Klopp’s curious record against Mourinho

Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho

Jurgen Klopp’s first Premier League win came against Jose Mourinho, and even Christian Benteke scored on that occasion. For the Special One, the timing of Liverpool’s 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge in October 2015 was awful – from that point on the Chelsea crisis spiralled out of control, and the Portuguese was fired by the champions a few weeks later.

That wasn’t his first debacle against the self-proclaimed Normal One. In April 2013, Robert Lewandowski famously scored four goals against Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals, ensuring that the Portuguese’s final season at the Bernabeu would be remembered as a disaster.

Such traumatic experiences mean that Mourinho is even more cautious against Klopp than he is against other top opponents. His Manchester United side approach matches against Liverpool with a clear underdog mentality, seeking to turn them into the most boring affairs imaginable. So far those plans have worked, because Klopp is still winless against United as Liverpool manager.

Both of his previous games against the Red Devils at Anfield ended goalless, and that must be the target for Mourinho again on Sunday. For the Reds, such a scenario is unacceptable now that they have finally overtaken Manchester City at the top. Klopp wants to take three points against United for the first time in his career, and the momentum is with his side after Allison’s heroics on Tuesday.

Prandelli’s difficult memories at Olimpico

Cesare Prandelli

The most high-profile club job in Cesare Prandelli’s career was supposed to be at Roma. Chosen to replace Fabio Capello, who was branded a traitor after running away to Juventus, Prandelli had a magnificent squad at his disposal, one which looked primed to fight for the title. Tragically, it wasn’t to be. The Italian’s wife, Manuela, was battling cancer, and her worsening condition forced the coach to resign before the season had even started.

It was a case of what could have been for both manager and club. Prandelli did a good job at Fiorentina and spent four eventful years in charge of Italy, reaching the final of Euro 2012. He’s never won a trophy, though, and at the age of 61 that’s unlikely to change.

Prandelli is at least back in Serie A for the first time since 2010, taking over at Genoa last week. His first away game will be against Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday evening, a game which will bring back difficult memories. Earlier this season, Prandelli criticised the Giallorossi for selling Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman in the summer. “The soul of the team is missing now,” he claimed. It’s now time to prove that as an opponent.

Barcelona out for revenge

Gerard Pique

It was an amazing script. Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona were closing in on a historic achievement of finishing the 2017/18 La Liga season undefeated despite suffering heavy criticism from fans. Two games remained when they visited Levante, and nobody expected the Catalans to fail there. After all, they were unbeaten against the second team from Valencia at any ground since 1964. 

And yet, the unthinkable had happened, with an extraordinary game ending in a 5-4 Levante victory thanks to Emmanuel Boateng’s hat-trick. To put things into perspective, the Ghanian has only netted once this season and is usually a substitute. Levante are doing extremely well, though: currently in sixth place, they’ve beaten Real Madrid and scored 27 goals overall – the second best record in La Liga behind Barcelona. Expect another high-scoring affair on Sunday – and who knows, perhaps Levante will triumph again.

Germany’s brand New House

Florian Neuhaus

Perhaps Barcelona should take notice of Borussia Monchengladbach’s revelation: Florian Neuhaus is the top assist provider in Germany in his first Bundesliga season. Signed from 1860 Munich in 2017, the 21-year-old had a successful loan spell at Fortuna Dusseldorf, whom he helped to promotion, and is now flourishing on the big stage. Gladbach coach Dieter Hecking tried to give Neuhaus some rest against Stuttgart last weekend, but was forced to introduce him in the second half. The youngster duly provided his seventh assist of the season, and then scored his first goal in the top flight.

Gladbach are second in the table with a perfect home record, but their away form is much more problematic, and Saturday’s trip to Hoffenheim will be difficult. Neuhaus must produce the goods again, with scouts from many of Europe’s top clubs expected to watch him in action. Joachim Low would be welcome too.

Incredible relegation battle in Turkey

Fenerbahce

Turkish fans simply can’t believe their eyes when they look at the Super Lig table. With 15 games played, Fenerbahce are down in 17th with 14 points, seemingly destined for a relegation battle. They hadn’t lost more than six matches in each of the previous five seasons, but count seven defeats already this term. On Monday they host newly promoted Erzurum BB, who were established in 2005 and are enjoying their maiden Super Lig campaign.

Remarkably, the tiny club are ahead of the giants on goal difference. If Fenerbahce lose again, they could even drop to the very bottom of the standings.

Even more incredible relegation battle in Germany

Kaiserslautern

If Fenerbahce fans are furious, how must Kaiserslautern supporters feel? One of Germany’s most traditional clubs were relegated to the third division last term, and they’re now struggling down there too.

Having failed to find the net in their last three matches, Kaiserslautern are just three points above the drop zone and in very real danger of playing in Regionalliga in 2019/20. On Saturday they visit Meppen, where they’re likely to lose once again.

Ronaldo derby in Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo

Who are Cristiano Ronaldo’s team in Portugal? Sporting CP might be the most natural answer, but although the Juventus superstar began his professional career with the Lions, he was born in Funchal and was part of Nacional’s academy until the age of 12.

Ronaldo is still very fond of the Madeiran outfit, and is happy to see them back in the top division. Coached by Porto legend Costinha – the man famous for scoring a late equaliser at Old Trafford in 2004 – Nacional are unbeaten in four matches and will try to ruin Sporting’s perfect home record on Sunday. At least one Turin resident will be following the game very closely. 

The never-ending Benayoun saga

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Any Liverpool, Chelsea or West Ham fans who are curious about Yossi Benayoun’s fate should know that he’s still making a lot of headlines in his homeland at the age of 38. The Israeli star returned to Maccabi Haifa in 2014, fell out with fans, joined Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2016, chose to switch to Beitar Jerusalem in 2017, got disillusioned with them after half a season, moved to Maccabi Petach Tikva in January 2018, and then asked to go back to Beitar in the summer.

Petach Tikva refused, sparking a crisis. Last weekend Benayoun was left out of the starting line-up and then refused to sit on the bench, which led to the club releasing him. His name is therefore on everyone’s lips ahead of Sunday’s match between Petach Tikva and – you guessed it – Beitar, who he’s now expected to rejoin after all. Watch this space.

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