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Tuesday, Dec 06, 2022

Weekly football fix: Manchester, North London derbies, Inter-Barcelona Champions League clash mark return of club football

All the unmissable matches from an action-packed week of European football following the international break.

Back-to-back derby days in England and a big Champions League clash highlight the return of European football. (AP, Reuters phots)

League action comes back with a bang this weekend as the English Premier League serves up two derbies on back-to-back days. After a two-week long international break and cancellation of some crucial fixtures due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the North London derby on Saturday and the Manchester derby on Sunday will come as welcome news for EPL fans. The Champions League will also make its grand return this week.

Here are a few games you should watch out for this week.

Manchester City vs Manchester United (Sunday, 6.30 PM)

The weekend’s biggest clash involves familiar foes Manchester City and Manchester United, both teams aiming to one-up each other since what feels like the dawn of time. In recent years, however, the blue half of Manchester have taken home the lion’s share of the plaudits due to their free-flowing and pragmatic approach to the game while the once-dominant red half have struggled for an identity since the departure of their iconic manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

This time as well, City are the overwhelming favourites on their home turf against a United outfit who started the season with two back-to-back defeats before winning four EPL matches in a row. However, United fans will be pretty wary of their team’s form, having made a habit of blowing hot and cold in recent years.

Even though they are in better touch now, with wins over league leaders Arsenal and an out-of-sorts Liverpool, they are perfectly capable of capitulating, just as they did against Real Sociedad in the Europa League on September 9.

The last time they met in the Premier League, City demolished United 4-1 as they marched towards yet another Premier League title. This season, with the addition of Erling Haaland, the club is nearly unstoppable.

The Norwegian attacker has started like a house on fire for his new club, already scoring 11 goals in just 7 Premier League games. Even though Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez have blossomed into one of United’s better defensive duos in recent times, the shadow cast by Haaland is a big one, threatening to engulf any sort of resistance they might have to offer.

Lisandro Martinez, especially, will be under the pump due to the height difference between himself and the colossal Haaland.

United are expected to start with Marcus Rashford, Antony and Jadon Sancho as the front three while Antony Martial, who just recovered from an injury, is expected to come off the bench. The status of Cristiano Ronaldo for this game remains unclear.

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Ten Hag will have a dilemma on his hands if he wants to start the Portuguese talisman which might force him to bench one of his front three. Casemiro, meanwhile, is expected to get his first Premier League start of the season.

Arsenal vs Tottenham (Saturday, 5 PM)

The feisty North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham will add another new wrinkle to the long-storied rivalry between these two powerhouses when they clash on Saturday. This time though, the script has an added incentive as Arsenal are table toppers and Tottenham are third with just a point separating them.

Earlier this year, Tottenham dashed Arsenal’s Champions League dream when they defeated the Gunners 3-0 in May, and you can bet anything that the Mikel Arteta-led side will be gunning for revenge. This might be easier said than done as Tottenham are unbeaten this season thus far while Arsenal’s perfect record was dented by United.

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The home field advantage, however, will be in the Gunners’ corner as Tottenham have a rather unenviable record at the Emirates Stadium. They have won once in their last 29 visits to this stadium.

What makes it even more difficult for the Lilywhites is that their squad is riddled with injuries and might be without the services of Hugo Lloris, Dejan Kulusevski and Ben Davies. A bright spark, however, will come in the shape of Son Heung-min, who after a slow start to the season, caught fire right before the international break, scoring a 13-minute hattrick after coming off the bench against Leicester City. Son, Harry Kane, and Richarlison are expected to get starts on Saturday as Conte goes all out for a victory.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have no significant injuries to worry about other than Emile Smith Rowe, who was not a nailed-on starter. Their attacking force of Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus are all fit and game ready, looking to blow away their nearest rival and maintain an iron grip on the top of the table.

Inter Milan vs Barcelona (Wednesday, 12.30 AM)

Barcelona will travel to San Siro to play Inter Milan in a crucial Champions League clash. Both teams are in dire need of a victory after suffering identical 2-0 losses to the reigning German champions. Barcelona are in good nick in the La Liga but Inter have had an indifferent start to the season, languishing at seventh in Serie A after a 3-1 drubbing at the hands of Udinese.

The Nerazzurri have met the Blaugrana 10 times and have come away with a victory on just one occasion, losing 6 in the process. One thing that might go Inter’s way is the spate of injuries Barcelona players have suffered during international duty or off it. Jules Koundé, Ronald Araújo and Héctor Bellerín are all out for the foreseeable future, opening up a big hole in Barca’s defense. Memphis Depay and Frenkie de Jong will miss out as well but they have played a pretty limited role this season.

Inter, meanwhile, will hope that striker Romelu Lukaku can return from injury in time for the clash. Midfielder Marcelo Brozović will also not be playing a part in this fixture after getting hurt on international duty for Croatia.

Honourable mentions

Liverpool vs Brighton (Saturday, 7.30 PM)

Inter vs Roma (Saturday, 9.30 PM)

Sevilla vs Atletico Madrid (Saturday, 10 PM)

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Chelsea vs Milan (Champions League, Thursday, 12.30 AM)

First published on: 30-09-2022 at 10:48:29 am
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