Amid the endless number of football matches available for viewing this weekend, here’s three can’t miss encounters. That means – unless your girlfriend is dragging you to some lame brunch with her parents (which is still not a decent excuse), get your ass to a TV and watch!
MANCHESTER UNITED VS LIVERPOOL
The bitterest and most hotly contested of the northwest derbies. Pride and much needed confidence boosts are on the line Sunday at Old Trafford – perhaps more for the players involved than the teams themselves.
Wayne Rooney, who as one United correspondent so aptly described as filling ‘more column space than the Iraq war in recent week,’ needs to get back in the headlines for good things. Between cheating on his pregnant wife and playing terrible, anonymous football, Rooney needs to up his game and what better platform than this. Luckily for United, Berbatov has started to show his £30 million worth. Rio Ferdinand is back from injury. Can he sure up a United defense which has shipped four points and more injury time goals in the past two weeks than SAF’s already red face can take?
As for the Scousers, Fernando Torres is reeling from a week where former player Jamie Redknapp called him ‘diabolical, just diabolical.” Rather harsh from a relatively mediocre player in his time. Not to mention the fact that Liverpool fans are already questioning Torres’ attitude and overall form in general, which have been well below his standard recently. More than simply a good game, Torres needs to score. And what about the new manager thrown into his biggest league match to date? Can Woy stop being the nicest man in England and show some grit to lead his team to victory?
Looking at the larger picture, Liverpool cannot afford to lose more ground on those European spots. A point would do, but three would be better. Manchester United need to recoup some confidence as well, since it seems unlikely Chelsea and Arsenal will drop points in the near future. All to play for.
REAL SOCIEDAD VS REAL MADRID
This is one of those games where the football is secondary. Where the patches on the shirt and regional pride go to the very heart of the matter, not just the game on the field. It may not be the lion’s den of San Mames, but Anoeta will surely be an intimidating setting for the Royal Whites as 32,000 raucous Basque supporters will make every touch of the ball a living hell for the Madrileños.
Nothing – no derby, no cup final, no 1 vs 2 – can rival the atmosphere that will engulf San Sebastian on Saturday afternoon.
As for the football itself, there is no reason it shouldn’t be an entertaining affair. Real Madrid are clearly still finding their identity under Mourinho and have not impressed by any means. Real Sociedad, on the other hand, are coming off a disappointing draw on Monday at Almeria (if only because they blew the lead twice – the equalizer in the 90th minute) but have begun the campaign positively with productive football. No real favorite in this one.
The cherry on top is Xabi Alonso’s homecoming - returning to his childhood club for the first time since leaving for Liverpool in 2004. The final game of that season, Alonso pitched in a goal as they utterly demolished Madrid 4-1 at the Bernabeu. It will surely be a bittersweet return for one of Sociedad’s most successful exports.
Previous encounters: Real Madrid won 2-1 on their last trip to Anoeta. Eight of the previous ten matches have been close affairs with neither team scoring more than two goals a piece.
ATLÉTICO MADRID VS BARCELONA
Open, flowing, beautiful football will be on display Sunday.
I mentioned in a column the other day that this would be a game for Barcelona to dread. Atlético are the only club in Spain in recent years to successfully exploit Barcelona’s high defensive line with ruthless speed and precision.
From Barcelona’s standpoint, this trip to the Vicente Calderon could not have come at a more inopportune time, depending on how you look at it. That loss to Hercules has not faded from fans’ memories and the midweek thrashing of Panathinaikos was simply a band aid. So on the one hand, a win on Sunday against a club which has always given them problems will bring some much needed confidence back to the Camp Nou. However, lose and drop farther down the table a week after the Hercules debacle, and there will be more than a few nervous supporters (including this one).
As for Atlético Madrid, are they for real? UEFA Super Cup champs and top of the league after two impressive wins, are they the team to finally challenge the top two? This match will go a long way to answer that question.
Expect plenty of goals. 31 goals have been scored in the previous six matches. No less than three in each of those games. Atlético has also won two of the last three in absolutely breathtaking fashion.
GERMANY – DERBY WEEKEND
There are FOUR regional/city derbies this weekend. Not too shabby – especially when you consider the Bundesliga is the most competitive league in Europe right now. Do your best to catch any of the following:
Schalke vs Borussia Dortmund – The nastiest of them all. A large number of Dortmund fans have boycotted the match since Schalke decided to raise ticket prices for the visiting supporters by 50%. Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp then took the opportunity to throw a jab at his last place adversaries, ‘fans are apparently not in the mood to finance Huntelaar’s [€14 million] transfer.’
St. Pauli vs Hamburg – Hamburg derby
Kaiserslautern vs Hoffenheim – Regional derby
Wolfsburg vs Hannover – Lower Saxony derby