Football around Europe: 10 things to look out for this weekend


Ten things to look out for this weekend

Premier League

Ancelotti is changing the culture at Everton, Ibra returns for the Milan derby and Forest can extend Leeds’ slump

Ed Aarons, Paul Doyle and Sachin Nakrani  –  The Guardian


Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Milan; Carlo Ancelotti of Everton; Tiago Silva of Nottingham Forest Composite: Getty Images

1) Everton seem transformed under Ancelotti

Everton face Crystal Palace knowing victory will lift them into seventh and, for 24 hours at least, level on points with Sheffield United. It is a bewildering state of affairs given they have been largely terrible this season but also testament to the job Carlo Ancelotti has done since becoming manager, with the high point undoubtedly being last week’s 3-2 win at Watford. Everton triumphed after going 2-0 down and having lost Fabian Delph to a 71st-minute red card, showing a level of resilience that has been lacking for some time. It is that quality, perhaps more than any other, that the Goodison faithful would like to see on Saturday. SN

  • Everton v Crystal Palace: Saturday, 12.30pm (all times GMT)

2) Bayern out to stop Leipzig winning first Bundesliga

This year’s Bundesliga title race has been one of the most exciting for years, with the four sides battling it at the top separated by just three points. RB Leipzig’s trip to Bayern Munich on Sunday will be the acid test for whether their young head coach, Julian Nagelsmann, can help secure a first championship in the club’s history. Two defeats to Eintracht Frankfurt, first in the league and then in the cup in midweek, ended a 12-match unbeaten run just as Bayern have hit form, with the Borussias – Dortmund and Mönchengladbach – also in the mix as they enter the business end of the season. Timo Werner, who has 20 league goals this season and hinted this week that he may fancy a crack at the Premier League, will go toe-to-toe with Robert Lewandowski, with both aiming to become the league’s top goalscorer, or the magnificently-named Torjägerkanone. EA

3) Ibrahimovic makes timely return for the Milan derby

Sunday’s Derby della Madonnina will be the first Zlatan Ibrahimovic has contested since he left Milan for PSG in 2012. It’s fair to say that plenty has changed since then at both of the Milan clubs, with neither having come close to winning the Scudetto in this era that has been dominated by Juventus. Ibrahimovic is expected to return after missing Milan’s draw with Verona last week due to a bout of flu, and Milan will need the 38-year-old to be at his vintage best if they are to win this league fixture for the first time since 2016. Romelu Lukaku is certainly looking forward to facing his former Manchester United teammate, who has scored six times in the derby, having also represented Inter between 2006 and 2009. “In Manchester I could train every day with him, that was the most beautiful thing for me,” said Lukaku. “It will be nice to play against him. He is a great champion and professional.” EA

4) Foden must play more this season to be ready for next

It was reported this week that Pep Guardiola intends to use Phil Foden as David Silva’s replacement next season, with the manager viewing the 19-year-old as the natural heir to arguably Manchester City’s best-ever midfielder. If true, then surely it makes sense to start preparing Foden for that responsibility now. He has played a total of 900 minutes this campaign and, one suspects, needs much more game time if he is to hit the ground running as a prominent first-team player in August. That process could start this weekend. City face West Ham knowing they have close to zero chance of stopping Liverpool winning the title, so why not use the remaining league fixtures as an opportunity for forward planning? Guardiola is rotating his squad anyway and playing Foden, alongside a few other youngsters, would also allow him to keep key senior players rested and ready for the Champions League, which should be City’s priority now. SN

5) Forest can capitalise on Leeds’ latest slump

We go again. That will surely be the message Sabri Lamouchi delivers to his Nottingham Forest players ahead of their biggest game of the season so far. Last week’s 2-1 defeat at Birmingham City was an unexpected setback for Forest given they travelled to St Andrew’s on a run of seven league games without defeat, propelling them to third in the Championship and fuelling belief of securing an automatic promotion spot. Forest are now down to fourth but remain only four points off second. Leeds also lost last week, at home to Wigan, and are in the type of slump that suggests they are again running out of gas when it matters most. If Forest are to return to the Premier League for the first time in more than 20 years, they simply have to take full advantage on Saturday. SN

  • Nottingham Forest v Leeds: Saturday, 5.30pm

6) Is O Clássico Porto’s last chance to catch Benfica?

