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  1. Levante If you were to ask me the definition of struggler, my first and instant answer would be - Levante. Just like Getafe, they were in La Segunda last season, bouncing back to La Liga immediately and taking up one of the bottom 5 spots. The fact that they won 3 matches in the whole season really tells you all you need to know. They play defensive, muddy football, focused on stopping the opponent, which resulted in 9 draws, by far the highest number of those in La Liga. Luis Morales is their catalyst, as the veteran 30-year old managed to both score and assist for 4 goals, huge numbers in a team that scored only 15 goals to date. Deportivo La Coruna Deportivo looks like the embodiment of the fallen giant and it really isn't getting any better for them. They stand just above the relegation zone with second worst defense in the league (35 conceded). Luckily for them, the offense picked up the pace to some degree and many players participated in scoring 20 league goals, led by short-time Arsenal striker, Lucas Perez who managed to score 4 goals in 12 starts so far. It's never nice to see a club as big as Deportivo fall like this. But sometimes, hitting rock bottom can lead to the light at the end of the tunnel and a better future. But for now, they're just one of the strugglers hoping to extend their agony for another season. Alaves After returning to La Liga in 2016 after long outing that lasted exactly ten years, Alaves managed to survive last season. However, things aren't looking bright for them, as they're currently in the relegation zone, but have a decent chance of staying up if they start playing up to the level of their squad. Currently, they have Manu Garcia and Alfonso Pedraza as standouts, but Ibai Gomez's goalscoring abilities certainly help, as 28-year old scored 4 goals along with 2 assists in 13 starts. Barcelona loanee Munir is also playing decently, both scoring and assisting for 3 goals, and this providing the spark that could mean the world at the end of the season where a single goal means difference between life and death for the club. Also, they managed to reach the quarter-finals of Copa del Rey, and they're facing Valencia - Alaves they definitely won't be an easy opponent to The Bats. Las Palmas It's sad to see Las Palmas side, who played such an attractive and offensive football last year, fall this low. They didn't play up to last year's standard and now they're fighting for their La Liga life. In hoping to stay up, the exotic club appointed the most exotic coach out there – Paco Jemez. They hope he can provide the spark and guidance with his mad passion and huge football knowledge. Paco will find a solid squad led by Jonathan Viera, their best player this season who scored 3 and assisted the same amount of goals, but he's been doing all-around work being the leader the team in this situation desperately needs. The most obvious fall back was in the goalscoring department, where they scored a miserable 15 goals, such an uncharacteristic trait for the side that brought so much excitement and passion to their matches last year. Malaga Exactly ten seasons ago, Malaga played in Segunda, and as things stand, history looks like it will repeat itself. They've been playing shockingly bad, especially lately, where they were able to rack up 5 defeats in the same amount of matches played. They scored an abysmal 6 goals from open play, horrifying figure by any means. It looks as if they couldn't replace Sandro Ramirez, the current Everton player who isn't seeing much of the pitch this season, so perhaps a January transfer is on the cards to save the day? To see how the sides above these in La Liga have done, feel free to check out part 1, part 2 and part 3 of Nedim Maric's 2017-18 half-season review. Share your thoughts about this review feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  2. Leganes This team being 9th in the table is something you don't see very often. Not because of their name or their just recent entrance into the first division, but because of the playing style that has seen them scoring a shocking 13 goals in 17 fixtures, the worst record along with Malaga and Alaves, who are both in the relegation zone. Of course, this is tempered by a strong defence, with 14 conceded goals, and it's a big testament to their team unity, making up for lack of talent in the hustle section. They knocked Villareal out of the Copa del Rey, and are looking to stay in the top 10, but to do so, they'll need more firepower. Gabriel Pires, a 23-year old central midfielder, is their most creative player who they base most of their attacks on. To go along with that, he's scored 4 goals, and adding an assist to that directly contributing to 38% of all of their goals in La Liga. It will be interesting to see what their plan is moving forward, as maintaining this goals to points ratio is nearly impossible. Real Betis Here are the kings of La Liga! Yes, I realize that them being 10th placed in the league doesn't really adjust it, but what Setien Quique is doing is magical and what football is all about. A man obsessed with space, just like another Spanish genius, famously known as Pep, is playing some of the most beautiful football in Europe. And, as we all know, very often does result ignore the beauty and bury it deeply, just as the recent Betis run is showing. After a hot start in La Liga, they collected 4 defeats with a single draw and a win in the last 6 matches, which saw them dropping to the exact middle of the table. However, it was never boring with them. Just look at some of their league results: 4-0. 