With the Bundesliga and Serie A returning after quick winter breaks (stream video games LIVE on ESPN+ within the U.S.), New 12 months’s weekend is an efficient time to soak in a bunch of storylines. So let’s set the desk for the times forward, with a take a look at a number of intriguing matchups, from Manchester United vs. Aston Villa on Friday to Huesca vs. Barcelona on Sunday.
Leap to: Shocking contenders | Conflict of types | Are Leverkusen for actual? | Inexperienced-apalooza| Sexiest sport of the weekend | Dortmund’s redemption | Challengers shut in on Liverpool | Barca as Not-Barca
Two shocking (in numerous methods) Premier League contenders
Manchester United vs. Aston Villa (Jan. 1, 3 p.m. ET/8 p.m. GMT)
The final aura of Manchester United’s 2020-21 season to this point is certainly one of slight disappointment. The Purple Devils misplaced three of their first seven league matches, and regardless of trying spectacular in wins over each Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, they misplaced three of their final 4 Champions League group-stage matches and parachuted in to the Europa League. Regardless of ongoing defensive points, nonetheless, they’ve gone unbeaten of their previous 9 Premier League matches, and so they’re second within the desk behind Liverpool.
Villa, in the meantime, are again within the high 5. Dean Smith’s squad suffered via a depressing November, however racked up 11 factors in 5 December matches. Early January presents an enormous check — at United on Friday then internet hosting Liverpool within the FA Cup per week later, adopted by matches in opposition to Tottenham Hotspur and Everton on the thirteenth and sixteenth. Smith has used the smallest rotation within the league to this point, nevertheless it’ll be refreshed on the proper time.
FiveThirtyEight’s membership rankings give Villa a 23% probability of reaching the Champions League — up from 2% at first of the season and eight% on the finish of November — and their statistical profile is sound. However these subsequent three matches are huge.
(“1st60GD” = objective differential over the primary 60 minutes)
A conflict of types
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Leeds United (Jan. 2, 7:30 a.m. ET/12:30 p.m. GMT)
It is a testomony to the depth of the Premier League that even midtable groups are distinctive, powerful outs in the intervening time, and it will get no extra distinctive or powerful than Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds.
Leeds drive you to play their sport: up-tempo (most possessions within the league), pressure-heavy and in some way each vertically minded and pleasant to excessive possession charges. Principally, they actually need to stress you out. Bielsa’s facet are going to take a ton of pictures and threat you doing the identical. When it really works, it is attractive, as latest 5-0 and 5-2 wins over West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United respectively can attest. However when it would not, it actually would not — they misplaced 6-2 to Man United just lately and fell 4-1 to each Leicester Metropolis and Crystal Palace in November.
What occurs when Leeds performs the group with possibly the second-strongest identification?
Jose Mourinho’s Spurs have established absolutely Mourinho-ian beliefs at this level, sacrificing possession for defensive solidity and, via Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min, a few of the most potent counterattacking the league has seen in fairly a while. They don’t seem to be in wonderful kind in the intervening time — two factors from their previous 4 matches — however they know what they’re. They may have loads of countering alternatives, however Leeds may even check their defensive construction in addition to anybody can.
Different early Saturday matches of curiosity: Rangers vs. Celtic (7:30 a.m./12:30 p.m., stream dwell on ESPN+)
Are Leverkusen critical contenders?
Like a number of different European heavyweights, Bayern Munich have leaked a couple of extra factors than ordinary early this season. The eight-time defending German champs are on tempo for 78.5 factors in 34 matches; solely twice of their title streak have they completed with fewer than 82. Two seasons in the past, they managed simply 78 and virtually misplaced the title to Borussia Dortmund.
It might shock nobody if the champs discovered fifth gear after a brief break and with Champions League play on the again burner for some time. However till they do, we are going to deal with the Bundesliga race like an honest-to-god title struggle.
Two groups particularly have stood out as contenders on this struggle: RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen.
Bayern seized the league lead simply earlier than the break, prevailing 2-1 in Leverkusen with a stoppage-time winner from Robert Lewandowski. With out it, Leverkusen would have topped the desk by one level.
Bayern will doubtless earn three factors in opposition to Mainz on Sunday (11:50 a.m. ET/4:50 p.m. GMT, stream dwell on ESPN+), however each Leverkusen and Leipzig have difficult challenges, with the latter taking part in at seventh-place Stuttgart on Saturday (2:20 p.m. ET/7:20 p.m. GMT, stream dwell on ESPN+) and the previous taking part in in opposition to an Eintracht Frankfurt group that has been almost superior, dropping simply twice however struggling eight attracts.
