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WEEKEND PREVIEW: The BIG 7

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A stuttering Real Madrid, a Barca team largely dependent on Lionel Messi; Could this be the worst El Clasico in recent years?

An average El Clasico showdown awaits

For the first time since 2007, there will be an El Clasico with neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo, while the absence of the latter is unavoidable following his $135m move to Serie A giants Juventus, the greatest player in the history of FC Barcelona has been ruled out of the 177th Liga Clasico, and he will be sorely missed.

The last time Barca went into a Clasico without Messi, Real Madrid were thoroughly beaten such that the introduction of Messi late on merely compounded issues for the Galacticos.

Much has been made of Real Madrid’s terrible form of late, managing a win and a miserly 3 goals in 6 games, a forgettable run that lasted a month, however, Barca haven’t had a faultless season either; beginning the season with six consecutive games that was followed by a 4-game winless run in La Liga – that was however mixed with wins in the Champions League – put to an abrupt end with a convincing 4-2 win over Sevilla last weekend and regained top spot, a point ahead of, surprise, Alaves. No, you didn’t see that coming.

Form aside, as important as that metric is, it usually plays a very limited role in the final outcome of derbies but the Clasico is usually an exception. FC Barcelona has enjoyed a superior head-to-head in the last ten Liga clashes, the Catalan side winning six and losing only twice.

However, Real Madrid has not lost a Liga Clasico in Camp Nou since 2016, incidentally, that was the last time Los Blancos won a league game on enemy territory. It will be an upset should Real Madrid win there on Sunday, but even a rejigged Barcelona may be needing Lionel Messi to see off this game. Unfortunately, they won’t have him.

Fun Stat: Barcelona has hit the woodwork 13 times this season while Real Madrid closely follows with 11. 

 

Ruthless PSG can be sure to face a hostile reception in Marseille

A year ago, this fixture was the toast of Ligue 1, a pulsating 2-2 draw that saw Edison Cavani grabbing a late equalizer moment after the world’s most expensive player Neymar was sent off. But it was expected, earlier in the year, without Neymar, PSG had trounced Marseille 1-5 right in front of their supporters, inflicting their ninth defeat in 10 games; the only exception a 0-0 draw in the previous encounter. That run had to stop, so that game was a fightback for their honor and they duly delivered. Or almost did.

Times have changed, PSG look like they will win again, having scored at least 3 goals in their last 10 games, they are burning like a kiln and it is definitely the wrong time for Marseille, who have conceded 8 goals in the last 6 games and only recently lost to Lazio in the Europa League, to face PSG. However, a rare win will do their top four hope a lot of good.

Fun Stat: Adrien Rabiot (PSG) has attempted the most passes in Ligue 1 this season: 729

 

A feisty showdown awaits when Spurs take on Man City

These two play some of the best football seen in the Premier League and it sums up a journey that began 10 years ago. With Liverpool on the edge of decline having parted ways with Rafa Benitez, and Sheikh Mansour taking over the reins at the blue corner of Manchester, Dani Levy looking to build a strong side with Harry Redknapp in charge, the hunt for the fourth best team in the premier league emerged, with clashes between these two often deciding who will be the fourth Premier League team in the Champions League.

While Spurs continued their organic growth depending on homegrown products like Gareth Bale, Peter Crouch, Luka Modric, Kyle Walker, Harry Kane, etc., City, led by former Barcelona Vice-President Ferran Soriano as well as Txiki Begiristain, FC Barcelona’s former director of football – these two were heavily involved in the decision to appoint Pep Guardiola as coach of Barca in the summer of 2008 – took a different turn making statement signings and employing coaches who had a profile that will deliver.

Ten years later, City has won 3 Premier League titles and some domestic titles whereas Spurs can only boast of finishing behind Leicester City and consistently qualifying for the top four. There is a gulf in their pedigree and achievement.

