FA Cup Review: Wrapping up the fourth round

FA Cup Review: Wrapping up the fourth round

The FA Cup, once again, delivered. We had genuine upsets, surprise results and a number of eye-catching individual performances. We’re going to round-up the biggest talking points in this bumper review.

By Sam McGuire

The Seagulls continue to soar

Was this a cup upset? In previous years, Brighton defeating Liverpool would’ve been a shock but Roberto De Zerbi’s men claimed a 3-0 win over the Reds just a fortnight ago and sit three places above them in the Premier League. 

This time, it was different. The hosts fell behind to an early Harvey Elliott goal as the visitors controlled the first half with their new look shape. However, a fortunate deflection via Lewis Dunk’s right foot restored parity and gave Brighton a platform to build on after the break. 

A last-minute winner was needed but what a goal it was, with Karou Mitoma showing great composure to fire emphatically past Alisson having taken Joe Gomez out of the game. It was just rewards for an impressive showing in which Brighton limited Liverpool to an xG of just 0.04 in the second half. 

Samba magic at the Madejski Stadium

When Manchester United parted with £60million to bring Casemiro to the club, they did so to shore things up in midfield. The Brazilian destroyer had been a black hole for opposition attacks during his time with Real Madrid and many expected it to be the same in the red of United.  

What they didn’t expect to see was the 30-year-old bursting into the penalty area to latch onto a pass before clipping the ball over the keeper. Yet that is exactly what happened against Reading as Casemiro stole the show with two goals. He earned himself a FotMob rating of 9.1 having made five ball recoveries while winning two of the three tackles he attempted. 

The former Madrid man now has three goals and three assists in his last seven appearances.

FA Cup drama at the Racecourse Ground

Is it possible for Wrexham to be involved in a dull game of football this season?

Ryan Reynolds was in attendance to see his side concede after only two minutes. The hosts struggled to break down a resolute Sheffield United side in the first half and created chances worth an xG total of just 0.59. Things changed after the break though. In fact, Wrexham’s second half xG of 1.64 was more than the Blades managed in the entire match (1.01). 

The hosts scored twice in a 10-minute window only for Sheffield United to level things almost immediately. Paul Mullen, who else would it be, thought he’d won it in the 86th minute but the Championship side, sitting in second position right now, struck in added time to set up an undeserved replay. 

An unlikely hero

Manchester City named a strong side for their match against Arsenal. With the two teams battling it out for the Premier League title, now was not the time to give Mikel Arteta any encouragement. 

The Premier League leaders, however, made a few changes to their usual starting XI.  Despite this, it was a fairly even game with very few chances of note. City managed just eight shots in total and had an xG of 0.51. Arsenal managed five shots and created chances worth 0.35 Expected Goals.  

Pep Guardiola had loaded up his attack with Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez, Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne all starting. However, the winner arrived when left-sided centre-back Nathan Ake found himself free in the penalty area before managing to curl a right-footed effort into the far corner.

These two teams do it all again pretty soon in the Premier League. 

An all-Championship affair

Now this one was something of a surprise result. On paper, a 17th placed Championship side knocking out a team in tenth isn’t that shocking. But prior to this clash, West Brom had been in impressive form while Bristol City had won just one of their last six in the league. 

Few could’ve envisaged what happened at Ashton Gate on Saturday as Nigel Pearson’s side romped to a 3-0 win over the Baggies. It was a justified scoreline, all things considered, with the hosts carving out four big chances on the day while limiting their guests to an xG of just 0.73.

No Kane, no worries for Spurs

Heung-min Son hasn’t had the best season in front of goal this term. Heading into the game against Preston, he had just one strike to his name since October and that arrived earlier this month in the win over Crystal Palace. 

Antonio Conte made changes to his starting XI for this FA Cup clash and without Harry Kane starting, Son was tasked with even more responsibility in the final third. He delivered, too, with a 9.1 rating on the FotMob app. 

He created one chance, attempted five dribbles, had four shots and scored twice as Spurs navigated their way past a Preston team who had defended impressively in the first-half. 


The magic of the Cup

On paper, the clash between Luton Town and Grimsby Town had only one winner. Luton are riding high in the Championship, currently sit seventh, and their home record has been fairly impressive over recent weeks. Grimsby, on the other hand, are struggling in League Two and find themselves in 16th. 

Yet Saturday’s clash at Kenilworth Road was fairly even. Grimsby took the lead just before half-time and then responded instantly when the hosts scored their second. 

It may not have been a glam tie but it had everything you want from an FA Cup clash – the genuine threat of an underdog claiming the win. 

(Images from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 FA Cup live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
LaLiga Review: Good news for goal shy Barça as title rivals draw a blank

LaLiga Review: Good news for goal shy Barça as title rivals draw a blank

Join us as we assess the current situation heading into a busy week of LaLiga action that will see both Barcelona and Real Madrid play two important games.

By Ben Hayward, LaLiga expert

Barça extend lead at the top

Barcelona wore a new Senyera shirt for Saturday’s Catalan derby away to Girona and came away from Montilivi with all three points. But without the suspended Robert Lewandowski, Xavi’s side struggled to make the breakthrough. And after it finally arrived, they struggled to hang onto their advantage too.

Pedri, making his 100th competitive appearance for Barcelona at just 20 years old, popped up at the far post to poke home the game’s only goal after 61 minutes. Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga should really have cut out Jordi Alba’s cross, but the Argentine made minimal contact with the ball and that mistake allowed Pedri a simple finish.

Girona pressed for an equaliser in the closing stages and substitute Iván Martín missed a glorious opportunity as he side-footed wide from an unmarked position six yards from goal in the 87th minute.

Lewandowski’s three-match suspension is now complete and without the Polish striker, Barcelona have won their last three games by a single goal: 1-0 victories over Atlético Madrid, Getafe and now Girona.

“I’m satisfied,” Xavi said after the game. “But we have to create more in attack.” With Lewandowski back for the game against Real Betis on Wednesday, it should be easier.

The bad news for Barcelona was an injury to winger Ousmane Dembélé, who could be out for a number of weeks. The good news? Xavi’s side extended their lead at the top to five points.

Real Madrid held by Real Sociedad

Real Madrid produced perhaps one of their better recent performances against Real Sociedad on Sunday, but Los Blancos could not find a way through against the in-form Basque side.

Vinícius Júnior saw several good chances come and go as Carlo Ancelotti’s side were forced to settle for a point at the Santiago Bernabéu, which leaves them five behind Barcelona with 18 games played apiece. Real Sociedad are just three further back in third, having completed one more match than the two Clásico rivals.

