What will go wrong with the Superclasico this time?
We profiled the return leg of the Copa Libertadores final two weeks ago and are a bit afraid to do so again. Something will go wrong again, surely?
Outrageously, the game is now scheduled to take place at the Bernabeu in Madrid on Sunday – a decision which has angered both River Plate and Boca Juniors. We’ll wait and see.
One last heartbreak for Nakamura?
Celtic legend Shunsuke Nakamura is still going strong at the age of 40, plying his trade for Jubilo Iwata. On Saturday he faces what could be his final mission, as his team face Tokyo Verdy in the J.League relegation/promotion play-offs.
Jubilo are extremely unlucky to have to go through such an ordeal, having conceded a desperate own goal in injury time on the last matchday of the regular season. If they lose again and go down, this could turn out to be the last game of Nakamura’s illustrious career.
Real Madrid’s Blaugrana struggles to continue?
Is it all about the colours for Real Madrid? Are they so afraid of Barcelona that teams who resemble the Catalans are certain to beat them? Not only did los Blancos lose 5-1 to their eternal rivals at Camp Nou, they also suffered a disastrous home defeat by Levante and were thrashed 3-0 at Eibar, with both opponents wearing blue and maroon kits.
Even in the Champions League, a young and inexperienced CSKA Moscow team beat Real Madrid while wearing blue and red. Now the ultimate test arrives: newly promoted Huesca, rock bottom and clearly the weakest team in La Liga… but who also play in blue and purple. Eek!
Dortmund to be stopped in the derby?
Schalke fans are usually unable to decide who they hate more: local Ruhr rivals Borussia Dortmund or mega-rich Bayern Munich. On Saturday they might help the champions, who are nine points adrift in the title race, by stopping the current league leaders at home.
The chances of that happening are better than you might expect. Schalke are unbeaten in the last five derby fixtures, and haven’t lost to Dortmund in Gelsenkirchen since October 2013. A year ago they prompted BVB to sack coach Peter Bosz by coming back from 4-0 down at half-time to draw 4-4. This is one of the most passionate and emotional matches the Bundesliga can offer – you wouldn’t want to miss it.
The biggest game of Kepa’s young career
The choice of Kepa Arrizabalaga as Thibaut Courtois’ replacement always looked like a huge gamble by Chelsea. The incredible fee of €80m – the goalkeeper’s release clause at Athletic Bilbao – immediately put him under the spotlight, particularly in big games. Kepa might have been forgiven for Daniel Sturridge’s spectacular equaliser for Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in September, but the bottom line was that he failed to save his team. That was also the case in the 3-1 loss to Tottenham, and the goalkeeper was at fault when Raul Jimenez found the net for Wolves in their 2-1 win in midweek.
Suddenly Chelsea are down in fourth place, 10 points behind upcoming opponents Manchester City. Another defeat would surely put them out of the title race, so this is going to be the biggest game of his young career. Will the Basque be able to produce a world-class performance when it matters most?
Relegation specialist back where it all began
When Chievo appointed Mimmo Di Carlo as their third coach of the season last month, it was clear that they had studied the 54-year-old’s history. The coach’s first job in Serie A was at Parma in 2007/08, when he was fired in March and the team were eventually relegated. Exactly the same scenario unfolded at Sampdoria in 2010/11, while in January 2014, Di Carlo took over at rock bottom Livorno, only to leave in April after being unable to save them. In December 2014 he arrived at Cesena, and once again failed to prevent the drop.
In fact, the only club Di Carlo has had any success with are Chievo. The Verona outfit didn’t go down in either of his two previous spells at the club, but this is his toughest task yet. The Flying Donkeys had zero points when Di Carlo took over, having been deducted three points for financial irregularities.
The former midfielder made a fine start, as Chievo drew 0-0 at Napoli and came close to beating Lazio before settling for another draw. On Sunday, Di Carlo will try to record his first win at Parma, the place where it all began for him. It will be an emotional and hugely important return.
Coutinho returns to Espanyol
Saturday’s Barcelona derby will be special for Philippe Coutinho, who will always keep a place in his heart for Espanyol. After all, this is the place where the Brazilian’s European journey properly began; Coutinho barely got any playing time at Inter before a loan spell in Catalonia put him in the spotlight.
Mauricio Pochettino was the coach who signed him in January 2012, and Coutinho – who was just 19 back then – flourished under his guidance. The Argentine found a spot on the left wing for the youngster, giving him freedom to roam around and urging him to take free-kicks. Eventually, Coutinho also contributed to Pochettino’s career immensely: when Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese came to watch the Brazilian in action, he was impressed with the man in Espanyol’s dugout.
It was quite symbolic that Coutinho made his Barcelona debut against Espanyol following his big-money move from Liverpool in January. He came on at the Camp Nou as a substitute in a cup game which Barça won, but his return to Espanyol’s Estadi Cornella-El Prat a week later was much less successful. The underdog hosts nearly triumphed, with Ernesto Valverde’s team needing a late Gerard Pique equaliser to escape with a point.
Coutinho will therefore be looking for his first La Liga win over his former club this weekend – but it won’t be easy. Espanyol may have lost three matches in a row, but they’re enjoying a good season overall and are very tight at the back. The Brazilian’s magic might be needed to put the ball in the net – but don’t expect him to celebrate if he scores.
Giant Dutch youngster on a mission
One of the biggest stories of the season in Holland – quite literally – is Kjell Scherpen, the extraordinary goalkeeper of Emmen. The 18-year-old didn’t contribute to the minnows’ sensational promotion last season, but he’s a certain starter in the Eredivisie.
His agility is stunning for such a huge guy – Scherpen stands at 6ft 8in tall. After starring in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Vitesse, he’s getting ready to face Feyenoord on Saturday. Scherpen conceded five at Ajax and six at PSV, but he’s hopeful of stopping the Rotterdamers as he sets about proving he’s the future of the Dutch national team.