But all of this won’t matter on Monday night. Spurs have an incredible record playing on Monday nights dating back to 2012: 7-2-0. And having put the ghost of Wembley to bed, they are unbeaten in 19 out of 21 games at their adopted home ground; this is where the good news ends, City won 1-4 at the venue last time and are unbeaten in 3 against the North London side.

Fun Stat: Sergio Aguero has not scored against Tottenham in his last five games 

 

Lewis Hamilton deserves more than is said about him

Before joining Mercedes as a one-time world champion, Hamilton said he would not have been happy leaving F1 without winning another championship, he was 29 at the time. Now on the verge of winning his fifth, the fourth since joining Mercedes, Hamilton said: “I’ve still got more to do.”

Of course, he’s got more championships in him. In 2017, Lewis’ teammate, Nico Rosberg, denied him the opportunity of winning three in a row. That must have hurt Hamilton a whole lot but he swallowed it up and bounced back to win a fourth, tying him with F1 great Alain Prost and rival Sebastien Vettel.

With three races to the end of the season, beginning in Mexico, Hamilton needs to finish no lower than seventh in one of those races to win his fifth world championship, which will tie him with Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio and leave him two championships behind the all-time great, Michael Schumacher.

The world championship has Lewis’ name all over it and it will take a completely drastic turn of events for the Brit not to win.

Fun stat: Only Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Sebastien Vettel have ever won four consecutive world championships.

 

Lopsided African Derby comes to town

Have you ever seen or heard of a fierce derby that almost always ends one way? Welcome to the Soweto Derby, the biggest and priciest derby in African football usually raking in millions for broadcasters and both teams involved.

A week ago, it was announced that the tickets to go see the game live at an 82,000 capacity FNB Stadium was sold out, the people adore this game but it hasn’t always delivered a spectacle. In the last 10 encounters, only 17 goals were scored, 3 of those games ended 0-0.

Kaizer Chiefs go into this derby with everything going against them. Haven’t won a spoon since 2015, managing just 4 wins in the last 14 and what’s worse? Kaizer Chiefs haven’t won in the derby since 2014 – the longest winless run in the nearly 50-year old history of the derby – suffering 3 defeats and 6 draws, a run dating back to 2014.

Perhaps the boxing-adopted trash talking of Orlando Pirate’s assistant coach Rhulani Mokwena will add some spice to the encounter. He is quoted to have deemed Kaizer Chiefs a “technically inferior side under new Italian coach Giovanni Solinas compared to his predecessor Steve Komphela,” while adding that Khama Billiat and Leonardo, two key players for the AmaKhosi, “offered no threat to Pirates.”

Enough said, bring on the game already.

 

Philadelphia Eagles on the brink of Play-off exit

Eight months after winning an unforgettable Super Bowl, the Eagles have their playoffs destiny hanging by a thread, knowing that a defeat to Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley will leave the Eagles in a make or break situation.

Both teams have failed to live up to expectations so far this year – each sits at 3-4 after seven weeks – after seeming to break through last season.

The Eagles won their first Super Bowl recording the highest scoring margin since 1995, while the Jaguars reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game before losing to the Patriots.

Could the Eagles be suffering from a blip that is common with teams who have punched above their weight? No doubt, the historic win came at an unexpected time but they have to move on and summon their A-game before it is too late. Sadly, Jay Ajayi who is currently sidelined with an ACL injury can’t help his teammates.

 

Snooker is in love with Mark Selby, the name on our lips

Mark Selby is heading into the international Championship full of confidence having defeated Mark Allen in last year’s final following his victory in China back in 2016.

Despite struggling for his best form lately – a surprise defeat in the last 64 in the English Open – Selby tasted victory as recently as September when beating John Higgins in the final of the China Championship.

Although he appears a shadow of his brilliant best of a few years back, having endured a frustrating campaign last term, yet was still able to come good for this tournament, his tournament.

Since the inception of the International Championship in 2012, no one has won more than Mark Selby and giving his strong overall record in Asia, he has to be the name on the lips of everyone this weekend.

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