“We played really well,” Ancelotti said afterwards. “We deserved to win. The team are improving, they are growing.” But so too is the gap at the top.

Madrid had come through a tough derby against Atlético in the Copa del Rey on Thursday night, plus extra time, but Ancelotti was not interested in using that as an excuse. “We played at our limit for 90 minutes, with great intensity,” he said. Thursday’s extra time didn’t show.”

Asked if Real Sociedad could be title contenders, the Italian replied: “They compete really well, but it seems a bit too soon [for them] to win the league.” For his part, La Real coach Imanol Alguacil said: “It’s a point that almost feels like a win. We played a great match.”

Madrid are now at home to Valencia on Thursday as the teams involved in the recent Supercopa make up the matches they missed while away in Saudi Arabia.

Atlético win in Pamplona

Saúl Ñíguez latched onto a ball from deep played by Rodrigo de Paul to score for Atlético Madrid against Osasuna just over 15 minutes from the end of a fiery encounter at El Sadar. 

The midfielder’s strike was the only goal of the game, despite chances for both teams, with Diego Simeone’s side probably deserved winners in the end.

It was a positive reaction by Atlético after they were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by city rivals Real Madrid on Thursday night, ending their hopes of winning a trophy this season.

“We’re out of the Champions [League] and out of the Copa [Rey], but the motivation is to play for Atlético,” Simeone said. “As long as I am here, I will demand that.”

The Rojiblancos remain in fourth place, five points behind Real Sociedad and three ahead of Villarreal, beaten 1-0 at home to Rayo Vallecano on Monday night. Betis are also three adrift after beating Getafe with a late penalty at the weekend. The Andalusians have played one fewer fixture than Atleti, but their game in hand is a difficult one – against leaders Barcelona on Wednesday.

Williams’ record run ends, Elche still haven’t won

For the first time since April 2016, Iñaki Williams was not involved for Athletic Club in a LaLiga fixture. The 28-year-old forward missed the trip to Celta Vigo with a hamstring injury, bringing to an end his remarkable run of 251 straight appearances for the Basque outfit in LaLiga. His record may never be broken. Without him, Ernesto Valverde’s side lost 1-0 at Balaidos.

Down at the lower end of the table, Sevilla beat Elche 3-0 at the Sánchez Pizjuán to climb to the relative safety of 13th place in the table. Although still inconsistent, Jorge Sampaoli’s side have won their last two home games and should move clear of danger now. Meanwhile, Elche remain rooted to the bottom with six points and no wins at the halfway stage. It’s a long way back from there.

Valencia were beaten 1-0 by Real Valladolid right at the death on Sunday and worse was to follow as coach Gennaro Gattuso walked out on Monday. The ever-reliable Voro now takes temporary charge for the eighth (!!) time at Mestalla.

(Cover image from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 LaLiga season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Serie A Review: The big clubs falter and remain quiet in the transfer market

Serie A Review: The big clubs falter and remain quiet in the transfer market

Just when you think things cannot get any crazier in Serie A, we had the drama and excitement of round 20. But while the on-pitch excitement remains high, the league’s big clubs have kept their hands in their pockets this January. Here’s our Italian football expert with three takeaways from the weekend.

By Matteo Bonetti, US Serie A expert

Milan’s disastrous start to 2023

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse for Milan this calendar year, they go and outdo themselves. The club has had an involution for the ages. After enjoying a competitive first half of the season where they were right behind Napoli in the standings for first place, they’ve now gone six matches without a win. It isn’t so much the losses though – it’s how they’ve been losing. You have to go back to 1997 to find the last time Milan conceded five goals in a single league match, and good luck finding another streak where they concede 12 goals in a three-match stretch.

Losing 5-2 at San Siro to a Sassuolo side that hadn’t WON a game since mid-October is simply inexcusable. For all the plaudits that Stefano Pioli has received for overachieving and winning the Scudetto last season, the recent criticism is just as warranted. Milan suddenly look unable to carry out simple elementary tasks. Last season’s best defensive unit has become an abomination. A team that has battled through adversity and always responded with personality has seemingly now entered a black hole they’re unable to get out of. If you thought the 2-2 draw to Lecce was bad, they followed it up with the meekest of performances in the Super Cup, losing 3-0 to Inter. Pioli was interrogated by the media asking if he had fixed the problems, he said he had. A few days later, Milan get trounced 4-0 by Lazio. Then, the magnum opus of this current run – five goals conceded against Sassuolo at home, a performance that became so dire that fans started waving white flags in the stands.

If you read this article to any Milanista just a month ago, they would’ve recommended you see a psychiatrist. It’s hard to blame the injuries – Milan have dealt with them all season long. It’s easier to blame last season’s summer transfer market, which now looks to be one of the worst on record. Milan added plenty of youngsters to the mix without first finding quality and proven depth. Stefano Pioli now looks stubborn, refusing to experiment with some of the youngsters that haven’t had a chance when it’s clear that a change in both personnel and tactics is sorely needed.

Why hasn’t Yacine Adli, who was perhaps Milan’s best player in last summer’s friendlies, been given a chance? Why is the 4-2-3-1 still being used when it looks like balance is needed and there’s very little being offered from both the no.10 position and right wing? There’s a lot of unanswered questions for Pioli, and he needs to figure this out fast, or else a top four spot is genuinely at risk.

Palladino’s Monza upset Juventus

In a weekend of upsets, Monza followed Sassuolo by picking up three points away to one of the Italian giants. This time, it was Max Allegri’s Juventus who fell victim to another provincial Italian side. Monza’s new manager Raffaele Palladino has completely changed this club’s mentality since taking over. He’s beaten Juventus twice in the league now, while drawing against Inter and dragging the club up to eleventh place in the standings.

Palladino has followed the playbook used by many other young Italian managers – a modern brand of football characterized by possession, high press and taking a lot of chances at the back. Essentially, this is the antithesis to the old school Italian mentality of Catenaccio. It used to be only Zdenek Zeman, the self proclaimed inventor of the 4-3-3, whose provincial sides would take tons of risks which would lead to incredibly entertaining games. Now it seems that most of these teams getting promoted from Serie B are led by managers who try to play football, rather than sitting deep in a low block and praying for a draw. 