4-4, 3-6, 5-0, and a recent big 3-5 victory announcing the bounce back which we all hope to see. No, the above weren't random water polo results, it's the actual La Liga mid-table team. Their 0-1 victory at Bernabeu was something to watch, as they provided not resistance, but rather a show where they controlled the champions of Europe. Their wild 30-34 goal-difference tells you all you need to know, as they are fifth best in goals scored category, and second worst in goals conceded. Definitely not something you expect from the team pinned to the middle of the league table. Setien Quique once said: "I understand football trough the ball“, and as long as he keeps doing it, we'll be the privileged ones to watch them. Girona The small, but likable team from Catalonia is really coming through as a stable La Liga candidate. Sitting 11th, they’re far away from the relegation zone, with no worries for the rest of the season, but to keep their steady pace and look forward to the future and possible summer acquisitions. They took both 2 defeats and wins in their last 4 games, a rhythm they certainly won’t mind keeping. Notable players are 31-year old Cristhian Stuani, who managed to score very surprising 9 goals considering the low scoring Girona team. Another player to watch is City loanee, Maffeo who did very well during the first part of the season playing 17/18 games and making a great experience by literally man-marking world’s best player in an unusual performance against Barcelona. Biggest moment of the season was 2-1 win over Real Madrid, where they managed to turn things around after losing 1-0. What’s noticeable, the win came just in the heat of Catalonian protests and political movement which saw them gain big popularity amongst the pro-independence crowd. Espanyol Just below their regional rivals lies Espanyol. We are more than used to their season, always somewhere in the middle of the table, making a leap towards top 10 or dropping to the dangerous zone here and there, but most of the time they can guarantee for staying up which is their most important goal in the season, and everything else is a bonus. They have scored only 15 goals, but it was never a trait applicable for Espanyol side. 25-year-old forward Gerard Moreno scored a pretty neat 7 goals, an amazing number considering Espanyol’s defensive orientation and lack of bodies upfront. Defensive midfielder Sergi Darder also played a great role in destructing opposition attacks and providing stability for his side. Getafe After returning to La Liga after a short stint in the Segunda, it's the same old Getafe. Boring but consistent, good enough to be safe out of the relegation zone, but not good enough top fight for top 10 or excite anyone. Juan Cala and Djene Dakoman combined as a winning combination as pair of central defenders. They're also the best Getafe players, nothing unexpected from defensively-orientated side. They both played their hearts out, combining 35/36 appearances in La Liga and providing much needed stability. Getafe's main striker was 30-year old Angel Rodriguez, scoring 6 goals, just enough to keep Getafe in the safe zone. They welcome Getafe and Bilbao in next two matches, and will look to get something out of those matches so they can enter the late Januray in relaxed mode. Real Sociedad Here is a team no one expected to see this low. The Basque side consistently lacked balance this season which is clearly reflected in their 31-30 goals difference. While they managed to score a lot (5th best), they also managed to concede quite a lot, too (4th worst), with similar situation as Betis, but with far worse end product. However, their big hope for the future, Oyarzabal is proving to be worth the trust, as he scored 3 and assisted 2 goals this season, just like former Manchester United wonderkid, Adnan Januzaj, but the latter did it in just 9 matches as a starter. Illaramendi, meanwhile, showed up as a team leader, providing a great range of passing and defensive responsibility. Their form isn't what they would've hoped for, racking up three losses and a draw with a single win in last 5 games. This season is now probably lost for them, and it's a perfect opportunity to test out some of the young guns and give them priceless experience in La Liga. Celta Vigo Arguably the weirdest team in La Liga. One week, you'll see them putting on a show against Barcelona or Real Madrid, and the other week, you'll find them being unable to cope with the likes of much weaker teams on paper. To put this on paper, they scored 32 goals, and only Barcelona (1st) and Valencia (3rd) managed to net more goals. They're only one of three teams that avoided defeat against Barca and they also managed to get a 2-2 draw against Real Madrid last weekend in a match they could've won if they were a bit more focused. Iago Aspas is playing yet another amazing season, scoring 11 goals and creating the whole offense of the team. Pione Sisto isn't too far back, joining in with 9 assists. But, as you could expect, their defense was lacking, conceding 27 goals in 18 matches, certainly not a