, it should be an engrossing spectacle nonetheless.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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