Monza certainly have the tools to succeed in Serie A. Led by the former Milan duo of Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliano, the pockets are deep enough to fund this team to a level where they’ll become Serie A mainstays. The transfer market from last summer was intelligent (and the complete opposite of the one I talked about with Milan earlier in the column) – they bought Serie A ready talent that was proven in this league. The likes of Matteo Pessina, Gianluca Caprari, Stefano Sensi and others had logged plenty of games in Italy’s top flight and offered the experience needed to a team that had never before played in the top tier. It was also a team set up to play the style of football that works in 2023 – modern, attacking possession. Bringing in Sensi, a “Marco Verratti-lite” type player when he’s healthy, alongside another promising regista in Juventus owned Nicolo Rovella, is a clear signal of the type of football you want your midfield to play. While it took a few months to get going, the Berlusconi/Galliani duo finally found the right coach to project their ideas onto the pitch and it looks like Monza are here to stay in Italy’s top flight.

Quiet transfer windows

The January transfer window in Serie A has been anything but electric. While the Premier League has been able to spend hundreds of millions of pounds – just in January – to bring in fresh talent, the Italian league has sadly had more negative news. It looks like Inter’s best centre-back Milan Škriniar is headed to PSG, while Juventus sent USMNT international Weston McKennie to Leeds, a club that already has an American manager and two other US teammates of McKennie. With the negative news aside, let’s look at a few underrated moves that have been made in January which could prove interesting for the second half of the season:

Eldor Shomurodov (Roma to Spezia): The Uzbek striker showed his promise at Genoa, when he led the line in the Grifoni attack and had some wonderful performances, showcasing his pace, directness and eye for scoring some incredible long range goals. At Roma, he never clicked with José Mourinho and thus hardly played. At Spezia he’ll be the main man in the attack and it should revitalize his career.

Josip Brekalo (Wolfsburg to Fiorentina): I was really impressed in Brekalo’s play at Torino, but sadly it was just a loan spell and he was sent back to Germany at the end of the season. Brekalo can play wide or behind the striker and should offer even more creativity to a possession heavy Fiore team. The Croatian also has an eye for goal, having scored seven league goals in his one season with Torino.

Francesco Caputo: (Sampdoria to Empoli): The 35-year-old striker goes back to Empoli, the place where he really started making a name for him self as a player who has flourished late in his career, only getting the chance to play top flight football in his early 30s. Caputo has been part of a chaotic Sampdoria team that doesn’t play great football and has cycled through different managers. At Empoli, Caputo should prove to be a capable goal scorer once again in a place that he knows well.

(Cover image from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 Serie A season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Last Weekend: Power shift in Berlin, Will Still unbeaten, 10-goal Eredivisie thriller and more

Last Weekend: Power shift in Berlin, Will Still unbeaten, 10-goal Eredivisie thriller and more

Derbies, late drama, goal fests and upsets were all on the menu this weekend, so we have a vast selection of games to pick from for our weekly column. After much deliberation, we have narrowed it down to six matches from Europe’s major leagues.

By Neel Shelat

🇩🇪 Germany: Hertha 0-2 Union

The Berlin derby has been a regular fixture in the Bundesliga in recent seasons since Union Berlin’s promotion to the top-flight, but we might not see too many more of them. It’s not Union who are going down, though, but the big city club Hertha.

In spite of much investment since their last visit to the 2. Bundesliga in 2012/13, Hertha have not managed to establish themselves as a top-half team, let alone become European competition regulars. Of course, that is largely down to the fact that their investment has been rather unplanned and unguided, and that has led them to the verge of relegation.

Union, on the other hand, have made the most of a relatively tight budget to not just rise to the first tier, but even qualify for Europe last season. This time around, they have not only made it to the Europa League knockouts but have also been keeping step with Bayern at the top of the league.

With that context in mind, it should be easy to envision how this match went. Union were the better side right from the start, and they took the lead on the stroke of half-time with their 11th set-piece goal of the league season. They sealed the result in the 67th minute with a brilliant counterattack immediately after a fruitless penalty appeal from Hertha, which got a quick on-pitch review from the referee.

With their fifth-consecutive Berlin derby victory, Union closed the gap to Bayern down to just one point after the defending champions drew with Eintracht Frankfurt. Hertha, on the other hand, remain in the relegation zone.

🇫🇷 France: PSG 1-1 Stade Reims

Ligue 1 is the self-styled ‘League of Talents’, and while that phrase is designed to refer to players, it is true of certain managers too. Chief among those is 30-year-old Will Still, who is the youngest manager in Europe’s top five leagues by some margin, at the moment.

Still’s story is quite fascinating. Bitten by the bug of Football Manager alongside his brother Edward (who himself is a manager who was in charge of Eupen currently), Will decided to pursue football studies and worked in Preston North End’s youth academy at the time. Having been born and brought up in Belgium, he went back to the country after graduation and took up an internship at STVV, then in the second tier.

After that, he got opportunities in assistant managerial roles in a number of first and second-tier clubs, and also had a couple of brief spells as interim manager. Then, in 2021, he got a call from Reims to join Óscar García’s coaching staff. After a few months, he returned to Belgium to complete his coaching licenses but was back at Reims in 2022 after that was done.

García’s side got off to a terrible start in the 2022/23 season and found themselves in the relegation zone with just one win from nine games, so the Spanish manager was sacked. Still was promoted on an interim basis until the World Cup, and it is safe to say he did alright. After holding PSG to a goalless draw on his Ligue 1 debut, the young Englishman stayed unbeaten and oversaw three wins before mid-November.

That impressive run of results convinced the club to offer him the position till the end of the season, but since he is still studying for his UEFA Pro License, they will have to pay penalties worth €575,000 to the league.

That fine seems worth it already since Reims have remained unbeaten on the other side of the World Cup and have climbed up to 11th in the table. Their latest match saw Still and company visit the Parc de Princes, where Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun’s stoppage-time equaliser earned them another thoroughly deserved point against the league leaders.

🇳🇱 Netherlands: AZ 5-5 Utrecht

Yes, you read that scoreline right.

The Eredivisie has been serving up some unbelievable drama since the World Cup break, and we were treated to the game of season on Saturday. Second-placed AZ took on European contenders Utrecht in a match where they knew they would temporarily go to the top of the table with a win.

They didn’t start well at all and found themselves two goals down after about a quarter of an hour as Greek striker Anastasios Douvikas struck twice in quick succession. Then, AZ turned the game around within the next twenty minutes thanks to goals from Maxim Dekker and a double from their own Greek striker – Evangelos Pavlidis. Utrecht quickly equalised, so it was 3-3 at half-time.