good defensive numbers in this context. It's really a shame to waste such an offensive potential and we all hope to see the likeable Galician side to lift themselves to the top half of the table. How is the relegation battle in La Liga shaping up? Find out with Nedim Maric's fourth and final instalment of his half-season review, or return to part 1 or part 2. Share your thoughts about this review feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  3. Sevilla Even with their season facing many ups and downs, the Andalusians managed to get their hands on 5th spot, leading them to their beloved Europa League. With the departure of transfer mogul Mochi, Sevilla was now sentenced to life without him, resulting in various oscillations. Eduardo Berizzo was sacked, not so much because of the results, as much as it was due to the lack of defined playstyle and structure. Vincenzo Montella, the former AC Milan skipper, was brought in to make fixes on the go and pull Sevilla back into the Champions League spots, which seems like a lot to ask looking at the competition in the top 4. In the New Year, they suffered a tough 3-5 defeat against their local rivals, Betis, a result that certainly won't make the job easier for Montella. Villarreal The Yellow Submarine didn't start their 2018 journey as they would've liked. Dropping out of Copa del Rey to Leganes, the same team they lost 3-1 earlier in La Liga, and getting only a thin draw while hosting Deportivo definitely isn't the way they want to go this year. To make things worse for Villareal, Congo international, Cedric Bakambu is on his way to China in €40m move which will see him earning a whopping 18 million per season, far more than what Villareal can offer him. On the bright side, their youngsters are really showing up this season, with Rodri (21), Castillejo (22) and Fornais (21) all playing a major role in La Liga this season. Also, if they can get the best of Trigueros for the rest of the season, they could be in for a strong contention for top 4 with Bacca looking to effectively replace Bakambu as the main striker, the role former Milan striker proved he can fulfill while playing for Sevilla in the earlier days. Eibar Here we have the surprise of the season! The likeable team coming from the North has proved to be tougher than everyone expected. Right now, they're sitting at 7th, surpassing their much more famous neighbours, Athletic Bilbao. Veteran 33-year old Brazillian Charles led the team in scoring by bagging 6 goals, not an impressive number, but you can't expect much more from defensively-orientated Eibar side. Just to prove how exactly defensively orientated they are, it's enough to check who's their second best scorer – defensive midfielder, Joan Jordan, Eibar's asset for the future as he's exactly a decade younger than previously mentioned Charles. As you could expect, their best players show up in defense, with Arbilla and Jose Angel leading the team and providing the composure and experience, exactly what teams of this caliber needs. It is expected to see them drop down the table, but we should all definitely enjoy it while the wild ride lasts as the small Eibar side were able to get 4 wins out of their last 5 matches, and that doesn't happen without a good reason. Athletic Bilbao A huge historical figure in Spanish football isn't playing historical season by any standards. They are finding it difficult to cope without Ernesto Valverde. As you can always expect from them, most days they rely on their physicality to carry them trough matches, but it just seems that they're lacking intensity they had the previous years. Their new manager, Ziganda, is facing big pressure to lift the team up, as the hot Basque fans blood is boiling, which is never a good side for their manager. Their most valuable player, Aymerick Laporte, managed to prove his worth and is definitely one of the best, if not the best Basque player this season. Returnee Raul Garcia is also providing a good spark with his no-nonsense style of play, which fits Bilbao's idea of footballing perfectly. Iker Muniain is yet again out of luck with injuries, and it's looking probable that his career will never reach its full potential, a big shame, considering what we've seen from him in his youngest days. However, their recent matches give them a cause for optimism, as they managed 3 wins in last 4 La Liga matches, beating Levante, Betis and Alaves in the proccess and drawing with their bitter rivals Real Sociedad. While those names don't seem too dangerous, it's certainly a good path to go down, and it'll surely give them some confidence going forward (as if Basques don't have it). Aduriz is being Aduriz, scoring 7 goals in his usual fashion, and more spark is expected from fast-paced Inaki Williams, the next big thing coming out of the fiery Basque region. Find out how the top four of La Liga have got on in part 1 of Nedim Maric's 2017-18 mid-season preview or carry on to part 3, with analysis of Leganes, Real Betis, Girona, Espanyol, Getafe, Real Sociedad and Celta Vigo. Share your thoughts about this review feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  4. Our favorite football league has almost reached its halfway point and it's time to look back and rate all teams based on their expectations and the current situation. From this point of view, it seems like Barcelona are