We have now entered the second half of the season and the scheduling of games has been highly taxing on players, with cup games now coming into the picture.
The gift that keeps on giving, the top five European leagues and associated domestic competitions have some exciting clashes lined up for the weekend. We take a look at some of the best ones.
Fixture: Real Betis v Real Madrid
Venue: Benito Villamarin
Date: 13th January, Sunday
Time: 11:45 PM GST
In one of the biggest games of the weekend, Quique Setien’s Betis host a demoralised Madrid, who will need to shake off the 2-0 home defeat against Real Sociedad. The hosts have no reason to be upbeat either, having lost their previous league game to relegation threatened Huesca.
With just four points separating the two sides, this ‘battle between equals’ could shape the reminder of the season for either teams.
Misfiring Loren Moron and Karim Benzema need to slip into their scoring boots to help their team get the crucial win.
Fixture: Tottenham v Manchester United
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Date: 13th January, Sunday
Time: 8:30 PM GST
In their last meeting, Tottenham completely dismantled United, courtesy of a splendid performance from Lucas Moura. However, things are different now for the Red Devils with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer winning all four games as interim boss.
United are getting the wins while playing a dominant, attacking brand of football and will be ready to provide a dent to whatever is left of Tottenham’s title hopes.
This will be Heung Min Son’s final game before he departs for the Asian Cup in the UAE with South Korea. Having stringed a few top-class performances, Marcus Rashford will be key for the visitors.
Fixture: Napoli v Lazio
Venue: Stadio San Paolo
Date: 13th January, Sunday
Time: 11:30 PM GST
It is a battle between the second and fourth placed team in Serie A as a confident Napoli host a dodgy Lazio. The latter have dropped nine points out of 18 in the last six games and desperately need a win to get their season back on track.
The hosts have won four of the last five meetings between the two sides and start as favourites in this crucial tie.
As always, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens will be crucial for the hosts’ chances of getting the win. Ciro Immobile needs to inspire Lazio to a miracle, should the visitors hope to get back on track.
COPA DEL REY
Fixture: Athletic Club v Sevilla
Venue: San Mames
Date: 10th January, Thursday
Time: 10:30 PM GST
Athletic Club host Sevilla in the first leg of the last 16 of the Copa del Rey on Thursday night. The Basque team are currently in a crisis in the league as they hover just above the relegation zone. A cup win could lift their spirits ahead of their league encounter against the same team this weekend.
If Sevilla are to better their Copa del Rey run from last season, they need to go all the way and win it. Pablo Machin’s men are favourites to prevail in all three games between the two teams in the next seven days.
Fixture: Marseille v Monaco
Venue: Orange Velodrome
Date: 14th January, Monday
Time: 12:00 AM GST
The league table is not in line with the claim that this is the biggest fixture in Ligue 1 this weekend. Sixth placed Marseille play host to a beaten down, relegation zone Monaco. But historically, this has always been a crunch fixture and Sunday will be no different.
Monaco have won just three games this season, with two of those coming in the last five games. The hosts are winless in their last three games, making this tie anyone’s game.
Florian Thuavin and Dimitri Payet will be key for the hosts as Monaco will be hoping that veteran Radamel Falcao comes clutch.
Both teams beat lower-league opposition to reach round four, with Unai Emery’s Gunners winning 3-0 at Blackpool and United seeing off Reading 2-0 at home.
Arsenal – who have won the FA Cup a record 13 times – will play host to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rejuvenated Red Devils as the Premier League rivals meet in the competition for the first time since 2015.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal came out on top in that sixth-round meeting at Old Trafford, but the man who lifted the FA Cup an unmatched seven times will not be in the dugout this time around, with Emery achieving a 2-2 draw away to Jose Mourinho’s United before Christmas.
Elsewhere, holders Chelsea – who beat 12-time winners United in last season’s final – will host the victors of a replay between Sheffield Wednesday and Luton.
There are two other all-Premier League ties as champions Manchester City welcome struggling Burnley to the Etihad Stadium and Crystal Palace host Tottenham in a London derby at Selhurst Park.
Barnet, the only non-league side left heading into the fourth round, were drawn at home to Sky Bet Championship side Brentford.
League Two pair Newport and Oldham failed to land plumb ties after seeing off Premier League sides Leicester and Fulham, respectively, in the previous round.
Newport’s prize for beating the Foxes is a trip to the Riverside Stadium to take on Middlesbrough, while Oldham travel to Doncaster.
Wolves won the final match of the third round as they beat a much-changed Liverpool side 2-1 and they will now travel to either Shrewsbury or Stoke.
Marco Silva’s Everton will take on 2004 finalists Millwall at the New Den, with AFC Wimbledon manager Wally Downes hosting West Ham, the Premier League side where he previously worked as a coach under Sam Allardyce.
There is the potential of another top-flight meeting, with Watford waiting for the winners of a replay between Premier League side Newcastle and Championship outfit Blackburn.
Brighton won comfortably at Bournemouth in round three and will welcome West Brom to the Amex Stadium, with the winners of a replay between Derby or Southampton travelling to face Accrington.
Meanwhile, Swansea play host to Gillingham, Bristol City take on Bolton and QPR travel to League One leaders Portsmouth.
Fabio Capello hailed Cristiano Ronaldo as “Superman” at the Dubai Globe Soccer Awards, which saw both men pick up gongs for their achievements in the game.
Former Real Madrid and England Head Coach Capello, who enjoyed two seasons in charge of Ronaldo’s current side Juventus, was in Dubai to pick up the Coach Career Award at the 10thannual event.
His comments came after Ronaldo’s recent suggestion that Lionel Messi should leave Barcelona in order to compete with his own achievements. “Lionel Messi is too important for Barcelona to leave,” said Capello, “but anything can happen, like Neymar leaving for PSG because they paid him so much money.” Speaking exclusively to Sport360 Capello continued: “The most important thing is to sell the player if they’re not happy at the club, and with big players like Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar it’s almost impossible to stop them leaving if they want to, especially if they’re not playing to the level they used to be. Messi and Ronaldo are different players, one is the genius and one is super strong like Superman. It’s a balance to who is better it depends which year you ask who is better because one season Messi is better and the next year it’s Ronaldo,” he added.
The Globe Soccer Awards was part of a two-day event with a conference with speakers from the game including FIFA Deputy Secretary General Zvonimir Boban, and Liverpool CEO Peter Moore who discussed the changing landscape of football and the impact of players becoming their own brands, thanks largely to social media. Having managed Real Madrid during the famous Galacticos era, Capello is no stranger to dealing with the biggest stars in the game.
“The most important thing when you buy a player is that it’s for the team, not for commercial value or shirt sales,” he told Sport360. “I think David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo improve the team they’ve played for, not just the club’s brand. Both are very serious players and Beckham was a great example to the other players in the England team because was so famous, so important, but he was a normal player in the dressing room and he showed others what they could do to improve the team. You can see that now Ronaldo has joined Juventus – the club is even more famous around the world and the team is like a machine.”
Capello also confirmed he’s remaining retired from coaching and has turned down offers from a number of clubs to get back into management.