If anyone thought things would calm down after the half-time break, they would be quickly proven wrong. The visitors looked the better side in the opening exchanges of the period and thought they took the lead in about ten minutes, but VAR ruled it out for offside. Douvikas got his hat-trick eventually, but AZ turned the scoreline around again through Mees de Wit and Pavlidis’ own hat-trick goal. Utrecht made it 5-5 soon thereafter thanks to a brave header from Sander van de Streek, and that is how the match ended.

🏆 FA Cup: Wrexham 3-3 Sheffield United

It is too easy and quite a cliché to speak of any of Wrexham’s matches using the word ‘Hollywood’ as an adjective, but there is simply no way to accurately describe their most recent FA Cup tie other than by saying that you could not script it better.

Wrexham’s story is quite well-documented now. Having previously gone on European adventures, the third-oldest professional football club in the world was in turmoil since the turn of the century after years of mismanagement. But, there was light at the end of the tunnel in 2020, when Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney took over the club.

Of course, there was some scepticism initially as to just how invested the new owners would be, but that question was answered pretty quickly. They immediately aimed to end their 14-year absence from the EFL and reached the promotion play-off last season, but fell short at the final hurdle. That story is depicted very well by the ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ series that you might have heard of once or twice.

This season, Wrexham are aiming to go up through the one automatic promotion spot in the National League, but have gone on quite an incredible side-quest in the FA Cup. They put at least three goals past each of their opponents in the first three rounds, which included Championship side Coventry City.

Next came Sheffield United, who look on course to return to the Premier League next season. They needed just over a minute to open the scoring at the Racecourse Ground, and then it really felt that the home side were punching way too far above their weight. However, they used the great leveller called set-pieces to turn the game around in the second half, but were pegged back quite quickly.

Then came a big twist as Sheffield United had a player sent off in the 71st minute. This was Wrexham’s golden chance to extend this already-incredible cup run, but they had to do the job in normal time in order to avoid a replay. It looked as though they would do it when star striker Paul Mullin restored their lead in the 86th minute.

Image from IMAGO

The Racecourse Ground had almost already started celebrating what would have been a thoroughly deserved victory, but it was not to be. Deep into stoppage time, Wrexham got a taste of their own medicine when John Egan equalised from a corner tp set up a replay at Bramall Lane.

Not all movies have happy endings, but this one will get a sequel.

🇮🇹 Italy: Juventus 0-2 Monza

We have covered Juventus in the last couple of editions of this column so we would have quite liked to pick a match between any two other Serie A sides, but Monza have made that rather tough for us.

Let us focus on the Lombardian outfit then. Monza’s football club’s history can be traced back to 1910, but it has never previously been represented in the Italian top-flight in spite of a very lengthy stay in Serie B. In recent times, the club has endured a lot of financial turmoil, most recently going bankrupt in 2015. They then started afresh in Serie D, going up a tier in 2017.

The real turning point came in 2018 when the club was purchased by Fininvest, led by former Italian Prime Minister and AC Milan President Silvio Berlusconi. They went up to Serie B in 2020 and immediately started challenging for promotion. The promotion play-offs proved cruel to them in 2021, but they were the reason they finally achieved their 110-year target last year.

Getting promoted is one thing but staying up is another, as Monza learnt quite quickly when they found themselves plum last after six matches with just one point. It was time to bring in a new manager, and their pick was 38-year-old Raffaele Palladino, who took up his first senior role in such a position.

His first assignment saw his side host Juventus and come away with a crucial one-nil win, which proved to be the spark for an upturn in fortunes. They have gone on to win six matches since, climbing well clear of the relegation zone. Before their reverse fixture against the now-fallen Old Lady, they were unbeaten in five league matches.

That streak has quite deservedly been extended. While lots of questions can be asked of Massimiliano Allegri’s choice of tactics, Monza deserve plaudits for a superb performance at the Allianz Stadium, especially in the first half when they bounced back from the disappointment of having an early goal ruled out by VAR to take a two-goal lead into the break.

By holding on to that lead, Monza became the first newly-promoted side to do the double over Juventus in Serie A since the inaugural season of the competition. Thanks to Juventus’ points deduction, they have also been leapfrogged in the table by their visitors, who are now just three points off seventh place and well clear of the drop zone.

🇪🇸 Spain: Celta Vigo 1-0 Athletic Club

There were some interesting matches and results in Spain this weekend, but the game we have picked does not necessarily stand out in either of those categories. However, it could well be the most well-remembered match of this round, and the reason behind that has something to do with one player.

In fact, the big story is about a player who was not even there. We are, of course, talking about Iñaki Williams, whose incredible streak of 251 consecutive La Liga appearances has finally come to an end due to an injury. He sustained that in midweek while helping his side beat Valencia and advance to the Copa del Rey semi-finals, but at the time, it did not seem too severe so his absence here was rather unexpected.

Of course, Williams’ appearance streak is a league record. It started way back in April 2016, a time when Leicester City were beginning to believe the unthinkable, and the wider world was concerned with the Panama Papers leak. In this age of about 50 matches per season where squad rotation is a necessity, it seems incredibly unlikely that anyone can take this record away from the Ghanaian international.

Athletic Club will certainly want him back quickly, though, since they drew yet another blank in the league and lost to a relegation-battling Celta side, whom we gave a little more attention to last week.

Cover Image from IMAGO

Posted by Bill Biss
This Weekend: City meet Arsenal in the FA Cup, the Berlin Derby and more

This Weekend: City meet Arsenal in the FA Cup, the Berlin Derby and more

The best matches to follow this weekend

By Bill Biss


🏆 The FA Cup fourth round begins, tonight, with a blockbuster tie between Manchester City and Arsenal, currently the two teams best placed in the Premier League title race. This is, of course, a different competition but due to cancellations and fixture quirks, Guardiola and Arteta’s sides haven’t actually played each other for a full calendar year.

So this then, is the first test for City and Arsenal’s class of 2022/23, ahead of further showdowns in February, and April, back in the league.

🇫🇷 In Ligue 1, the Friday night drama is provided by Lorient and Rennes, who meet in an all-Breton derby. Rennes fans perhaps see Nantes as the bigger regional rival but this season, at least, Lorient might pose the bigger threat to Rennes chances of finishing in the European qualification places.

Lorient have won just once in the league since the turn of the year, a run that has seen them drop to eighth while Rennes moved fifth, five points above them, following the win over PSG two weekends ago. They were however knocked out of the Coupe de France in their last game (vs. Marseille) while Lorient made it past lower league opposition on penalties.


