Weeks during which we can find simultaneous quality fixtures are rare in any sport, but it would be fair to say that this year, the month of February has been spoiling football fans worldwide. We had Barcelona-Sevilla, Chelsea-Liverpool, and Cameroon-Egypt last week-end, it is now time for a fresh batch of footy awesomeness this week-end.
- Manchester United vs. Arsenal
- Juventus vs. Roma
- Marseille vs. Paris St. Germain
Manchester United vs. Arsenal
FA Cup (Round 5), Saturday February 16, 17:15 GMT
Manchester United and Arsenal meet in the FA Cup for the 4th time in a decade on Saturday. Widely considered to among the best the Premier League has to offer, the two European giants are in a neck-to-neck battle for the Prem title this year, which sets up the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford for an almighty battle indeed. Red Devils and Gunners fans alike are salivating in anticipation for this showdown, which promises much entertainment even for the neutral fan.
Iain Hepburn of Goal.com presents the match:
League leaders Arsenal travel to title rivals Manchester United for what is undoubtedly the tie of the FA Cup Fifth Round. The two have become great rivals since Arsène Wenger’s arrival in the country in 1996 and this clash has all the makings of a classic.
United and Arsenal are the two most successful club’s in FA Cup history with a combined haul of 21 trophies from 35 finals. Ferguson has won five of them, Wenger four. The winner of this tie will be among the favourites to add to those trophies because these are clearly the two best sides in the country this season.
With the departure of Thierry Henry, Arsenal were tipped by many pundits to finish outside the top this term, but as Gunners fans say: ‘Arsène knows’. Wenger has created a team on a shoestring budjet that have excelled beyond even his own great expectations for them. Arsenal are playing with such energy and style that it is difficult to believe that the club actually made a net profit in the summer’s transfer window. Goals are arriving from every part of the team with defensive midfielder Mathieu Flamini and centre back William Gallas scoring vital goals already this campaign.
The main man at the moment is Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor who has stepped out of Robin Van Persie’s shadow to produce a stunning run of form where it seems everything his hits turns to goals. With excellent service provided to him by the subtle midfield promptings of Alexander Hleb and Cesc FÃ bregas, Adebayor will look to add to his winner at Old Trafford last season, when the Gunners were in a period of transition.
Another huge boost for Arsenal will be the return of Kolo Touré at centre-back. The powerful Ivorian has returned from the African Cup of Nations just in time as Wenger may be without three defenders that started Monday’s win over Blackburn at the Emirates.
As for Manchester United, the Red Devils will be boosted by the return to the team of both Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra, and both players are key to the way United play. Without the energetic duo last week, United appeared flat as they fell to defeat at home to local rivals Manchester City which sees the champions trail Arsenal in the league by five points. Louis Saha is also back after six weeks to provide options up front, something they sorely missed against City.
United will be desperate to put a marker down in the title race by knocking the Gunners out of the cup this weekend. United just never really got going in last week’s derby, and looked unusually sloppy at the back where the usually dependable duo of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic each had their worst game of the season so far. It could be argued that they missed having a shield infront of them, and either Michael Carrick or Owen Hargreaves should return to the starting line up in an attampt to quell Arsenal’s quick passign attacking midfield.
Alex Ferguson has laughed off the distance between these sides at the top, arguing with some credibility that Arsenal have the more difficult run in and far less experience. The fiery Scot will hope that his side can back up his argument by beating his old enemy Arsene Wenger’s side, and continue in the hunt for a second treble, which Ferguson has mentioned at various points this campaign.
It is hard to recall when United last lost consecutive home games, but that is a fate which awaits them unless they produce a much improved performance against a rampant Arsenal. The sides drew 2-2 at the Emirates earlier in the campaign, and another stalemate can be expected again at Old Trafford on Saturday.
See the rest of Iain’s excellent preview here, along with some extra head-to-head, players to watch, match form (etc. etc.) statistics.
Juventus vs. Roma
Serie A Week 23, Saturday February 16, 20:30 CET
The clash between Bianconeri and Giallorossi is one of the biggest classics of Italian Serie A soccer. Not so long ago, these two teams were the ‘usual suspects’ of Scudetto contention, fighting it out in a very close battle for even the slightest point, that is until a certain Inter Milan team started their uncontended domination of the Italian league.
Nevertheless, despite the Nerazzurri’s comfortable head start in the league standings, the Juve-Roma clash remains an eagerly anticipated fixture, now reaching its 73rd chapter in the making. Just picture that out of these 73 matches played in Turin, Roma has managed to obtain a victory only 7 times, making the Stadio Olimpico/Stadio Delle Alpi very hostile territory indeed. The latest victory dates back to September 29, 2001, a 2-0 victory courtesy of Gabriel Batistuta and Marcos Assunçao.
However, the match Giallorossi supporters will remember most fondly is undoubtedly April 6 of the same year, a 2-2 come-from-behind tie with goals by Hidetoshi Nakata and Vincenzo Montella. That match, which nullified the double (temporary) lead of Alex Del Piero and Zinedine Zidane, virtually assigned Roma the 3rd Scudetto of their history, as the Giallorossi were crowned Serie A champions at the end of the 2000-01 season.
In terms of scoring statistics, Juventus will undoubtedly be counting on captain Alessandro Del Piero, leading scorer of all Juve-Roma clashes played in Turin with 5 goals. Surprisingly enough, no player of the current Giallorossi roster has ever scored on the home field of Juventus, ever. Not even capitan Francesco Totti, the player with the longest seniority in the Roma team.
Another interesting statistic for this clash is scoring time, something for which Juventus and Roma exhibit very different characteristics indeed. The Bianconeri are the team which currently scored the most during the 2nd half of Serie A matches (33 goals out of 42), while Roma are showing the opposite trend (25 goals out of 40 in the 1st half).
- Goal.com’s Juventus vs. Roma Preview
Marseille vs. Paris St. Germain
LIGUE 1, Sunday February 17, 20:55 CET
This is ‘Le grand classique‘ of French football, and the clash between Marseille and PSG is always massive. Both of these teams hate each other and the matches are always very much hard fought encounters. It’s Marseille who have had the edge on their Parisian rivals over the last few seasons, PSG only managing to win 1 of the last 7 meetings between the two teams. Marseille are also the current in form team and will come into the match really bursting with confidence. A 6-1 thrashing of Caen was followed by an impressive success in Nice last week. Then on Wednesday night they beat Spartak Moscow 3-0 in the UEFA Cup. These results will have delighted the fans and finally the south coast club are playing the sort of football that everyone knew they were capable of playing this season.
PSG have had a turbulent campaign but they also have found some decent form in the last few weeks. Yet, they still haven’t quite clicked and perhaps are lacking a real quality striker. They will travel to Stade Vélodrome aiming to be tight and defensive but it wont be easy facing their confident opponents. A draw can never really be ruled out of this fixture, but preference will definitely go with the home victory.
Source: Goal.com’s Ligue 1 Betting Guide: Round 25
Don’t miss out on some other potentially great fixtures this week-end, such as the ‘Derby della Lanterna’ (Genoa vs. Sampdoria) in Serie A, or the 5th vs. 7th battle in the Spanish Liga (Espanyol vs. Sevilla).
Marco Pantanella is the Chief Editor of Soccerlens and the Author & Editor of the mCalcio blog