comfortably walking away with the title, but beware, Real Madrid are at their best best when chasing impossible records and making history. Atletico Madrid and Valencia look like they could strengthen to become even a bigger threat in the fight for the top and Sevilla are lurking just behind. So, without further ado, let's jump into it. Creme de la creme Barcelona It looked like a total crash and burn for The Pride of Catalonia. Neymar wanted to go and make history in his own team, Messi just lost his successor and still hadn't renewed his contract; Iniesta 's contract was expiring too, the fans were furious at board for not finding proper replacements for the departures, and they made things even worse for themselves by bringing in a "Chinese-quality“ player in Paulinho. When everyone thought it couldn't get worse for Barca, Real came and crushed them in 5-1 in two legs of the Spanish Supercopa. The situation looked disastrous and the media took their laptops and pens and, for millionth time in last 5 season, started the story about the end of the golden Barca generation. And it seems like everyone forgot; Barca still had the best player in the world and that man realized it was upon him to take the club on his back and carry them trough the battlefield of bullets flying in out of all directions. He knew that if he didn't get 110% out of himself, it's over. In the background, working in silence and calming the spirits was Messi's biggest asset this season – Txingurri (ant) – Spanish nickname for Ernesto Valverde, a hard-working and level-headed person was exactly what Barca needed. Dembele joined in and rebirth of Barca could begin. They started the season strongly winning all of the La Liga matches. Dembele got injured, but that didn't bother the Blaugrana. Messi was man on a mission, and there was no stopping him. Put that along with Valverde's brilliant tactical solutions provided by the brave and pragmatic approach that got the best out of Iniesta and Busquets, and Alba showing up as one the world's premier left-backs fueled by the fact he has much more freedom now that Neymar isn't hogging the ball and stopping the play, Pique and Umtiti making the best defensive pairing in Europe, and ter Stegen providing miracolous saves all over the place, it all blended into polished machine where everyone knows their roles and duties leading to a triumphant position by the end of 2017. They were declared dead. They rose from the dead. They showed up at the Bernabeu and conquered great Real Madrid sending out the message all over the Europe – mes que un club. Now, after January transfer window, they look even scarier, bringing in high-jumping centre back Yerry Mina and world-class mdfielder in Philippe Coutinho, who will only be eligible to play in league and the cup, it looks as if there's no stopping them. Atletico Madrid Los Colchoneros came in galloping after a late start. Diego Simeone and his team opened the league fairly slow, inefficiently in offense, not their usual selves in defense, drawing 4 out of the 8 opening fixtures. However, lately, they look just how you imagine typical Atletico Madrid – rough on defense, just good enough on the offense to score one crucial goal as they were able to get quite a few close wins before capitalizing from Espanyol in heartbreaking 1-0 defeat taken from their own playbook. Right now, they are sitting at 2nd position with 39 points, 2 clear of Valencia, and 5 of their bitter rivals – Real Madrid. It's also worth nothing they managed to get away with a draw against both Barca and Real, an accolade they must be proud of. Antoine Griezmann isn't playing up to his standard, scoring just 5 goals, and they are expecting him to step it up and mark his last season at Atletico as a success. Also, Gameiro still has a problem of converting chances as he scored only 3 goals, a number no one in the capital should be pleased with. Valencia After starting the season brightly, Valencia have fallen off lately and were only able to get 3 points in their last 3 matches, adding 2 defeats to their stats sheet, and most probably ending any illusion of title race if there ever was one. Still, you cannot get by Valencia and not praise them for all they've done. Marcelino did amazing job in structuring the team and getting the best out of everyone. It's been rumored that Guedes could definitely be bought out from PSG which would be a huge step forward, as the young winger is looking as good as anyone in Europe this year, providing pace and skill on the ball you will rarely see anywhere else. Zaza and Parejo are also a big reason for Valencia's success as they both contributed; the Italian with his football IQ and scoring skill, and the captain with his cool presence in the midfield, really leading the team as a captain should do. Their main goal now is to stay in top 4, and it won't be easy with Sevilla and Villareal gunning for Champions League spots. We certainly hope Valencia can continue their current success, because La Liga needs a strong Valencia with all of its flavours and wonders. Real Madrid It's never boring in the Spanish capital. They've just won back-to-back Champions League titles and took the league in five years. Yet, something was wrong. Perez and Zidane were confident in the squad and decided not to replace Morata, rather providing the opportunities for fan-favorite Asensio