🇩🇪 For some sides in Germany’s top flight, Saturday’s games will be their third in little over a week – that, after the mammoth 10 week gap in the league programme caused by the World Cup and winter break!

Leaders Bayern, who have failed to win their two games – against Leipzig and FC Köln – now face the prospect of fourth placed Eintracht Frankfurt at home.

You might think first versus fourth constitutes the biggest game of the day but that’s before you hear that second placed Union play at fierce city-rivals Hertha in the Berlin Derby. Union are unbeaten in five previous meetings between the two and won the corresponding fixture 4-1 at Hertha last season, a repeat of which the struggling hosts – who sit second bottom in the table – will be desperate to avoid.

🇪🇸 LaLiga front-runners Barcelona are the biggest draw in Spain on Saturday, with their trip to Girona providing them with the opportunity to extend their lead over Real Madrid to six points.

The 1-0 win against Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, thanks to a goal from Ousmane Dembélé, extended their current unbeaten run to 12 games. For their part, Girona have looked steady following their top flight return and they sit 11th in the table despite last week’s defeat to Villarreal.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Back in the FA Cup, ties pitting Premier League sides against Championship opposition is the theme of the day. Manchester United play Reading, who are managed by former-United midfielder Paul Ince while Spurs go to Preston North End, both classic English sides nicknamed the Lilywhites, and Fulham face Sunderland.

Elsewhere, Accrington Stanley, of League One, only confirmed their place in the fourth round late on Tuesday night after an extra-time penalty saw them beat non-league Boreham Wood. That means they’ve had very little time to prepare for what is a lunchtime kick-off against Premier League Leeds United.

🇮🇹 In Serie A, Inter travel to bottom side Cremonese as they seek to get back-on-track after last Monday’s surprise home defeat to mid-table Empoli. That was the kind of result that sums up the frustration at Inter this season – Simone Inzaghi’s side had beaten Milan convincingly in the Supercoppa just a few days before that and earlier in the month, they ended Napoli’s long unbeaten record only to follow that with a draw against Monza. They do however, remain fourth and just a point behind Milan, who sit second.

Another game that might be worth keeping an eye on is Atalanta‘s clash with Sampdoria. The Bergamo club have been rampant in recent matches, scoring 16 goals in their last three with the likes of Ademola Lookman in inspired form – he’s bagged six and set up two others in that run. They’ll be licking their lips at the prospect of facing what is the third worse defence in Serie A.

🇫🇷 Two of French football’s biggest names also meet on Saturday evening, with Marseille (3rd) coming up against Monaco (4th). Heading in to this one, the side from the principality haven’t lost in eight away games but Marseille have only conceded three goals in the six competitive games they’ve played since the re-start. And they’ve won all of those.

The sides last faced one another just before the World Cup break, with Marseille coming out on top in a five-goal thriller thanks to 98th minute winner, from Sead Kolašinac.


🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 The FA Cup action continues in to Sunday – and indeed Monday when West Ham travel to fallen giants Derby County. Getting back to the weekend though, Liverpool return to Brighton, the scene of their 3-0 defeat in the Premier League just two weekends ago. Will Jürgen Klopp’s side get their revenge or will Roberto De Zerbi’s in-form Seagulls continue their rich vein of form against England’s big six?

Wrexham, the last remaining non-league (and non-English) side left in the competition are also in action. They face in-form Championship club Sheffield United. Having recently gone top of the fifth tier National League, promotion to the EFL remains the priority for the Hollywood-backed club but this will be a good test against a Blades side unbeaten in nine, and with promotion ambitions of their own.

🇮🇹 The fixture schedule looks busy in Italy with four of the top five all involved on Sunday, plus Juventus, who would be up there were it not for their recent points deduction.

Runaway Scudetto candidates Napoli meet Roma in the week that coach José Mourinho celebrated his 60th birthday. And how he’d love to ruin the current buoyant mood in Naples by becoming the first coach to beat them on home soil since April 2022.

Lazio looked mightily impressive in Tuesday’s 4-0 drubbing of Milan so watch out for their clash with Fiorentina. Rome’s other club will also be aiming to keep a fourth straight clean sheet as they look to better Milan‘s result against Sassuolo and move second in the table.

🇪🇸 In LaLiga, we get a huge match-up between the two sides attempting to chase down Barcelona – Real Madrid (second, three points back) against Real Sociedad (third, another three points further back).

It’s a second key game in a matter of days for Madrid after they eventually overcame derby rivals Atlético in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, after extra-time, on Thursday night. Goals from Rodrygo, Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior turned the game in their favour after Álvaro Morata had scored for Atleti. And that game itself, came off the back of tough league tests against in-form Villarreal and Athletic Club, a testing run that Carlo Ancelotti’s side have, it has to be said, come through with flying colours. Real Sociedad’s midweek Copa loss to Barcelona was their first competitive defeat since November so they’ll be fighting for the three points that they know will take them level with their hosts.

Elsewhere, Atlético Madrid go to seventh placed Osasuna amidst rumours that coach Diego Simeone is readying himself to leave his position – rumours dismissed by the man himself – in the aftermath of Thursday’s exit from the Copa.

🇫🇷 Playing last in Ligue 1 this weekend, PSG could find themselves needing a win to re-open the gap between themselves and Lens at the top of the table. Post-World Cup defeats – to Lens, and Rennes – have left them looking more than a little vulnerable. And a superstar line-up were held for almost half-an-hour by sixth tier amateur outfit Pays de Cassel in last week’s Coupe de France encounter before the floodgates eventually opened, allowing Kylian Mbappé to plunder five of seven unanswered goals.

So then, a healthy league win, at home against Stade Reims should restore some order to an ever-restless fanbase.

🇩🇪 Lastly, Bayer Leverkusen, who’ve won six of their nine Bundesliga games and have moved up to eighth in the table since Xabi Alonso took over as coach in October, now face fifth placed Borussia Dortmund.

Edin Terzić is still striving for that kind of consistency at Germany’s second biggest club this season but the black and yellows have won both of their games since the re-start – albeit they’ve needed late Gio Reyna winners to do so against both Augsburg (4-3) and Mainz (2-1).

If you want to follow any of the games mentioned above, click on the relevant link and tap the bell icon to receive all the key match updates.

Or join us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to discuss all the important football going on this weekend!

Cover Image from IMAGO

Posted by Bill Biss
Newcastle’s solid foundations, and how Eddie Howe has changed the Magpies

Newcastle’s solid foundations, and how Eddie Howe has changed the Magpies

Hands up then, ahead of the 2022/23 campaign kicking off, who thought Newcastle United would the best defensive team in the league? 