That is one other enjoyable contrast-in-styles matchup, with Leverkusen taking part in a slower, possession-heavy match and Eintracht eager to get the hell up the pitch when potential. Leverkusen enable few pictures, however grant you some good counterattacking alternatives, whereas Eintracht take few pictures however generate high-quality probabilities once they do. They may check Leverkusen’s transition protection.
Watch Bundesliga motion dwell on ESPN+. See the weekend’s full slate of video games right here.
A Julian Inexperienced-apalooza
Greuther Furth vs. St. Pauli (Jan. 3, 7:30 a.m. ET/12:30 p.m. GMT, stream dwell on ESPN+)
When ESPN+ acquired Bundesliga rights, it additionally acquired rights to a choose variety of 2. Bundesliga matches, and this week’s marquee sport in Germany‘s second tier could possibly be of specific curiosity within the States.
Greuther Furth hosts a struggling St. Pauli, hoping to maintain up within the race for certainly one of two auto-promotion spots atop the league. Furth have their very own model of Moneyball happening, stocking their midfield with former big-club academy gamers and boasting possibly the sturdiest, most inventive midfield within the league. Sturdiest and most inventive of all: Julian Inexperienced. The 25-year outdated United States worldwide and former World Cup objective scorer has mixed 14 pictures on objective with 15 probabilities created, and fellow midfielders Paul Seguin and Sebastian Ernst are thriving, too.
Furth beat top-division Hoffenheim final week within the DFB-Pokal: they’re each harmful and enjoyable.
The sexiest sport of the weekend
If you happen to take pleasure in issues like “pictures” and “targets,” Serie A has been an awfully engaging league of late, and never simply due to the excessive variety of penalties. The groups transfer pragmatically, and just a few press with any main depth, so numerous golf equipment have found out methods to create high-quality alternatives.
For Atalanta, that has meant a excessive tempo and a tilted pitch: they rank second within the league with 102.6 possessions per 90, and 55% of opponents’ passes have are available their very own half of the sector, most within the league.
For Sassuolo, it is meant taking part in keep-away. Led by supervisor Roberto De Zerbi, the Neroverdi have the best possession fee within the league at 59.9%. They hog the ball and create first rate alternatives, and whereas they permit a ton of shot makes an attempt themselves — solely Cagliari enable extra pictures per possession — they do not enable any good ones (solely Udinese enable decrease xG/shot). Their defensive base is sound.
As they did in 2019-20, Atalanta appeared to sacrifice some factors in league play whereas specializing in Champions League development, however they took eight factors from their last 4 matches earlier than the festive break, stomping AS Roma and drawing at Juventus within the course of. They’re again to inside 4 factors of the highest 4. Sassuolo? In the highest 4. They’ve misplaced solely to the Milan golf equipment up to now. Their xG differential means that maintaining this tempo may be awfully troublesome, however De Zerbi makes use of all of his subs and many totally different gamers, and his resourcefulness has paid off thus far.
Watch Serie A motion dwell on ESPN+. See the weekend’s full slate of video games right here.
BVB’s redemption begins?
To date in 2020-21, Borussia Dortmund have carried out the massive issues proper. They gained their Champions League group, dropping the opener to Lazio, however taking 13 of the remaining 15 accessible factors. In league play, in the meantime, they’ve generated the second-best xG differential to this point (+1.09), forward of Bayern’s (+0.86) by an honest quantity and behind solely RB Leipzig’s (+1.17). They’re essentially the most possession-heavy group in Germany at 63.7%, and so they enable opponents to complete solely 29% of their possessions within the attacking third (once more, solely Leipzig are higher).
Steve Cherundolo says Salzburg’s coach, American Jesse Marsch, would match Borussia Dortmund like a glove.
But it’s a must to flip anticipated targets into precise targets and factors. Of their final seven league matches of 2020, they misplaced 4 instances and drew as soon as. In 4 of these 5 blemishes, they held the xG benefit, however on Dec. 12, BVB misplaced to Stuttgart, 5-1 in Dortmund, and supervisor Lucien Favre — upon whom the xG gods smiled in earlier seasons — received canned. Assistant Edin Terzic was named interim supervisor for the remainder of the season.
It did not assist Favre’s trigger that striker Erling Haaland was on the sideline, sitting for six matches with a muscle harm. He’s a one-man xG breaker — he is scored 17 instances for BVB, on simply 11.3 xG, in all competitions this 12 months. He’ll supposedly be able to roll on Sunday, and never a second too quickly: fifth-place BVB face fourth-place Wolfsburg at Sign Iduna Park. Wolfsburg are an up-tempo group that may typically get stretched skinny on protection and quit high-quality alternatives. Haaland is a strolling high-quality alternative.
