Three fixtures to watch out for as European football resumes
While the English league kept us glued to our TV sets (or whatever device you use in watching the games) with some breath-taking football over the holiday period, most of the other major European leagues went on short breaks.
The good news now is that these leagues are beginning to resume gradually, which only means a whole lot more football for us.
The Serie A and La Liga return to action this weekend, while in France, Coupe des France games will be played this weekend before the league resumes next weekend. I will be previewing three games to watch from these countries as the football season resumes fully this 2018.
ROMA vs. ATALANTA
The Giallorossi host Atalanta this evening with the aim of a positive start to 2018 after ending last year with a disappointing draw against Sassuolo. Roma, who are nine points behind the leaders, will look to improve as they take on Atalanta, but La Dea have been in excellent form as they come into this game after beating Napoli to earn a spot in the Coppa Italia final four.
Atalanta had been on a five match unbeaten streak before losing surprisingly to Cagliari at the end of the last year and they would be eyeing at least a point against the team from the capital. They have been pretty solid this term, especially in the Europa League, where they topped a group that included Everton and Lyon.
Roma have also been impressive in Europe this term, topping a group that included Chelsea and Atletico Madrid in the UCL, but they crashed out of the Coppa Italia and have slipped well off the pace in the race for the Scudetto. Roma have the best defensive record in the Serie A, but have been struggling defensively recently and have conceded at least one goal in three of their last four league home ties.
Atalanta will definitely fancy their chances in this game, especially after knocking out Napoli of the Coppa Italia. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men have impressed with their attacking style, although they also have their own defensive issues, which could mean a really entertaining, free-flowing and open match here for both fans and neutrals alike.
Gregoire Defrel and Rick Karsdorp are doubts for this game, while Kostas Manolas is over his knee problems and should play from the off for Roma and Radja Nainggolan has been left out of the squad after being disciplined by the club. For Atalanta, they have no injury worries and Leonardo Spinazzola, who has been linked with Juventus should play today.
CELTA VIGO vs. REAL MADRID
Los Blancos are not having the best of seasons so far and would hope to turn things around this New Year. The reigning Champions League and La Liga champions ended 2017 on a bitter-sweet note as they retained their FIFA Club World Cup trophy in December only to be pummeled 3-0 by their arch-rivals Barcelona in their final match of the year.
That loss saw them slip down to fourth place on the log and also fourteen points behind the Blaugrana.
Zinedine Zidane knows how fickle the powers that be at Madrid can be and although his job doesn’t seem to be on the line at the moment, he knows that a failure here against Celta Vigo might well force Florentino Perez into making important decisions.
This is a potential banana skin for Madrid as getting all three points at Balaidos will be quite a serious challenge against a competent Celta team, who have shown their capabilities to hang with the ‘big boys’ this season by holding Barcelona to a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou earlier in la liga.
The main issue for Emiliano Unzue and his men is inconsistency since Celta are just struggling to clinch back-to-back wins or produce solid performances in consecutive games, however, their talisman and captain Iago Aspas seems to have found his form as he finished 2017 with six goals in his last five matches and he is a player that Madrid should really be bothered about in this game.
Gareth Bale has finally recovered from injury and scored in the Copa Del Rey during the week, so he is expected to start this game for the Champions. Madrid needs to find some sort of inspiration real quick as they are winless in their last three games on the road in La Liga and failed to find the back of the net against both Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao on their last two travels.
Dani Carvajal is suspended for the visitors, while Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema will both sit out this game with injuries. For Celta, they should have Jonny back in the defense after he picked up a hamstring niggle in midweek.
RENNES vs. PSG
PSG will begin the defence of their Coupe de France title with a tricky trip away to Rennes on Sunday night. Rennes seem to have the most unfortunate draw in the competition as they will be hosting a PSG side that is all out to win as many silverwares as they can afford this season after investing heavily in their squad, but the consolation for them (if there’s any) is the fact that they will be playing at home.
Rennes will also hope that PSG will take their feet off the pedal a bit for this fixture and rest some of their start players, but even at that, this PSG team boasts the likes of Loucas Moura, Julian Draxler, Thiago Motta, Javier Pastore and Hatem Ben Arfa, all proven internationals, in their second XI. PSG has lost just two games in all competitions this season and it’s hard to see Rennes inflicting a third loss on them, but as we know in football, nothing is ever set in stone, especially in cup ties.
Strasbourg have been the only French side to defeat PSG this season and even fans of Strasbourg didn’t see that coming, so Rennes might just try to use the same blueprint for that shock win and replicate the result, though PSG have already doubled their points tally this season, the home side are allowed to dream. PSG have already beaten Rennes 4-1 at this very ground this season and the Parisians will be looking for a repeat performance.