If a side boasts an 11-point lead at the top of any domestic division, suddenly games involving those outfits challenging for the title feel a little less significant.
Yet on the flipside, if the runaway leaders have strung together 15 wins playing irrepressible attacking football, then they’re always worth a watch, as is the case in the Premier League.
In truth, heavyweight clashes from across Europe are in short supply this weekend, meaning we’ll need to look at other nuances to relieve our footballing itch. In Spain we have a Basque derby to enjoy, in Italy we’ll see if the leaders can preserve momentum ahead of Christmas, while there’s also a Club World Cup final to savour.
All kick-offs are in Easter time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Inter Milan supporters would’ve taken a deep breath after coming away from their meeting with Juventus with a point last weekend. Now to follow it up against Udinese.
Luciano Spalletti’s side remain top of the pile after Napoli failed to capitalise on points dropped for Inter in Turin. Now it’s important they get back to winning ways against modest opposition and ensure they remain top of the pile come Christmas. If they can do so, Inter can look ahead to 2018 with great excitement.
The Nerazzurri will be wary of Udinese, though, as they’ve been Serie A’s most erratic side this term. Indeed, Udinese are the only side in the division without a draw, winning six and losing nine of their 15 games. If they turn up and click into gear then Inter will have a tough afternoon.
Still, under Spalletti there’s a calmness about Inter, especially at the San Siro. They’ll seek to sap any vibrancy from the visitors’ play and will look to game-changers like Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic to get them over the line.
With Real Madrid away at the Club World Cup, the title race in La Liga takes a bit of a backseat this weekend. Indeed, Athletic’s showdown with Sociedad is the standout fixture.
In recent seasons both of these teams have flirted with the Champions League positions and have given the division’s biggest sides some issues. But neither have had a good beginning to the campaign, with Athletic down in 14th and La Real 11th.
Still, the gap to the top six is far from insurmountable at this juncture and a derby win can often be the catalyst for an upturn in form. For Athletic, there have been some more encouraging signs lately too, with no loss in four and a win lodged at Levante last weekend. Jose Ziganda will want to see his side make strides at the San Mames too.
Sociedad, by contrast, have fallen into something of a lull, with the early-season promise they showcased feeling like it was a long time ago. A win at the home of their bitter rivals would surely reignite a fire under Eusebio Sacristan’s side again.
REAL MADRID VS. GREMIO (CLUB WORLD CUP FINAL)
Saturday, December 16, 12 p.m. ET, Telemundo and fuboTV
While they were far from convincing in making it to this stage of the Club World Cup, Real Madrid are big favourites to win this title for the third time in four years when they meet Gremio on Saturday.
Los Blancos were expected to swat aside Al Jazira in midweek in their semi-final, though fell behind in the game. Eventually, goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale saw them through, but in a season of struggle for Madrid, this was another concerning performance turned in by Zinedine Zidane’s side.
Gremio will fancy their chances as a result. They got by Pachuca in their semi-final and will also feel they have more to offer in Saturday’s showpiece in Abu Dhabi. The Brazilian side’s young playmaker, Arthur, is one to watch having been linked with both Los Blancos and bitter rivals Barcelona.
While Madrid are expected to come through in this one, Zidane will stress how vital the game is. After beating Kashima Antlers in the final a year ago, the side move through the gears in 2017 and went on to secure a La Liga-Champions League double. A piece of silverware may jolt them into life again.
Matches between City and Tottenham have been absorbing to watch in recent years. Yet this one feels a little low-key, partly due to the relentless pace being set by City at the top of the table.
The 15-game winning run City have embarked on has been truly remarkable. Pep Guardiola’s side don’t only boast a steely mentality and tremendous quality, but the football showcased has been as good as the Premier League has evert seen. To have dropped just two points at this stage is a stunning return.
Spurs appeared to be the side many believed would put up some sort of a challenge to City, but Mauricio Pochettino’s men have run into some issues as of late. Still, emphatic wins over Stoke City and Brighton would suggest some issues have been overcome; Tottenham have typically finished campaigns strongly under the Argentine too.
Still, how does any side in Premier League contain City at the moment? There’s so much potency in attack, creativity in midfield and confidence throughout the squad that it’s tough to see their winning run ending for a while. If Spurs can do it, those sides in the chasing pack may feel there’s still potential for a title race yet.
If Manchester City can overcome Spurs then Manchester United will kick off at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday with a 14-point gap to make up.
Even so, manager Jose Mourinho will demand high standards from his players. They recovered from their derby loss with a 1-0 win over Bournemouth in midweek, with Romelu Lukaku snaffling a much-need goal. Still, their performance left much to be desired, as David De Gea was the Red Devils’ star man between the sticks.
Improvements will be needed if they’re to pick up an important win on the road. West Brom, while they’ve yet to find attacking fluency under new manager Alan Pardew, have looked a little more organised as of late and defended brilliantly to frustrate Liverpool in a 0-0 draw on Wednesday. You sense the gameplan will be the same here.
Still, with no victory in their last 15 outings, the Baggies really could do with a win and in a big game against United the Hawthorns will surely demand a little more attacking intent. Overall, it’s the kind of fixture in which Mourinho’s men tend to find a way through eventually.
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