Premier League (England)
The crowded fixture schedule of the holiday season is upon us, and all of a sudden, we are up to Match Day 16 in England and indeed, some shifting in the table has been underway. Spurs have dropped points due to a recent dip in form. Liverpool have surged, pushing their way back into the top four. The two Manchester clubs are still atop the table. Everton have finally found a manager and it’s a familiar face indeed in Big Sam Allardyce. Fitting, then, that most of our attention this weekend will turn to the north of England for a pair of heavyweight derbies on Sunday. First, the Merseyside derby will see Everton make the short trek across Stanley Park to Anfield. And then, in the final kickoff of the weekend, it is a Manchester derby between the top two teams in England. Let’s look a little closer:
West Ham vs. Chelsea: The Blues have been doing their part as of late to revitalize their title defense, but six points in two away affairs over the next four days is vital to keep pace with Manchester City. That begins Saturday with a trip across West London to face West Ham. Chelsea are red hot in the league with 19 out of a possible 21 points ever since losing two straight tilts to City and Crystal Palace, with Eden Hazard and Álvaro Morata bashing opposing clubs while manager Antonio Conte re-establishes his dominant defensive system. They still enter the weekend eleven points adrift of league-leading City, so three road points is crucial against a Hammers side mired in the relegation zone with just ten points in 15 matches.
Liverpool vs. Everton: The first Merseyside derby of the 2017/18 campaign kicks off on Sunday, with the Toffees of Everton traveling to Anfield in what will be the third match with their new manager, Sam Allardyce, on the touchline. Since being mired in a dismal run in form, Everton have won three in a row in all competitions by a combined 9-0 score. While Big Sam will no doubt be thrilled to have Wayne Rooney at his disposal, he will no doubt be preaching defense as Everton look to slow down their cross-town rivals in red. For Liverpool, it is impossible not to focus on the opposite. Since their thrashing at the hands Tottenham in late October, the Reds have gone nine matches without defeat. Six of those were in the league, by a combined score of 19-3. They beat Spartak Moscow to win their Champions League group by a 7-0 score midweek, with a hat trick from Philippe Countinho and a brace from Sadio Mané. Combined with the Premier League’s top goal scorer in Mohamed Salah, Liverpool will hope their current blistering attacking form will simply be too much for Everton.
Manchester United vs. Manchester City: The top two teams in the table clash in the final kickoff of the weekend when Manchester City visit Old Trafford to take on their rivals Manchester United. The Red Devils will be looking to close the gap to the league leaders with three points at home. José Mourinho will have nearly all of his most dangerous weapons at his disposal, including both Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimović. But it’s possible the most important men on the pitch will be the United back line and world-class keeper David de Gea, as City have simply not stopped scoring. Despite losing an essentially meaningless Champions League match midweek, they remain unbeaten in the Premier League, with 43 points from a possible 45 and a range of pundits calling them the best team in the world at the moment. Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, and a long list of other weapons will test a deep and talented United squad in its own right. With two animated managers to boot, it promises to be a classic on Sunday in Manchester.
La Liga (Spain)
Real Madrid vs. Sevilla: Fresh off his fifth Ballon d’Or award, Cristiano Ronaldo still has a lot to prove to get back in the running for this year’s world player of the year and he’ll look to make a statement Saturday against a dangerous Sevilla side. While Ronaldo has dominated the Champions League group stages, it proved only enough to finish Real Madrid second in their group. Furthermore, Ronaldo has only netted two goals in the league, a world away from Messi’s league-leading 13. But of the most importance heading into Saturday’s game is the fact that Madrid still sit eight points back of Barca in the table, making every point crucial. Notching three points won’t be an easy task against a Sevilla side that’s tied with them in points and just advanced to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Villareal vs. Barcelona: On the heels of a comprehensive Champions League group-stage win, mighty FC Barcelona sets their sights to Villarreal in a Sunday clash. Barca began their La Liga campaign in unstoppable fashion before two distasteful draws in their last two league matches, and have since seen their league lead dwindle to just five points over second-placed Valencia. They still have yet to lose a match all season, but need Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez to be at their brilliant best to remain distanced from the pack. Villarreal will present a raucous environment and a tough test as they currently sit in sixth with 21 points, but they’ll be hard-pressed to generate offense against a Barca side that’s conceded just seven times in 14 matches.