By Sam McGuire, Premier League expert

The Magpies conceded 62 last season and Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side conceded over 60 goals in all of their seasons in the English top-flight, they even conceded 70 on one occasion. The Cherries were easy on the eye, often looking to play football ‘the right way’, but struggled defensively. 

Many expected Newcastle to follow suit and it did seem to be the case at the very start of the Howe era at St James’ Park, with the Magpies conceding 19 goals in his first nine Premier League matches in charge. 

Over the next 18 games, however, they allowed two or more goals in a single match on just two occasions. That form has carried over into this season. Newcastle have conceded just 11 times in 19 matches and have allowed two or more goals in just two matches  – the 3-3 draw with Manchester City and the 2-1 loss to Liverpool. 

The Magpies dipped into the transfer market this summer to bolster their defensive unit, adding Sven Botman and Nick Pope. Both have been key in taking the defensive numbers to the next level. Newcastle have kept a clean sheet in 11 of their 19 outings and are the only team to be in double digits for this particular metric this term. 

They have already eclipsed their clean sheets total from last season (eight) and there is still half a season to be played. 

Conceding just 0.6 goals per match, Howe’s side are comfortably the most resilient in the Premier League. Their underlying numbers are just as impressive, too. They rank third for Expected Goals Conceded (17.7) behind Arsenal (16.8) and Manchester City (14.1). 

For added context here, last season Newcastle were averaging 1.6 goals against per match and ranked 15th for this matric. They ranked 12th for xG against (63.8). 

Now, Howe has spent money in the transfer market but improvements have come on the training pitch, with the 45-year-old tweaking tactics to make his side much harder to break down. He has the Magpies defending from the front. 

When looking at possessions won in the final third, Newcastle have risen from 18th to fourth in the Premier League. Last season, they averaged 3.9 per 90 and now this figure stands at 5.6. 

Without the ball, they are ultra-aggressive against most opponents. They press as a unit and this allows them to dominate the space. We can see an example of this below in their recent match against Fulham. 

Just after a minute of play, the hosts are defending a throw-in deep in their own half. Look how compact their defensive lines are. There is no space for the visitors to have proper possession in the final third and the ball is eventually cleared.

But look how Newcastle react, as a team, to this. Everyone steps up but they do so as a unit. There is barely any space between the midfield and the defensive lines and they are very narrow. They are acting as a screen between the opposition and the goalkeeper, Pope. 

The opposition aren’t going to be able to play through them so are forced to attack via wide areas. This is Newcastle dictating where opponents can and cannot play. This is what all of the top defensive teams do. 

By funnelling teams into wide areas, Newcastle are allowed to defend in a way that suits them. Crosses into the area cause very few problems when you have a 6ft5 goalkeeper and three of your regular back four – Botman, Fabian Schar and Dan Burn – are winning over 65% of their aerial duels. 

What Howe has done over a 12 month period is a masterclass on how to set up a team to defend, dictate and dominate. 

(Images from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 Premier League season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Serie A Review: Osimhen and Lookman shine as Juve face up to their troubles

Serie A Review: Osimhen and Lookman shine as Juve face up to their troubles

This week, we’re dedicating this full column to league leaders Napoli due to their incredible 5-1 victory over Juventus.

By Matteo Bonetti, US Serie A expert

Juve’s Troubles

It was another dark moment for Serie A over the weekend, as Juventus were handed a 15 point deduction in the standings following their involvement in shady accounting practices – something which involved inflating player transfers as a way to boost capital gains. As it stands, the Bianconeri currently sit mid-table on the FotMob app. None of this is set in stone, however, as Juve are appealing to the sporting court and hoping to get the penalty reduced.

In terms of the actual football, Juventus hosted Atalanta in a game that became a welcome distraction to all the negativity surrounding the club. Max Allegri’s team played one of their more entertaining games of the season, finishing with a 3-3 scoreline. Instead of playing their usual pragmatic style, Allegri finally shifted up a gear and had his team successfully match the pace and intensity of Atalanta.

The Juventus players showed plenty of heart and pride, playing with professionalism in a period where you wouldn’t fault them for being distracted with the current situation that has engulfed the club. Ángel Di MarÍa and Arek Milik were particularly impressive. The Argentine World Cup winner looked unstoppable in the first half, with clever movements and dynamism. Milik finished off a beautiful passing sequence by dispatching a pinpoint volley into the bottom corner. This is the type of Juve performance that we’ve been desperate to see more consistently – a team that is aesthetically pleasing and as clichéd as this may sound, plays to win.

A Nigerian takeover in the scoring charts

Two Nigerians sit at the top of the Serie A Capocannoniere standings, Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman. While Osimhen’s output isn’t really a shock, as he’s finally playing more regular football, Lookman has been a welcome surprise for Atalanta. 

Victor Osimhen has finally had a stretch of games at Napoli without serious injury and he’s looking like the best striker in the league. Against local rivals Salernitana, he scored once again in Napoli’s 2-0 victory. That now makes it 13 goals in 15 league appearances to go with three assists. His goals have come from all sorts of angles too – from bullet headers to world class volleys, low driven finishes while running at full pace and curling finesse shots into the top corner. That’s why the Nigerian striker has looked unplayable – there really isn’t a bulletproof way to defend him. He’s lightning quick and devastating on the counter, so it’s a massive risk to play a high defensive line against Napoli. Most teams drop deep into a low block to limit the spaces in the final third against the Neapolitan possession game (currently the best in the league at over 60%), which allows Osimhen to show off his aerial ability. His leaping and timing on headers, combined with general accuracy, mean that he’s a danger any time crosses are flung in from either flank. The only thing that has stopped him from topping the Capocannoniere charts in the past have been injuries. A healthy Osimhen has proven to be a world class player.

On the other hand, Ademola Lookman’s production for Atalanta has been one of the biggest revelations of the season. The Atalanta winger has been in searing form, including 10 goals in his last 12 appearances in Serie A. There are some who could’ve probably predicted this sort of form once upon a time. After all, he has been able to garner some high profile transfers in the past – an €11.8m transfer from Charlton to Everton when he was a teenager, and then more recently an €18m sale that sent him from Everton to German club RB Leipzig. However, the London-born Lookman has never scored more than six goals in an entire season. As it stands at the halfway point of the season, he’s on pace to score 22 with Atalanta. Anyone who has followed Atalanta closely since Gianpiero Gasperini took over six years ago, shouldn’t be too surprised. The Italian manager has developed a knack for being able to get the best out of enigmatic attacking players. The best example is perhaps Luis Muriel – a very talented but inconsistent striker who had issues keeping his weight down in the past. Under Gasperini, Muriel had a season where he was right alongside Robert Lewandowski in terms of goals-per-minute. 

