Fiorentina presented winger Mohamed Salah, on loan from Chelsea, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence on Friday.
At first sight, Real Madrid’s loss of James Rodriguez for an estimated two months is a significant blow for the Spanish giants in their La Liga and Champions League challenges.
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The Colombian midfielder is enjoying a fine first season in Spain, with a healthy tally of eight goals and seven assists in La Liga along with four more goals in cup competitions, rapidly establishing himself as an integral member of Carlo Ancelotti’s plans.
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) February 5, 2015
However, taking into account the bigger picture, the absence of the 23-year-old is something Los Blancos can quite easily overcome – and it might even work to their advantage.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest so, injuries can sometimes act as a blessing to a large squad over the course of a long season, preventing staleness from creeping into an overly familiar starting line-up and helping to avoid the ever-present dangers – especially at a club like Madrid – of selection controversies.
Take, for example, the current absence of Luka Modric, who was in superb form before suffering a thigh injury in November. Back then, he was one of the men making his team tick, and his injury was regarded as a severe setback.
However, Modric’s unavailability allowed Isco to become an undisputed member of the starting XI (he had previously only started five league games) and he has responded with a magnificent series of performances which has led many observers to suggest he is now Real’s second most important player behind Cristiano Ronaldo.
When Modric is back, however, the debate would have opened up again: the Croat is clearly worthy of a place in the team, but who would make way? Isco, despite his brilliant form? Clearly not Gareth Bale, even though he has been oft-criticised in recent weeks, so maybe even James himself?
Now, Ancelotti does not have that conundrum, and Modric will be able to slip back into his former position alongside Toni Kroos with Isco shifting wide to replace James.
In the meantime, the current absence of both Modric and James can be covered by two more high-quality players itching for the chance to do exactly what Isco has done by proving their value to the team: Sami Khedira and Asier Illarramendi, who have barely played this season.
And don’t forget Jese Rodriguez, who looked so impressive coming off the bench in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Sevilla.
James’s injury will give him more chance to play and prevent him from growing frustrated on the sidelines.
So Madrid fans need not despair.
True, they cannot afford any more injuries – particularly in defence – but their bid for silverware may just be about to go from strength to strength.
The second North London derby of the season takes place at white Hart Lane on Saturday as Tottenham take on Arsenal. One league position and two points separate the neighbours, with Arsenal currently leading the way in fifth place.
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To gather an insight into the minds of the two sets of fans we asked members of the respective supporters' clubs to share with us their predictions, likely line-ups and players to watch.
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It’s difficult to describe what this fixture means to both sets of supporters as, twice a year, the battle for North London supremacy takes place. Derby games are notoriously difficult to predict, and this is especially the case with the North London version. Both teams go into Saturday’s clash in good form and with a decent run of victories.
A fast and physical encounter is on the cards and, as always, there is a strong possibility that some dismissals could be on the cards – with tempers seemingly more prone to fraying in these games. There is a good feeling among the White Hart Lane faithful this season, with the emergence of Harry Kane, the killer instinct of Christian Eriksen and the supreme fitness and organisation provided by Mauricio Pochettino’s style of management the main reasons for this feelgood factor.
Derbies are always tight, nerve-wracking affairs and there should be more of the same on Saturday.
Likely Spurs XI: Lloris, Walker, Rose, Vertonghen, Fazio, Mason, Bentaleb, Eriksen, Chadli, Lamela, Kane
Spurs player to watch: Harry Kane. He is so much more than just a striker. Kane tracks back, tackles, wins the ball, takes defenders away with him and drops deep when required. He also doesn’t panic under pressure – a major factor in his fine scoring form this season; he has already scored 20 goals in all competitions so far.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Arsenal (Kane and Eriksen the scorers)
Where to watch: The UAE Spurs congregate at the Icon Lounge, Radisson Blu, Dubai Media City. All Spurs supporters in the UAE and throughout the Middle East are welcome to join; send a Facebook friend request (Raad Jaboori Al-Shaikh) and we will add you to the official UAE Spurs Facebook group.
For the first time this season, Arsenal won three Premier League games on the trot after the 2-0 victory over Aston Villa last Sunday. It was also the first time this season that the Gunners had scored five goals. Such facts boost up the confidence and spirit of the once tattered Arsenal players – who seem to have rejuvenated after a horrid first half of the season.
But this Saturday’s game is more than just any other Premier League match. History shows that the North London derby is one of the fiercest in English football; this is our Clasico, our Derby della Madonnina.
For years the ‘other North London team’ has tried to get one over on Arsenal but the last time Spurs won a league game against the Gunners was in 2010 – their first in 11 years. In the past few seasons, they have improved slightly and always manage to come close. But every single time Arsenal somehow find what it takes to finish above them.
This Saturday, Arsene Wenger is without the services of talisman Alexis Sanchez (still recovering from a hamstring problem), Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy (both out for the rest of the season), and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Danny Welbeck is back in training and might just get a few minutes in. It will be interesting to see if Santi Cazorla will keep his place playing behind Olivier Giroud, or if Wenger will switch him back to the flank and bring Mesut Ozil there. But regardless of who plays where, those two are expected to tear up Tottenham.
Theo Walcott bowed out with injury last season at White Hart Lane during the FA Cup match, and with two goals in as many matches since his return the squad, there is some unfinished business for him to settle.
Likely Arsenal XI: Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Coquelin, Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud
Arsenal player to watch: Santi Cazorla – He has been in top form in the past couple of games, running riot and disturbing defenders. Expect him to set up some slick plays and add more goals to his name.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 1-3 Arsenal
Where to watch: The Official Arsenal UAE Supporters Club usually gather at Spirals bar at Grandeur Hotel in Al Barsha. However, due to refurbishment reasons, Arsenal UAE will be gathering at The Crown & Lion Bar at Byblos Hotel in TECOM. For more information please contact [email protected]