This season’s title race in Portugal has turned into something of a procession as Benfica have won 18 of their 19 fixtures so far, with the home defeat against Porto back in August the only blemish so far for Bruno Lage’s side. Saturday’s meeting between the two sides at the Estádio do Dragão therefore could be the last chance for Porto to stop Benfica from retaining their title, given that the Lisbon team are already seven points clear at the top before O Clássico. Having strengthened their squad with the £18m purchase of Julian Weigl from Borussia Dortmund, Benfica also look well equipped for a decent run in the Europa League. Domestic concerns will take centre stage this weekend in a fixture that is never for the faint-hearted. EA

  • Porto v Benfica, Saturday, 8.3opm

7) Blades could yet play role in relegation battle

Bournemouth have won their last two league matches but are still a good bet to go down. Their remaining 13 games include jousts with all of the current top nine, starting with Sheffield United on Sunday. The Blades are going to have a significant say in the relegation race over the coming weeks, but not in the way that most people expected pre-season. After Bournemouth, they play Brighton and Norwich and will also contest a re-arranged fixture with Aston Villa. With January signing Sander Berge likely to feature in midfield, where Bournemouth will be deprived of the suspended Jefferson Lerma, it is hard to see Eddie Howe’s side springing a surprise and taking a point off United. That’s not something anyone was saying before these teams met on the opening day of the season. PD

  • Sheffield United v Bournemouth: Sunday, 2pm

8) Potter and Pearson both desperate for the points

The dramatic second half against West Ham that saw Brighton rescue a point despite twice trailing by two goals heaped the pressure on David Moyes’s struggling side this week as they prepare for a devilish run of fixtures. Potter’s side remain perilously close to the bottom three before Watford’s visit to the south coast on Saturday. Two wins from their last 14 matches is the kind of form that saw Brighton dragged into the mire last season, when Chris Hughton’s side only survived by the skin of their teeth. Watford, whose momentum has stalled of late after their blistering start under Nigel Pearson, are also in desperate need of the points. They will offer a stern test of whether Potter and his players are up for the fight. EA

  • Brighton v Watford: Saturday, 5.30pm

9) McCall aims to have same impact as Holloway

If you need to find a new manager quickly, then go for the one you have on speed dial. The day after sacking Gary Bowyer, Bradford drafted in Stuart McCall for his third managerial spell at the club. He takes over this time with Bradford just one point outside the League Two play-offs but in need of a reversal of form, having failed to win any of their last seven matches. McCall’s latest reign begins this weekend at home to Grimsby, whose recent form has been the opposite of Bradford’s, with the seven matches since the appointment of Ian Holloway bringing the sort of improvement Bradford hope to enjoy under McCall. PD

  • Bradford City v Grimsby: Saturday, 3pm

10) Campbell hoping to continue survival dream at Tangerines

The last time Taylor Moore played at Bloomfield Road, he scored a 96th-minute own goal to give Blackpool a 2-2 draw with Southend. This weekend Moore could make his Blackpool debut against none other than Southend, whose luck has been getting no better since that game in March. Manager Sol Campbell, who took charge of the Shrimpers in October when they already looked sunk, has presided over a remarkable upturn in form recently. They have taken more points in their last six League One matches than they did in their previous 22, but last week’s win over Lincoln City came at a cost. Both Ben White and Harry Phillips suffered injuries that are expected to keep them out for the next three months. Southend are still 12 points from 20th place; if Campbell’s good work can inspire them to safety, it truly would be the greatest of escapes. PD



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