and Lucas Vasquez. Mbappe decided to go PSG-route and it cost Real a lot. Ronaldo and Benzema combined for awful 6 goals in La Liga, defusing all the good work from the midfielders. To put it into perspective, Los Blancos created total of 236 chances; 51 more than Barcelona, yet Blaugrana scored 45 goals compared to Madrid's abysmall 30. Zidane still choose to trust Benzema and Ronaldo as an offensive pairing, and by the time he realizes it’s not working, it might be too late. Now, you can’t just tell Ronaldo to draw back, but something has to change. The Portuguese wasted 77 shots to get 4 goals, for a 6,4% conversion. In the back, Varane did a lot of work when healthy, but Ramos wasn’t up to his standard, showcasing his dark side more often than not, resulting in reds, big defensive mistakes and bad leadership overall. Still, tides can change easily, as Champions League contention is still on the cards, and maybe the El Clasico defeat is the right wake-up call for Los Blancos in order to get the spark that made them European and World champions. You can expect them to go rolling full steam ahead to prove everyone wrong. Find out how the teams in fifth to eighth place in La Liga got on with part 2 of Nedim Maric's 2017-18 half-season review. Share your thoughts about this review feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  5. The temperature on the Apennines is warming up as the top four teams are all within 4 points of each other. Napoli is leading the charge sitting on top of the table with 42 points in 17 matches. The margin for error is smaller than ever now, so you can expect all top teams to put pedal to the metal to get the best possible position before the winter break. Also, you won't be watching Italians in their usual Sunday schedule due to Christmas, so all of the matches take place on Friday and Saturday. Now, let's get rolling with the preview! Chievo vs Bologna (Friday) The action begins in Veneto where Chievo and Bologna will clash at the Stadio Marcantio Bentegodi. These two sides have accumulated the same amount of points at this stage – 21, with Bologna sitting in 12th place and Chievo just underneath in 13th. Chievo are out of form, collecting just 2 wins in 10 last league matches. Last week, they suffered unexpected lost away at Crotone and they will most certainly want to make up for that in front of their own fans. Inglese is their main hope in the offensive department with 6 goals next to his name, and he'll want to add to that against a solid Bologna side that suffered two loses in the last two games after a series of good results. It should be noted that the defeats came at the hands of Juventus and Milan, so it certainly shouldn't bring their morale down, especially considering the dip in form Chievo is feeling lately. Factoring it all in, these two sides could easily neutralize each other, and the draw could be on the cards here. Prediction: Draw Cagliari vs Fiorentina (Friday) 14th placed Cagliari host Fiorentina as they bid to move further away from the danger zone. They haven’t been impressive this season, but certainly good enough to avoid relegation, one would think. Last week, they suffered a heart-breaking loss to Roma by conceding a penalty in the 94th minute. The hosts have been able to get all the important victories against relatively weaker teams, but they still didn’t make an upset losing to all top 10 teams they went up against. It’s pretty unlikely they’ll get a clean sheet as they concede an average of almost two goals in their own home. On the other hand, Fiorentina are just 4 points short of European spots, so they’ll definitely go all-in to take the win tomorrow, as these are the type of games they should be winning if they want to play in Europe next season. Viola have been struggling with the efficiency recently scoring just 5 goals in the same number of matches, only enough to get 4 draws and just a single win. Fiorentina will rely on Thereau who showed up in big fashion this season, scoring 4 goals and adding the same number of assists. Behind the strikers, their main man is this summer’s acquisition Jordan Veretout, and 24 year old Frenchman looks like he’s the future of Fiorentina. With Cagliari’s inefficiency and Fiorentina’s solid defensive structure I can see I Viola getting something more in this one. Prediction: Fiorentina Lazio vs Crotone (Saturday) Lazio will host Crotone in Rome in the opening Saturday game of Italian football this week. The game is scheduled at 12:30 CET, and the hosts surely schedule a win in their calendar. The Eagles look to make a leap to the Champions League spots, sitting in 5th, 5 points behind their arch rivals, Roma. Fueled by Immobile’s inspiring scoring streak, with 15 goals in 16 matches, Lazio are playing offensive and beautiful football under the less famous Inzaghi brother, Simone. