The best of the bunch from across Europe...

          This weekend's must-watch matches

          2022/01/14 14:20
          Alex Lawes

          European football got back underway in its entirety last weekend following the Christmas and winter breaks at the back end of December and early-January.

          The Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, Premier League, Primeira Liga and Serie A are now all ready to go for the second-half of the campaign.

          Playmaker looks at a key game from each of the six major European leagues for this weekend…(all kick-off times are GMT, by the way).


          Borussia Monchengladbach vs Bayer Leverkusen | Saturday at 17:30 

          These two sides that have competed for the UEFA Champions League qualification  regularly in recent seasons, their battle for the top four in the 2019/20 campaign really caught the eye.

          Borussia Monchengladbach returned from their winter break with a remarkable 2-1 victory away to top-of-the-table and reigning champions Bayern Munich. Gladbach, under the management of Ali Hutter, have struggled for consistency this season and that win is exactly what they needed for proof their squad, that contains attackers Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea is more than capable.

          ©Getty / Boris Streubel

          Gerardo Seoane was appointed as manager of Bayer Leverkusen in 2021, following winning the Swiss Super League with Young Boys. Leverkusen, with Florian Wirtz, Patrik Schick and Moussa Diaby leading a vibrant attack, have been excellent to watch and effective with points on the board. The visitors know one way of playing and that is attacking.

          LA LIGA 

          Elche vs Villarreal | Sunday at 13:00

          Now, it can’t be pretended that this isn’t the only La Liga game this weekend due to the Copa del Rey and therefore, by default, the ‘standout’ match but this is an important Valencian derby.

          Elche begin this weekend sitting 16th in the table, just two points above the bottom three and the relegation places. They survived relegation on the final day of the campaign last season with victory away to Cadiz and another long and hard battle looks set to be on the cards. An overweight Javier Pastore is not helping their cause.

          Villarreal are the reigning UEFA Europa League winners but in the league, in both of Unai Emery’s seasons, they have struggled to move through the gears and win more games than they draw. In 58 games, they have drawn 21 matches and that has held them back from serious pushes towards the top four. A strong performance at home to Atletico last week ended up in a 2-2 result.

          LIGUE 1

          Olympique de Marseille vs Lille | Sunday at 19:45

          A team managed by Jorge Sampaoli is always worth watching. Not for the cliché’s of the fact that it will inevitably play like a Bielsa side but because of just how fiery it can be.

          Sampaoli was appointed manager of Marseille towards the end of last season and he managed to get enough if a good start to take the southerners into Europe. He has now transformed his team into an intense and energetic side looking to be the best of the rest behind runaway league leaders Paris Saint-Germain. 

          The team they could be looking to emulate within a few seasons is that of Lille. Christophe Galtier departed the northerners in the summer after winning the title, ahead of PSG last season. Since then, Jonathan Ikone has departed for Fiorentina and now Jonathan David looks like he could also be moving on. They have underperformed their xP (expected points) this season and sit in mid-table.


          Manchester City vs Chelsea | Saturday at 12:30

          The repeat of the 2021 UEFA Champions League final. Thomas Tuchel got the better of Pep Guardiola three separate times in three separate competitions towards the end of last season.

          Pep Guardiola, for the second season in a row, has got his City side to click into gear as they look set to move away from the rest of the pack. They chased Liverpool, caught them and eased to the title. This time they have chased Chelsea and caught them. The plethora of attacking options playing such a complex and sophisticated style of play would suggest they will ease to the title once again.

          The visitors, though, have hit a bumpy patch. Their progress into the EFL Cup final after defeating Tottenham Hotspur in midweek has guaranteed that they will play six matches in five competitions across three different countries in February. That fixture schedule would kill most sides and three wins in their last 11 league games would highlight how it has affected the Blues. 


          Belenenses vs Porto | Sunday at 20:30

          It is bottom-of-the-table versus top-of-the-table in a game that could be critical as both sides move into the second-half of the campaign.

          Belenenses’ opening few months was overshadowed mainly by their match at home to Benfica in which they had the game abandoned at half-time, 7-0 down, having played the first-half with just eight starters due to COVID-19 cases. Aside from that, they sit rock-bottom in the Primeira Liga with two wins in 17 matches.

          ©Catarina Morais / Kapta +

          Porto’s most recent outing was a spectacular one. Trailing by two goals to nil at half-time against the season’s surprise package of Estoril, the Dragons found their way back into it and levelled the game. With less than five minutes to go, Sergio Conceicao brought on his son, Francisco, who duly scored the winner just moments later to keep them at the top and maintain their unbeaten start. 

          SERIE A 

          Atalanta vs Inter Milan | Sunday at 19:45

          This is set to be a Sunday evening thriller in Serie A. Two high-scoring teams battling it out in the top four of the table.
          Since Gian Piero Gasperini’s arrival in Bergamo, Atalanta have been Serie A’s top scorers in each of the last three seasons.

          This year they started slowly but a 6-2 win away to a depleted Udinese side last weekend means they have now scored 44 goals in 20 matches – they sit just tucked inside the UEFA Champions League spots, above Juventus.

          AC Milan have scored more goals than Atalanta as they have 46. Only one other team has scored more than those two and that is the reigning champions, Inter Milan. Their 51 goals in 20 games is an average only bettered by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool who have notched 52 in 20. Inter sit at the top-of-the-table under Simone Inzaghi. 


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