Lookman’s last three games

The Curious Case of Davide Nicola

There’s been a long running joke about some of the volcanic Serie A Presidents of provincial sides having a quick trigger with managers – two in particular have stood out in the past: Palermo’s ex-President Maurizio Zamparini, who infamously went through 45 different managers while in charge of the Sicilian club, and Enrico Preziosi of Genoa, who had a similar relationship with the “mister” of the Grifoni.

Fast forward to 2023 and we’ve just witnessed a situation reminiscent of all those reactionary moves from unsettled Presidents. Salernitana owner Danilo Iervolino moved to sack Nicola after the club’s 8-2 loss against Atalanta (a bit of an anomaly if you look at the xG). The move felt harsh given the Italian manager’s miracle salvation of the club last season after he took over at the midway point. Nicola then phoned the President and “tugged at his heart strings” by delivering a passionate spiel about why he should be given another chance to lead the club. The conversation worked, and Davide Nicola was rehired as Salernitana boss just days after being fired.

While it ends up being a feel good story, the whole situation reeks of confusion at the top of the club, when stability is needed. Nicola has already formed a reputation for miracle salvations, so he seems like the right man to try to get the team back to winning ways after this current winless streak – which now stands at eight games in a row.

(Images from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 Serie A season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Premier League Team of the Week – Round 21

Premier League Team of the Week – Round 21

FotMob TOTW – Round 21

Haaland’s 4th hat-trick makes him a shoe-in for our top rating while Arsenal’s match-winners, Nketiah and Saka join him up top. Kieran Trippier is almost ever-present in the back-line and there was a big 9.0 rating for Emi Martínez.

Who had the best weekend? See you in the replies on Twitter.

Posted by Curt Baker
Premier League Review: Haaland does it again, Arsenal beat United and the end of the road for Lampard

Premier League Review: Haaland does it again, Arsenal beat United and the end of the road for Lampard

Just when you think the Premier League table is taking shape, shock results occur to change the landscape in the top tier of English football. It happened again this weekend and we’re here to cover the biggest talking points.

By Sam McGuire, Premier League expert

Too easy for Erling

Erling Haaland is making it look too easy in the Premier League. The Manchester City marksman added another treble this weekend in the 3-0 win over Wolves. The former BVB attacker now has 24 goals for the season – enough to win the Golden Boot in the previous four campaigns. 

He did break another record this weekend. Haaland scored his fourth hattrick of the season in only his 19th appearance. Prior to that, Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the quickest to four trebles in the Premier League, achieving the feat in 65 matches. 

While the focus was on yet another Haaland masterclass in the penalty area, the win did keep City in the title race.

The sign of Champions

Arsenal needed a last-minute winner to overcome a Manchester United side at the Emirates. However, the scoreline did not tell the entire story. 

In truth, the away side offered very little and finished with an Expected Goals total of just 0.36. Erik ten Hag’s men needed a Marcus Rashford stunner and an Aaron Ramsdale mistake to make it a competitive match. 

Arsenal controlled the ball, the space and the match, taking a total of 25 shots and limiting United to just six. They also racked up an extraordinarily high Expected Goals total of 3.25. 

They kept going right until the very end and Eddie Nketiah’s winner was deserved. 

The Lampard era comes to an end

Frank Lampard’s final game as Everton manager arrived against the club he made his debut for. It must’ve felt like déjà vu for the Blues on Saturday as they dominated the ball with 68% possession but did absolutely nothing with it. 

They managed just five shots in total and created chances worth 0.55 Expected Goals. West Ham, on the other hand, carved out opportunities worth 2.27 Expected Goals. The hosts sacrificed possession to dictate the space and had a lot of success hitting the Toffees on the break. 

It had been an issue that had plagued Lampard’s side all season. The next Everton manager will have to find a way to turn possession into goals. 

Mitoma magic

Kaoru Mitoma was the player of the match for Brighton in their 2-2 draw with Leicester City, earning himself an 8.5 rating on the FotMob app. 

He has been a revelation for the Seagulls ever since the appointment of Roberto De Zerbi and he really caught the eye against the Foxes. 

The 25-year-old opened the scoring for the visitors, created two chances, completed 60% of his dribbles and recovered the ball on seven occasions. It takes some doing to steal the spotlight away from Alexis Max Allister and Moises Caicedo, but Mitoma did just that. 

Ray(a) of light

Leeds and Brentford played out a 0-0 draw on Sunday and there wasn’t much to take from the game. However, without the exploits of David Raya between the sticks for the Bees, it might’ve been a different story. 

He made five saves and prevented an Expected Goals on Target value of 1.25. Leeds will feel unlucky not to have picked up all three points at Elland Road but sometimes a keeper puts in a Player of the Match performance and you just have to rue your luck. 

(Cover image from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 Premier League season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Last Weekend: Lookman stars in Juve-Atalanta goal-fest, a close Klassieker and more

Last Weekend: Lookman stars in Juve-Atalanta goal-fest, a close Klassieker and more

More major men’s leagues returned this weekend to add to the already-abundant action and drama. We will be going over the best of that by highlighting six matches from six different leagues in this week’s edition of Last Weekend.

By Neel Shelat

🇮🇹 Italy: Juventus 3-3 Atalanta

The last 10 days have been really bad for Juventus. First, they got blown away by Napoli last Friday, and then this weekend, they were hit with a 15-point deduction for financial irregularities in their previous statements. That pulled them down from the Champions League spots to the brink of falling out of the top half..

They had a tough fixture this weekend too, as they came up against an Atalanta side that had scored 13 goals in their last two games. Their main man in form was Ademola Lookman, who needed just five minutes to open the scoring in this match and enter double digits in terms of Serie A goals.

Juventus fought back, though, as Ángel Di Maria pulled them level from the penalty spot, and then Arkadiusz Milik scored a wonderfully taken goal to give them a lead going into half-time. It was the visitors’ turn to counterpunch then, Joakim Mæhle equalised just seconds into the second period, and Lookman made it three braces in three matches for himself well before the hour-mark.

There would be no winner in this match after Juventus equalised again through Danilo with a nicely worked free-kick, so the spoils were shared in Turin. That leaves Atalanta within a couple of points of the Champions League places, while Juventus will now refocus to try and finish seventh, which will likely earn them a spot in the Conference League next season.