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is playing beyond all expectations this season, mixing skill and strength in a way you don’t see very often when looking at young players like him and there’s no doubt Lotito will have offers for the youngster flying at his desk this summer. Luis Alberto is another rising star. The La Masia dropout is now in incredible form and adding a special bit of flair to Inzaghi’s mixture of strength, skill and offensive football. Crotone on the other hand, mainly look to avoid relegation, and from this point of view, it looks like it’s going to be a long battle for them. The board reacted to the string of bad results with the appointment of experienced international, Walter Zenga. In their 8 away matches, they have been only able to get a single draw and a win, piling up 6 losses, and that itself says a lot. Furthermore, the guests scored abysmal 6 goals in 8 away matches, conceding 20 in the same period. All in all, Lazio will look to get back on track in the Champions League hunt, and it’s must-win situation for them against a weak opponent, and to make things worse for Crotone, Zenga is suspended for this match and won’t be able to help his team from the sidelines. Prediction: Lazio Genoa vs Benevento (Saturday) "Saint Gennaro, please don't forget you are from Benevento,“ was the message of Benevento fans, who can now only rely on miracle of Saint Gennaro in order to avoid quick relegation. As things stand, it looks impossible for a spirited Benevento side to snatch spot number 17, but bigger miracles did happen, and the attitude their side is showing is just impressive, despite historically bad results. Benevento side were able to "steal“ a fairytale point off of Milan in the incredible string of events which eventually led to sacking of Montella. They even took the lead in their clash with fellow newly-promoted side SPAL, but couldn't hold on to it, falling in an even bigger hole result-wise. On the other hand, matches like these are perfect opportunity for Ligurians to escape the relegation zone, but the way Genoa are playing this season, nothing is sure as they couldn't get an even single win in their own stadium the whole season. The way things are standing, the uninspired hosts could be suprised by the resistance the Benevento side has been showing lately. Prediction: Draw Napoli vs Sampdoria (Saturday) One of the best matches you’ll find this weekend is the clash in Naples. Sarri’s troops will host the Northerners from Genoa in their pursue for the Scudetto, the first one since 1990 and the unforgettable Maradona years. Napoli look like they have it all sorted out, the fans were always 100% with the club, they never trusted a coach like they do the former bank employee who happens to be the conductor of some of the most beautiful football in Europe. They lost only one match in Serie A, and Hamsik finally took a big burden off his back by scoring his 115th goal and equalizing Maradona’s record. Mertens is facing a goal drought of 5 games, and it certainly affects his confidence, so he’s definitely a man who wants to get back on track. Napoli can’t let this slip as Sampdoria is slowing down as the season progresses, and they don’t look as good as they a month ago, which however still doesn’t mean they don’t represent a viable threat. Fabio Quagliarella will return to San Paolo, and despite the fact he’ll get the warmest welcome in the world, don’t forget he’s a natural killer in front of goal, and a true threat for any defence out there. Sampdoria don’t look good lately as they were only able to pick up a single draw and three defeats in last 4 Serie A matches. They are standing at suprising 6th spot, but they can’t relax as the competition in the league is fierce this season, and few more slip-ups could see them falling down to middle of the table. Also, the fact they won only 9 points in 8 away games doesn’t really help them either against an opponent of this strength. Prediction: Napoli Sassuolo vs Inter (Saturday) With the suprrising 3-1 loss to Udinese last weekend, Inter were knocked off of number 1 spot, and now sit in 3rd place just one and two points short of Juventus and Napoli, respectively. The host from Modena is rising, collecting 6 points in their last two league games. They managed to stun Sampdoria with Matri’s winner in 90th minute, lifting the spirits in Sassuolo after a disappointing start of the season. Sassuolo is one of the worst home teams in the league, collecting miserable 5 points in eight matches. However, they were able to stop the wineless streak at home against Crotone, and now they look like they’re on the rise, and they want to escape the relegation zone as they are just 3 points off undesirable spots. It looks like the appointment of Beppe Iachini brought them some much needed spark, but is it just short-term shock therapy or do they have it in them to make this streak last? Spalletti took his magic to Milano this summer and brought up the best of his Inter side. Now, after nine fixtures, Nerazzurri look like legitimate title candidates, led by beastly Mauro Icardi. The amazing Argentinian managed to bag in 17 goals and is looking as the main Capocannoniere candidate for the best scorer of the league. He gets a lot of help from his favorite winger, Ivan Perisic, who is playing out of his mind lately, and the Manchester rumors will only get bigger if he keeps playing at this pace. Inter have no time to waste if they want to knock Juventus off of their throne, and they need to get back on winning track quickly, and no slip-ups are allowed at this point for them. Prediction: Inter SPAL vs Torino (Saturday) SPAL claimed a hard-earned win playing away at Benevento last weekend. Character they shown after going down 1-0 to win the match will definitely be encouraging coming into a tough fixture for Leonardo Semplici and his team. SPAL is