Man Metropolis and Chelsea rising bigger in Liverpool’s rearview
Chelsea vs. Manchester Metropolis (Jan. 3, 11:30 a.m. ET/4:30 p.m. GMT)
Someplace across the fourth or fifth objective of their 7-0 pounding of Crystal Palace in mid-December, it very a lot felt like Liverpool had been about to run away with the Premier League. The Reds had slogged via a sequence of accidents and setbacks and had been compelled to discipline a lot youthful and extra various lineups, however they’d pulled forward of the pack regardless and regarded spectacular. In the meantime, the groups that regarded like their largest challengers heading into the season — Pep Guardiola’s Manchester Metropolis and Frank Lampard’s Chelsea — had been habitually dropping factors. Metropolis forgot rating targets for a month, and Chelsea mixed an early run of attracts with three losses in 4 December matches.
The ESPN FC panel gauge the Premier League title race heading into 2021.
With wins over lowly West Brom and Newcastle, Liverpool may have headed into this weekend up seven factors on second-place Manchester United and up 11 on Metropolis and Chelsea. Two baffling attracts later, nonetheless, they’re solely three up on United — who may draw even with a win over Liverpool — and so they could possibly be solely 4 up on the winner of this one. (If there’s a winner, or perhaps a sport, after all: the sport remains to be hanging within the steadiness following a COVID-19 breakout at Man Metropolis that compelled their Dec. 28 sport to be postponed.)
Metropolis are more and more scary — the Sky Blues have pulled seven wins and three attracts from their previous 10 matches. They gained their Champions League group with ease, and after a dreadful begin are actually a slim second in Premier League xG differential. Chelsea are third, by the way in which, and the one motive they’re seven factors again is that they’ve averaged a dreadful and completely unsustainable 0.7 factors in matches determined by 0-1 targets (5 attracts, two losses). That will not final.
Watching Barcelona as Not-Barcelona
SD Huesca vs. Barcelona (Jan. 3, 3:00 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. GMT)
Think about the next evaluation:
In opposition to an intense however offensively restricted opponent, [Team A] managed many of the match on Tuesday, making an attempt 16 pictures value 2.3 xG whereas permitting 9 pictures value 0.6. [Team A] fielded a youthful, however thrilling, lineup that featured seven gamers 25 or youthful and introduced three extra off the bench within the second half. For lengthy stretches, an 18-year outdated was [Team A]’s finest participant. Sadly, a 21-year outdated defender misplayed a go that led to a objective and regardless of quite a few late probabilities, [Team A] needed to accept a 1-1 draw.
Gifted targets have turn into a difficulty for [Team A], however that’s continuously simply a part of the training curve for a younger group with a brand new supervisor. [Team A] is sixth within the desk however fourth in factors per match and first in xG differential. Though there are nonetheless some veterans with excessive contracts that should be sorted out, [Team A]’s younger core is thrilling, and the long run seems brilliant.
Gab Marcotti feels that supervisor Ronald Koeman is the explanation why Barcelona are struggling a lot this season.
Take the group title, and all of the preconceptions that include it, out of the equation and Barcelona’s 2020-21 season may virtually be thought-about intriguing or encouraging. The above copy would make followers of most golf equipment really feel optimistic concerning the future, however not for a demanding and annoyed Blaugrana.
With an especially fluid lineup attributable to each acutely aware rotation and accidents, Ronald Koeman’s squad has gotten sustained contributions from all kinds of high-upside kids that aren’t but of their respective primes: wingers Ousmane Dembele (23) and Ansu Fati (18 and sidelined by a meniscus tear), attacking midfielder Pedri (the 18-year-old in query above), utility man Frenkie de Jong (23), American full-back Sergino Dest (20), centre-back Ronald Araujo (the 21-year-old sufferer above), and many others.
Regardless of accidents, you possibly can see the core of the following nice Barca group growing, and you may see an growing variety of actually optimistic moments.
You additionally nonetheless see reminders of the final nice Barca squad, nonetheless, within the type of Lionel Messi (who sat out this week’s draw with a minor ankle harm), Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique et al. And also you’re seeing a membership used to regular greatness battling itself because it decides whether or not it is in a real rebuild or nonetheless making an attempt competition.
A membership in a real rebuild would have let Messi stroll when he declared his curiosity in doing so this temporary offseason and will have accelerated into the long run tense extra easily. A group in transition may additionally be giving much more kids — erratic 21-year outdated winger Francisco Trincao, midfielders Riqui Puig (21) and Konrad De La Fuente (19) — extra of a run as effectively to see what they have. The balancing act implies that Barca are one torrid stretch from competition, nevertheless it’s making the long run tense a bit blurrier. There is a enjoyable, younger corps when you squint, although, and that can be doubly true in a few months when Fati is concerned once more.
See the weekend’s full slate of La Liga video games right here.