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WEEKEND PREVIEW: The BIG 7

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Arsenal vs Liverpool

Having suffered consecutive defeats against two of the top six at the start of the season, Arsenal have recovered brilliantly winning the next 11 games across all competitions and earned a draw against Crystal Palace despite playing poorly for the first time in two months. Surely, the gunners will be buoyed by the streak and the level of play.

More interestingly for the gunners now is the target of finishing within the Champions League places this term, a competition the north Londoners last played in two years ago.

However, the timing of this meeting makes it all the more interesting for neutrals. For one, Liverpool themselves are unbeaten in the league – a record shared with Chelsea and Manchester City, two other teams who are considered favourites to win the title.

Liverpool have not lost to Arsenal in 6 games, to make the narrative more appealing to Kopites: The Reds haven’t lost to Arsenal in the league since Jurgen Klopp took charge, a run that has seen the Kops win on three occasions including a 4-0 hammering at Anfield on Matchday Three.

This is another test of Unai Emery’s credentials; another defeat to a top six rival will send a damning message, one he will be aiming to avoid.

CAF Champions League final

Top level football returns to the African continent this weekend. Although this tournament isn’t the most popular African football tournament even across Africa – that position is firmly for AFCON the equivalent of EUROS – it is the second biggest tournament and has experienced a lot of upturn in recent years.

While CAF is still considering the option of playing a single final on a neutral venue as is the case in Europe and will be adopted for Copa Libertadores from 2019, CAF will only be bothered about organizing this year’s final that pits two North African rivals against each other.

Between these two finalists is 16 final appearances and 10 Champions League trophies – Al Ahly being the most successful club on the continent with 8 trophies won.

In 2012, both sides clashed in the final and the Egyptians bravely won the tie, needing only a win in Tunisia to guarantee it, they duly delivered.

Both Al Ahly and Esperance have faced off 18 times before this. Al Ahly have a superior head-to-head record against the Tunisian side, having won seven games while drawing eight and losing only three.

Al Ahly will be playing in their third consecutive final, becoming the first team to repeat the feat since, well you guessed it, Esperance did between 2010 – 2012.

 

PSG v Lille

No team in Europe’s top 5 leagues is cruising like the Parisian side who have taken maximum points from their opening 11 league games of the season and averaging a ridiculous 3+ goals per game.

Having made light work of Olympique Marseille last weekend, Lille will be the third test in the series of tough games lined up following which they will make consecutive away trips to Naples in the Champions League and then to the Principality to take on Thierry Henry’s recuperating AS Monaco.

Again, PSG hold a healthy head-to-head record against Lille in recent memory, unbeaten in 12 whilst picking up 9 league wins in that time. However, Lille have a new captain leading the ship: Nicolas Pepe.

The Ivorian has been a revelation, directly involved in 11 of Lille’s 20 league goals this season, he is sure to cause the suspect PSG defence a lot of problems. What is yet unknown is the extent of the danger he poses.

 

Paris Open Draws to a Close

Rafael Nadal has had a disruptive and a hugely forgettable year owing to recurring injuries we thought he had overcome.

In January, he was forced to retire injured against Marin Cilic in the Australian Open quarter-finals and has missed events in Beijing and Shanghai since his retirement in the semi-final of the US Open in September.

Regardless of how the weekend pans out, Novak Djokovic is sure to start the week top of the ATP rankings ahead of the season-ending masters at the 02.

This weekend, we will look to see if Jack Sock can retain the Masters title he won last year.

 

Justin Rose Looking to End the Year on a High

Heading into the decisive weekend of the Turkish Open, British golfer Justin Rose is well aware that a win – which will represent a consecutive win at the Open – will see him move to the top of the rankings.

Asides the $7m incentive as well as the chance to go top of the rankings, a win for Justin Rose will represent a milestone achievement; with a shot at Victor Dubuisson’s record win waiting to be equalled.

England in Decisive Showdown at Anfield

England faces a tricky second Test against New Zealand at Anfield on Sunday. Having already taken game one of the three-Test series 18-16, despite coming from a 6-12 deficit and losing skipper Sean O’Loughlin and full-back Jonny Lomax to draw level before half-time.

England remains without Sean O’Loughlin for the second Test and in his absence, James Graham will captain England, but they will need to be at their utmost best to take home another victory.

 

Pittsburgh-Baltimore Rivalry is Heading One Way

Since the defeat to the Ravens a few weeks back, Pittsburgh have won three straight games; coping with the injury to Le’Von Bell, James Conner has stepped in and done superbly well for the Steelers helping to orchestrate passing, he is the complete back.

It has the makings of a difficult road trip for Pittsburgh as any rivalry in the world would, however, I’ll back them to knick this one and if they don’t, then we have a classic in our hands.

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