Real Madrid out for revenge
Barcelona had two shots on target on Wednesday, yet thrashed Real Madrid 3-0 in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final at the Bernabeu. It’s easy to understand why Los Blancos might feel a bit miffed after managing to take Leo Messi out of the game.
However, the superstar didn’t start in the previous two Clasico fixtures this season, and didn’t play at all when Real were thrashed 5-1 at the Camp Nou in October. The psychological blow is significant, but on Saturday there’s a last chance for Santiago Solari’s players to save their season and beat their big rivals in La Liga.
Madrid’s Vinicius Jr. was wasteful in midweek. Could the Brazilian teenager be more decisive this time?
The Joao Felix Clasico
The title race in Spain is hardly exciting at the moment, and the more interesting Clasico on Saturday will take place in Portugal when league leaders Porto host Benfica, who trail them by a single point.
The Eagles from Lisbon have been in sensational form since Bruno Lage replaced Rui Vitoria as coach at the beginning of January, winning eight Primeira Liga matches in a row and scoring 33 goals in the process – including their astonishing 10-0 demolition of Nacional. They are now confident in their chances of beating the Dragons and leapfrogging their rivals into top spot.
The occasion is huge, but the player in the spotlight is a seemingly fragile 19-year-old who is fast developing into a star. Joao Felix, the versatile prodigy used as a second striker by Lage, is showing himself to be a fine talent. With exciting dribbling, searing pace, excellent vision and fearsome finishing, Felix has it all and isn’t afraid of a big stage: he’s scored in both derbies against Sporting.
Having been on Porto’s books as a youngster, the youngster is about to face his former club – while Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich (and Wolves, of course) scouts watch closely.
He was allowed to leave Porto at the age of 14, feeling undervalued. That could prove costly for them this weekend, and even costlier come the end of the season.
Kolarov loves the derby
Only two players have scored for both teams in the Rome derby.
Swedish striker Arne Selmosson was the lone name on the list, having starred for Lazio and Roma in the 1950s, but in September an unlikely star joined him when Aleksandar Kolarov netted for the Giallorossi in a 3-1 win. The Serbian left-back was a big crowd favourite when wearing the light-blue shirt of Lazio for three years before moving to Manchester City, and celebrated crazily after scoring a crucial late goal against Roma in 2009. He chose to join them after leaving the Citizens, though, and has become equally popular with his new supporters.
At the age of 33, Kolarov is not always reliable in defence, but he’s enjoying the most fruitful season of his career as far as goals are concerned. He has seven in Serie A this term, beating his previous personal record of four set at OFK Belgrade back in 2007. That’s more than the six league goals he netted in his entire spell at Lazio, and the Biancocelesti are surely fearful that his legendary left foot could cause them problems yet again. Expect a cracker when they meet at Olimpico on Sunday.
The other Mata’s Champions League dreams
He was born in 1988 and his name is Mata, but he doesn’t play for Manchester United. Jaime Mata is much more prolific this season than Juan, even if his career has been less glittering. In fact, he’s spent all of it in lower divisions, representing Rayo Vallecano B while Juan Mata was Chelsea’s player of the year.
Now his time has arrived. Jaime scored 35 goals for Valladolid in the second division last term, joined Getafe in the summer, and his form has been excellent in 2019. The 31-year-old has contributed seven goals and four assists in the last eight La Liga matches, helping the modest side from southern Madrid’s suburbs climb to fourth place.
With their organised defence, Getafe can now dream of stunning Champions League qualification.
On Sunday, they have a tough fixture at Betis, and the other Mata must continue to shine. Who knows: perhaps he’ll play against Juan next season.
Gladbach out to gun down Bayern again
Borussia Monchengladbach have become Bayern Munich specialists over the last decade.
Back in August 2011, they ruined Manuel Neuer’s debut at the Allianz Arena by beating the giants 1-0, with a young Marc-Andre ter Stegen starring between the posts. Ever since, the record stands at six wins for Gladbach, six wins for Bayern and three draws in 15 matches. The Foals don’t have any inferiority complex against the champions.
This season, they came to Munich and thrashed the giants 3-0 – the biggest win over their historic rivals since 1984. On Saturday, they host the Bavarians having beaten them 2-1 in the last season’s home fixture.
Granted, however, Gladbach aren’t in the best mood at the moment after losing a previously perfect home record thanks to crushing 3-0 defeats against both Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg. But somehow, Bayern are always a different story. Neuer can never feel safe there.
Everton’s last chance to save their season
Everton’s season has not been great to say the least. With the talent and resources at his disposal, Marco Silva should be fighting for European qualification at the very least.
Instead, Everton are ninth. Eight defeats in the last 12 fixtures finished them off. Their season is over.
Only one thing can possibly save it in the eyes of disappointed fans – beating Liverpool for the first time since 2010. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta scored that day, in a match that feels like ancient history. If the Toffees don’t fix that record at Goodison Park on Sunday, Silva may struggle to salvage his reputation with the fans.
Fenerbahce have found their Puyol
Spring is coming, but Fenerbahce are still inexplicably in relegation danger, just a single point above the drop zone. Not everything is dark, though, because they won a heroic point on Monday, coming back from 3-0 down at half-time against Besiktas to draw 3-3 in a hot Istanbul derby.
The spiritual leader behind the achievement was Sadik Ciftpinar, a centre-back who led by example and netted his first Super Lig goal. Signed from Malatyaspor in January, he is trying to look and play like Carles Puyol, and his flamboyant character should make him a fan favourite in no time.
That is exactly what Fenerbahce need right now, and the Turkish Puyol could save them again in the must-win fixture against Rizespor on Saturday.
Russian league promises excitement
The Russian league is back after a lengthy winter break, and the title race is very tight. Zenit are just a point ahead of Krasnodar, while the Moscow trio of CSKA, Spartak and Lokomotiv are also in the frame.
Krasnodar, established in 2009 and popular with the neutrals for their attractive style and long-term strategy of promoting graduates from a state-of-the-art academy, are arguably the favourites. They overcame Leverkusen in the Europa League and are in good shape ahead of the restart, but face a tough first new year test.
The southerners are away at Spartak, whose new coach Oleg Kononov won his first three matches in charge in late 2018. He also managed Krasnodar between 2013 and 2016. Could the ex-club ruin his perfect record?