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A Four-Course Football Forecast: A European Feast



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There are two things that I share a great passion for – food and football.

So, what better than to combine the two? Here are the clashes over the next few days that I’ll be cleansing my football palette with, complete with a few recipes and recommendations sure to tickle the taste buds as well.

The Appetizer: FC Twente vs. FC Groningen

I’ll be going Dutch to start my meal, but not to end it, because I’m a pretty generous person.

Shrimp croquettes may not really pique your interest right off the bat, but they could surprise you, and so might the fact that these two sides are in the thick of the Eredivisie title race.

While the ‘Big Three’ of PSV (top with 39 points), Ajax (second with 36 points), and Feyenoord (36, third due to inferior goal difference) are ahead, Groningen and Twente are both in striking distance of the leaders.

Groningen are level on points with Ajax and Feyenoord, but thanks to a defense that disappears in away matches, they lie fourth because of a much more inferior goal difference than those two sides (+1).

That bodes well for Twente, who have been grinding out results all season, and as a result, enter the weekend in fifth on 33 points, with a win on Sunday moving them ahead of Groningen on goal difference.

Groningen have allowed 21 goals in nine away league fixtures, but have given up only two in the last two, both wins (2-1 over Heracles, 3-1 over Sparta).

Just as they have all season, Twente will grind out another result on Sunday, but they’ll halt Groningen’s mini-streak by taking all three points in a tight one.

Prediction: Twente 2-1 Groningen

First Course: Udinese vs. AC Milan

I like to keep things going with a minestrone, which won’t fill me up, but it’ll tide me over until I get my main course.

Carlo Ancelotti seems to prefer a few glasses of wine before his dinner, judging by his comments that Alexandre Pato will score 10 goals and that AC Milan will finish fourth.

Pato’s got nine more to go, so he’s off to a pretty good start on the first declaration.

As for the second, the Rossoneri are 11 points out of fourth, though with three matches in hand over most of the sides ahead of them, they have ample opportunity to make up that ground.

It’s good to see that Ancelotti is realistic about his side’s chances, as the Scudetto is out of reach, and Roma and Juve look like they’ll be battling it out for second.

But, to get to that magic fourth place, Milan will have to go through Udinese, the side currently occupying the spot.

Udinese are unbeaten at home since their home opener at the start of September, a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Napoli. But, the road has been AC Milan’s saving grace, though last weekend’s 5-2 win over Napoli might be a sign their home form could be on the up and up.

That might be largely in part to Pato and a revitalized Ronaldo, who had a hand in four of Milan’s five goals against Napoli.

AC Milan haven’t had consecutive wins in the league this season, but if their brilliant Brazilians have their scoring boots on again on Sunday, they’ll finally break that mark and help crazy Carlo look a little less cuckoo.

Prediction: Udinese 2-3 AC Milan

The Entrée: Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid

In lieu of some delicious tapas, I’ll go for the hearty Cocido Madrileño, a stew with chickpeas, vegetables, and meat, which suits my carnivorous tastes.

Maybe the two Madrid rivals can sit down over a hearty pot of it afterwards, though fellowship will be the last thing on either side’s mind as they head into their clash on Sunday.

Real Madrid are having an easy time of it in La Liga this season, and hold a seven-point lead over Barcelona through 19 rounds.

But, rivals Atletico are having an excellent campaign. They won their UEFA Cup group and have the round of 32 coming up, but their eyes are also on next season’s Champions League, as they’re riding high in third, 10 points behind their city rivals and two points ahead of fifth-placed Villareal.

While catching Real might be out of the question, Atletico could give their Champions League hopes a giant boost (and help Barca out a little) by taking all three points in their showdown on Sunday at the Vicente Calderon.

Sergio Aguero scored his side’s only goal in the 2-1 defeat at the Bernabeu in August, and he’s scored in three of his last four games, so I’ll put odds on him finding the back of the net on Sunday. However, it would be nice for Diego Forlan to get back to making good on the money Atletico splashed out to bring him from Villareal in the summer, as he has scored only once in the last month.

Just as Tottenham haven’t beaten Arsenal since 1999, Real have the same hoodoo over Atletico, but if there’s ever a time for them to break it, it’s this weekend, and I’ll say that they do.

Prediction: Atletico 3-1 Real

Dessert: Liverpool vs. Aston Villa

Some people might like the spotted dick, but that’s not really my cup of tea, though it might be safe to say that George Gillett has spotted one, and might dump the American one for a aptly-named group of them from Dubai.

Rafa Benitez might like to forget about all of the off-pitch speculation involving him by drowning himself in an apple and blackberry crumble, because there’s nothing like a warming dessert to make one’s worries disappear.

For all the issues going on with their managerial and ownership situation, Liverpool didn’t seem too bothered earlier this week, putting five past Luton to advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

But, they’ve been bumbling along in the league lately, and haven’t picked up a league victory in 2008, drawing in their last three league ties and needing some last-minute heroics from Stevie G to record their last win, a 2-1 triumph at Derby on Boxing Day.

In the meantime, their hold on fourth has become rather tenuous, as the Reds are currently holding on by goal difference over Everton, Manchester City, and Monday’s opponents, Aston Villa.

With three successive wins, Villa have moved into contention for a European place, and will be confident heading into Anfield, as they’ve come with a positive result nine times in 10 away fixtures in the league (4 wins, 5 draws, 1 defeat).

The spoils will be shared on Monday, which won’t help either side, with Everton (at Wigan) and Manchester City (vs. West Ham) both with favorable ties this weekend.

Prediction: Liverpool 1-1 Aston Villa

Now, you can’t have a great dinner without an accompanying beverage, and while I’m no lush, I do enjoy my wines, both for cooking and drinking purposes. I personally prefer the white, but today, I’ll go with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon, for which the people of Bordeaux should be proud of, though their football club is also deserves plenty of praise, as they hold third in Ligue 1. They’ve got a big trip to Le Mans today, who could close the six-point gap between them and Bordeaux with a victory.

I hope I’ve got your mouth watering, though I do apologize to any vegetarian readers. And, if you’re too lazy to get up and cook any of these recipes, just get the bottle of wine, sit back, and enjoy a great weekend of football.