Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Previews

It's a big football day today with one blockbuster match in England, Spain, and Italy respectively. Check the FutbolNation "What to Watch and Where" (right panel) for game times and channel listings.

The first match of the day could be the biggest: Manchester United v. Arsenal. Wenger's boys travel to Old Trafford to take on a Manchester United side that has stumbled at the start of the season despite their strong second-half showing against Wigan. Meanwhile the Gunners have gotten off to a smashing start, pummelling their opposition into submission. Both teams will be missing key players, with Ferdinand and Cesc losing their personal fitness battles. There's no reason to believe that both these teams won't be in the title race April, and the three points up for grabs today could signal a momentum shift for either side. Arsenal's youngsters could be exposed, or Manchester United's cracks could be, as Valencia, Berbatov, and Nani don't appear ready to cover all the roles Ronaldo played for the side.

Overall, the game is of much greater importance to Manchester United than to Arsenal. Having left points on the table early, and playing at home will force United to go after the game. Add to that this week's Champions League draw that will see United travelling to Turkey and Russia, and facing worthy opposition in a tough Wolfsburg side, and United won't be afforded much slack between now and September, domestically or in Europe. Arsenal's draw, on the other hand, is easy enough that Arsene will be tempted to run experimental youth sides and probably still finish first in the group. A lengthier preview found here. A brief history of Ferguson and Wenger's particular "relationship" here. Lineups, injuries, and historical notes, here. Finally, the Telegraph puts together a nice visual history of the matchup here.

My prediction: Manchester United 3 - Arsenal 2

Others would argue the biggest game of the day is actually the Milan derbi. Certainly in a strictly historical sense it is the biggest game of the day. But coming so early in the season it lacks the league-wide impact a later matchup might have. And the decline of the Serie A has been well covered here at FutbolNation by ARF. Nevertheless, the match remains a worldwide event and one Inter needs to win as it couldn't get past a draw against first division newcomers Bari last week. Indeed, Inter's first official match, the Italian Super Cup saw them go down to Lazio, so the interistas will be expecting great things from their side. Meanwhile, AC Milan, after a disastrous preseason, game out firing against Siena last week, and find Ronaldinho in his self-proclaimed "best moment" in Italy.

The side stories in this matchup are worth mentioning as well. While Ronaldinho may finally be back on the ascent, the Eto'o-Milito strikeforce has not quite exploded as anticipated (yet). And let's not forget that the Ronaldinho-Eto'o rift played a part in the demise of that spectacular 2005-06 Champions League winning Barcelona side. Unfortunately for Inter, their Real Madrid-brokered Dutch import, Sneijder, will not be playing today. AC Milan's Real Madrid-brokered Dutch import, Huntelaar, will be. What it all means, as usual, will be determined at the San Siro. The man to watch is ex-Madrid, ex-Barcelona man Samuel Eto'o. Always a big game player, I expect him to find the back of the net today.

Prediction: AC Milan 1 - Inter Milan 2.

The biggest game of the day for me is, shockingly, the Real Madrid v. Deportivo la Coruna home opener. It's the first matchday for la Liga, the best league in the world (Doubtful? I proved it in this post, ace) and looks to be an exciting one. Deportivo wants to return to the dizzying heights reached during the magical decade between 1994 and 2005 when the Gallicians participated in five consecutive Champions Leagues (2000-2005), reaching the semifinals in 2003-04, won a Spanish League (1999-2000), two King's Cups (1994-95, 2001-02), three Spanish Super Cups (1995, 2000, 2005) and earned several second place League finishes (1993-94, 1994-95, 2000-01, 2001-02).

Real Madrid...well, I suppose the past three months have served as a bit of a preview of what's going on there. Let's just say that except signing Ribery, Real did everything it could to build a team equipped to run with a history-making, overpowering and dazzling Barcelona side. Of the eight signings, seven will start today (Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Albiol, Arbeloa, Garay). And they need to score early, because the Bernabeu is not for the faint of heart. The madridista faithful will be expecting a show, and I expect they'll turn on the team if it's 0-0 at half. It's the name of the game when you spend 252 million euros and only bring in 90. People expect a 162 million euro investment to show on the pitch.

Prediction: Real Madrid 4 - Deportivo 1.


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