🇳🇱 Netherlands: Feyenoord 1-1 Ajax

De Klassieker is naturally always a big match in the Netherlands as it features two of the country’s oldest and most successful clubs in its biggest rivalry. This weekend, though, there was much more than bragging rights on the line.

Ajax have won the last three Eredivisie titles back-to-back, but that streak is under real threat as they found themselves five points behind league-leaders Feyenoord going into this fixture. There are other teams involved in the title race too, as AZ Alkmaar, PSV and FC Twente were all close to the defending champions in the table.

The match itself went as one would expect. The two teams were almost evenly matched as neither could impose themselves on the game, not that they took too many risks to try and do so either. The home team drew first blood in the 34th minute, as Igor Paixão scored just his second goal for the club from a fair way out.

Ajax seemed to have the upper hand thereafter as they pushed hard for an equaliser, but they could not create much from open play. They did eventually find the back of the net in the 71st minute when substitute Steven Bergwijn set Davy Klaassen up with a header into an open goal from very close proximity.

After that, both sides seemed content with a point, so the gap between them in the table has remained unchanged. However, Feyenoord’s lead has been cut down to two points after all the other title contenders won their respective matches – which also means Ajax have slipped down to fifth place.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England: Liverpool 0-0 Chelsea

We have mostly been covering proceedings at the top of the Premier League table since the World Cup break, so this week, let us look away from Arsenal’s dramatic 3-2 win over Manchester United and Erling Haaland’s hat-trick against Wolves, and focus instead on a mid-table clash.

Both Liverpool and Chelsea are sides that would usually be expected to be competing in the title race as well, but when they kicked off the day’s action on Saturday, they showed just why they are where they are. Neither team looked anywhere near their best as they played out a goalless draw at Anfield in what was the 50,000th men’s top-flight football match in England.

The closest we got to a goal came when Kai Havertz put the ball in the back of the net after a corner in the third minute, but VAR had a clear offside call to make. After that, while neither defence looked particularly secure, neither attack seemed on song either so there were a good few chances at both ends but no goals.

There were silver linings for both teams in the second half, mainly in the form of their substitutes. For Chelsea, big-money signing Mykhailo Mudryk looked absolutely electric on his Premier League debut and really livened the match up late on. For Jürgen Klopp’s side, Darwin Núñez was sharp on his return from injury, and will hopefully lead the line for them from the start going forward.

The table does not paint a pretty picture for either side, though, as they are both level on 29 points in 9th and 10th spot. They are 21 points behind Arsenal so the title race is completely out of question, but it will still take something special to make up the ten-point deficit to fourth-placed Newcastle United.

🇩🇪 Germany: Wolfsburg 6-0 Freiburg

The Bundesliga returned to action after its Winterpause this weekend. RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich kicked off the action with a 1-1 draw on Friday night, but there were some huge results and incredibly entertaining games in the next couple of days. Those include Köln’s 7-1 thrashing of Werder Bremen, Bochum’s 3-1 win over fellow relegation-battlers Hertha Berlin, Borussia Dortmund’s 4-3 win over Augsburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 2-3 loss to Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg’s cricket score against Freiburg.

The visitors had actually enjoyed a great first half of the season which saw them end 2022 in second place, just four points behind Bayern. Wolfsburg, on the other hand, had a terrible start that left them winless in five, but they more than recovered by the end of the Hinründe as they went into this match with a nine-match unbeaten run and four straight wins in the league.

In this match, it was the hosts who got off to a flyer. Patrick Wimmer opened the scoring within 100 seconds, and he went on to set up Jonas Wind with a brilliant assist. Wind scored his second before half-time, and on the other side of the break, Yannick Gerhardt got in on the action. Late on, Ridle Baku and a stoppage-time penalty from Luca Waldschmidt made the scoreline a little ugly for Freiburg.

After the match, the Freiburg players and indeed head coach Christian Streich were at a loss for words when asked to describe what went wrong in this defeat, which has pulled them down to fourth place. They will be keen to forget this result quite quickly, but Wolfsburg will want to build on it and mount a charge for one of the Champions League spots, to which they currently have a four-point gap.

🇪🇸 Spain: Mallorca 1-0 Celta Vigo

While Chelsea are disappointed to be 10th in England, there is a club in Spain that is exceeding expectations by breaking into the top half almost half a season in.

That team is RCD Mallorca, whose latest promotion to La Liga was just two seasons ago, and they only stayed up by a point last time out. With that in mind, it is easy to understand why being closer in terms of points to the European spots than the bottom half is mightily impressive.

The mastermind behind their success is veteran Mexican head coach Javier Aguirre. He was brought in in March last year to rescue their season, which he successfully did, and is now taking things a step further.

The key turnaround he has made has been shoring up Mallorca’s defence. Last season, they let in 63 goals, the third-most in the division, but so far this term, they have let in less than a goal per game having conceded just 16 times. That is the joint fourth-best tally in La Liga, and it is backed up by equally impressive underlying numbers which are even better than the two capital clubs.

At the other end, Mallorca’s attack has not changed much as they have gone from scoring 0.9 to 0.8 goals per game, but they have been very efficient. On average, every goal they have scored has been worth about 1.66 points, which is the best conversion rate in the top five leagues this season.

Celta Vigo got a firsthand experience of this efficiency on Friday, as Dani Rodríguez scored the only goal of the game in the 59th minute to secure all three points for the home team. While they are enjoying a great start to the new year, Celta are in real trouble as they are only out of the relegation zone on goal difference having won just one of their last 11 league games.

🇪🇬 Egypt: Zamalek 0-3 Al Ahly

Our final match for this week takes us to Egypt, where two clubs that are not just the country’s, but all of Africa’s biggest and most successful, faced off in the Cairo derby for the 125th time in the league.

Zamalek have won the last two league titles but went into this match on the back foot as they were five points and two places away from their rivals. Their form wasn’t any good either, as they had failed to win their last four fixtures, a run which includes a semi-final elimination in the cup at the hands of Pyramids FC.

Their position has only worsened after this match, where they were beaten comprehensively. Zamalek did manage to keep the scores level till the hour-mark and equalled their opponents in terms of performance too, but after conceding first, they never looked like they would be able to come away with anything. Mahmoud Kahraba scored first for Al Ahly, and then a late brace from Mohamed Sherif sealed the result.

This win maintains Al Ahly’s four-point lead at the top of the table over top-flight newbies Future FC, while Zamalek drop down to fifth place.

Cover Image from IMAGO

Posted by Bill Biss