topping the relegation zone with 14 points, just like 17th placed Genoa. Another good sign for SPAL is that Floccari was able to score a brace last weekend, showing he could be a valuable asset in the relegation battle. The less famous Turin club fell to defeat last week to Napoli, but they were able to bounce back with a big win against Roma in the Italian Cup. Torino is now in the middle of the table at 10th and Mihajlovic and his players are looking up to grab European spots, being just 4 points short off 7th placed Sampdoria. Their main-man Belotti isn’t playing as expected this season scoring just 4 goals for now, but he is contributing in other aspects, and we’ll surely see the best of him as the season progresses. Iago Falque proved to be important for Mihajlovic’s side with 5 goals up to this points, more than enough for a winger. In their last away match, Torino were able to beat Lazio 3-1 in a great match, where they could’ve scored 3 more goals if they were focused enough. Considering Torino’s solid record in the away matches and SPAL’s oscillating form, you can expect to see Belotti step up and lead his team to victory here. Prediction: Torino and Belotti to score Udinese vs Verona (Saturday) Following Udinese season-to-season it just seems like every next year is a replay of the last one. Just like always, Udinese comfortably sit middle of the table, safe enough not to be worried about relegation, but without any ambition for the European spots. The hosts are in great form, collecting 9 points in the last 5 league matches, and they look like they're on the rise, so Saturday's clash with Verona could see them continue their spirited streak as they are getting contributions from all sides, with Lasagna, Barak and De Paul having scored 14 goals between themselves. Sitting second-to-bottom of the table, Verona isn't looking good this season. They score an average of just a goal a game, which maybe could be sufficient if they didn't concede 32 goals in 17 matches. However, last week they stunned everyone with amazing 3-0 win over Milan. They were able to take advantage of every flaw in Milan's defense while keeping a solid structure at the back, which lead to the best result of their season. Taking all factors into account, Udinese's rising form, huge 3-1 win over championship candidate Inter last week and playing on their own turf, I can't see Verona getting anything out of this match despite their great showing last week. Prediction: Udinese AC Milan vs Atalanta (Saturday) The fireman in the shape of Gattuso was brought in after Montella's sacking, but the fire just keeps on spreading, leaving no man behind. Last week’s 3-0 loss to a weak Verona side meant that Milan has hit rock bottom. Gattuso decided that it was too much, and put all of his players in the training camp which they can’t leave until Saturday’s match. Gennaro’s extreme methods are Milan’s last hope to keep the season alive and have a happy christmas at the city of the mode. Donnarumma’s problems off the pitch don’t help the situation either, and to top it all of, their best player this season, Suso, is suspended due to a red card in the embarrassing loss to Verona. Atalanta is the side you definitely don’t want to face in mid-crisis. They always look solid tactically and proving that the last season wasn’t fluke as they sit in 7th spot with the same amount of points as Milan, but better goal difference that puts them on top. Atalanta beat Sassuolo in the cup match, and they put in a great performance, but couldn’t get the 3 points off of Lazio in a thrilling 3-3 draw last weekend. Taking all into account, Gatusso could wake his team up, but you can’t ignore a well-versed Atalanta side and the most expected outcome here is the draw with at least a goal in both nets. Prediction: Draw Juventus vs Roma (Saturday) Here it is! The spectacle of the weekend in Italy will be played in Turin where the home team will look to clinch victory. The match will be played on Saturday at 20:45 CET, so make sure you don’t miss this one. Just as always, Juve is improving as the season goes on. They usually start at a slower pace, and this season isn’t any different. Right now, they look powerful, easily skinning 4 points from clashes with Napoli and Inter, they come into this one with a lot of confidence and championship mentality they always bring into matches of this magnitude. Allegri was willing to start Dybala in the cup match where he scored after giving him a bench treatment in the last two league matches. We can expect dangerous and fast-paced Argentinian to be in the starting 11 this weekend along with Miralem Pjanic, who is always extra motivated for this derby as he spent 5 years in Roma leading the midfield. As for the injuries, Buffon is out, just like Cuadrado who is suffering from groin injury and won’t be available for Saturday’s clash. Di Francesco brought some nice flavor to Roma, as they’re sitting in 4th having played a game less than rivals in front of them. They took a loss in the cup, but the good news is they can now focus on the league until February when Champions League takes place. Last week, they took hard-earned win against Cagliari at home, scoring off 94th minute penalty. Their main striker, Edin Dzeko, is facing small crisis scoring-wise, but we can expect him to pick it up as he already scored 8 goals this