Top 5 must-see soccer games: Jan. 1, 2021

While the soccer family as a whole deserve immense credit for getting the game back on in 2020 during a pandemic, the year is one we’ll all happily forget pretty quickly.

Here’s to 2021 being a whole lot better for us all. Starting the weekend off there are some bitter derbies on Saturday and more absorbing contests to come over the course of the weekend.

All kick-offs are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!

 

Rangers vs. Celtic

Saturday, January 2, 7:30 a.m. ET, ESPN+

For nine years, Celtic have been the dominant force in Scottish football. Rangers will go a long way towards tipping that balance if they can beat their local rivals to start the weekend off.

Steven Gerrard’s team are a whopping 16 points clear of Celtic, albeit the defending champions have three games in hand. At the moment, Rangers are the dominant force in the division and if they were to pick up three points at Ibrox, then that’d surely give their opponents too much ground to make up.

Celtic should not be ruled out though, as they’ve typically pulled off results on the domestic front when they’ve really needed them. Neil Lennon’s side have been nowhere near their best this season, but with four wins in a row in the SPL, there have been some signs lately that they are starting to rediscover a groove.

With no supporters in the stadium, this match may lose some of its edge. However, it’s hard to remember a more important Old Firm contest in recent years, with Celtic’s stranglehold under serious threat for the first time in a decade.

 

Real Betis vs. Sevilla

Saturday, January 2, 10:15 a.m. ET, beIN SPORTS, beIN SPORTS en Español, fuboTV, Sling World Sports, Sling Latino and Vidgo (free trial)

Like the Old Firm, the Seville derby between Real Betis and Sevilla is so often enriched by the passion and color of the supporters in attendance. Hopefully the players on the pitch at the Estadio Benito Villamarin can help compensate for the absence of the terrace fervor.

Sevilla will be excited for what’s to come in 2021 after another successful year. In La Liga they’ve started to build up some momentum, with 10 points from a possible 12 in the Spanish top flight. While they’re nine points behind leaders of Atletico Madrid, with Real Madrid and Barcelona toiling it feels like second place is up for grabs.

In recent seasons, Betis have been able to compete with Sevilla at the top end of the Spanish top flight, but their inconsistency has blighted them this term. Still, they have individuals capable of igniting any football match and the supporters will hope they turn up in what is one of the team’s biggest matches of the campaign.

 

Chelsea vs. Manchester City

Sunday, January 3, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN, fuboTV, Sling Blue and Hulu + Live TV (free trial)

While the Premier League calendar has been disrupted by Covid-19 over the festive period, Manchester City appear ready to get back in action on Sunday in a crucial game against Chelsea.

Pep Guardiola’s team were due to take on Everton on Monday, before a raft of positive tests in the squad led to the match being postponed. The club have since confirmed no new positive results in the group and it’ll now be intriguing to see what kind of side takes to the field at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Chelsea could do with a boost at this stage of the season too. After an excellent run in the buildup to December, the wheels have slowly come off in recent weeks, with the team suffering three losses and a draw in their last five games. Against City, a big improvement will be needed if they’re to take anything from the contest.

With Liverpool toiling at the top of the pile, both of these teams will still feel in contention for the title despite some ups and downs in 2020-21. Starting the new year with a big win over a positional rival would potentially set them on course towards an exciting second half of the campaign.

 

Benevento vs. AC Milan

Sunday, January 3, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN+

While this meeting in Serie A may not jump off the page, for AC Milan this is another tricky hurdle to overcome on their way to what would be a shock title triumph.

Benevento have not only been performing to a decent standard in the top flight this season—they are in 10th place going into the weekend’s matches—they are managed by AC Milan icon Pippo Inzaghi. Having struggled during his stint in the manager’s position at the San Siro, the ex-striker is beginning to show what he can offer as a coach.

Milan continue to rattle on though and remain a point clear of Inter at the start of 2021. Last time out they were able to show their championship credentials too, as a last-gasp goal from Theo Hernandez saw them to a 3-2 win over Lazio at the San Siro.

Having made it to the new year top of the pile, the pressure will really bite for Milan in the coming weeks. It’s encounters like this one on Sunday that’ll be vital if they’re to maintain the momentum needed for a title push.

 

Southampton vs. Liverpool

Monday, January 4, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, fuboTV, Sling Blue and Hulu + Live TV (free trial)

Liverpool will be looking to get back to winning ways on Monday against Southampton after a disappointing end to 2020.

The Reds appeared all set to race to another Premier League title when they had the chance to move five points clear at the summit against a struggling West Bromwich Albion. However, a 1-1 draw against the Baggies and a 0-0 draw at Newcastle United will have given the rest of the Premier League hope.

Liverpool have looked a little flat from an attacking perspective in their previous two matches and manager Jurgen Klopp will hope the return of Thiago can provide a timely creative injection. The Spain international came off the bench and turned in an impressive cameo against Newcastle.

Southampton are without a win in four after flying out of the traps, but are still just seven points off Liverpool at the top of the table. Manager Ralph Hassenhuttl will be keen to capitalize on the vulnerabilities the Reds have shown in their last two matches and will be confident his players have the quality needed to capitalize on them.

 

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