season. Lately, Schick has been getting more and more opportunity, as the young striker is proving to be very useful even when he’s not on the goalscoring sheet. Roma isn’t facing major injury problems, and they are ready to go out and show what they’re made of. Prediction: Juventus Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  6. It's that time of the year - Christmas and New Year are nearly upon us, most of the holidays take place, but they all must step aside for the biggest football event on earth, El Clasico. General info The spectacle takes place at the Bernabeu on Saturday, 13:00 CET (12pm GMT). Real Madrid host an in-form Barca side in one last push to save the league. The current standings look like this: Team Points GD GP Barcelona 42 35 16 Atl. Madrid 36 18 16 Valencia 34 20 16 Real Madrid 31 19 15 If Barcelona win, even if it's just December, it would be safe to say the league is out of Madrid's reach, so it's crucial for Madrid to get a win and get back in title race. Injuries and suspensions Real Madrid It's happy days in the medical department at Real, as there are no injured first team players. The defence took a big hit during the season, missing Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane with injuries and Sergio Ramos with suspension, but now, they're all fully fit and eligible. Bale is fully fit, too, and is expected to start on Saturday. Barcelona Barcelona took some hits in the last month that could really harm them in the upcoming fixture. Samuel Umtiti got injured in a match against Celta (and conceded a goal in the same sequence). He was one of the best players this season, and, although Thomas Vermalen looks solid, he's nowhere near as good as the Frenchman. Javier Mascherano has recovered, and will be ready for the derby as far as physical condition comes, but it's more complex situation for him, as he's just confirmed he will join Chinese side "Hebei Fortune" to play with Ezequiel Lavezzi under Manuel Pellegrini. The midfield is pretty crowded and everyone is hoping to get a chance in the starting 11. As far as the attackers go, Paco Alcacer got injuried yesterday, and will be out for 2-3 weeks, which is pretty big handicap for Blaugrana when you look at his contributions this season. Gerard Deulofeu is out with injury too, but that won't bother Barca fans too much. Ousmane Dembele won't play until January and Rafinha still isn't match fit. Line-ups Real Madrid Most of the calendar year, Madrid's formation and tactics depended on injuries with Bale being sidelined most of the year. Now that everyone is fully fit, it will be very interesting to see how Zinedine Zidane will react, as he can bench Isco and start with BBC or play with Isco with Benzema and Ronaldo upfront. This is the most realistic and expected line-up: Navas Carvajal-Ramos-Varane-Marcelo Modric-Casemiro-Kroos Bale-Benzema-Ronaldo We should definitely expect Isco, Asensio or Lucas to make an impact off the bench depending on the result; Lucas for defending the lead, and Asensio and Isco for pushing further forward. Barcelona Valverde did the unspeakable in Catalonia - he changed his formation from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2. And who would've thought, but Barca are playing better and better, with +11 and 1st placed in CL group. The formation is pretty much dictated by roster, where, at the moment, there isn't a wing player with creative on-ball skill with Dembele out. Deulofeu, Vidal and Paco were used primarily as runners to stretch the field and involve in finishes. Valverde doesn't seem pleased with Semedo, leaving him out of squad for Deportivo clash, and it's likely he won't see playing time in El Clasico. Considering all of that, It's not such a hard task to predict the starting 11: ter Stegen Roberto-Pique-Vermalen-Alba Rakitic-Busquets-Paulinho-Iniesta Messi-Suarez As far as bench comes, in case of chasing the result, Valverde could likely call-up Denis Suarez who proved as a great off-the-bench influence. Most probable defensive option is Gomes, mostly known for good workrate and solid defensive positioning. Tactical solutions It will be very interesting to see how both coaches enter the match. Real starting with BBC could result in fast-paced, counter-attacking game that provided some good results for Real in recent years. It's probable Zidane will demand of his attacking trio to press high up the pitch, using man-marking and allowing Vermalen to create with the ball. Paulinho could provide to be crucial factor, as he was utility man for Barca this season, and if he can adjust to playing on the ball and setting up the tempo with Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic, it would provide as crucial for Barca. Valverde could start the game in deep, and moving further up the field as the game goes on, and he'll definitely must be careful in going forward with BBC all lurking for counter-attacking opportunity. Madrid will certianly want to exploit Vermaelen, who still hasn't had the time to completely fit in. Transition is the name of the game on Saturday, and sprinting back on defense will be crucial, with Real Madrid having Kroos and Modric who open up the play with amazing ease, and Barcelona having Iniesta and Messi to lighten up the pitch. Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.

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