Weekend Boxset: Happy New Year

After all the excitement of the Cup, league football returns. So who will be coming down with the fairy lights?

Seven great matches to take you from Friday to Sunday. It's the Sound of Football Weekend Boxset.

All times are GMT


Friday



Ligue 1: Rennes v Marseille


19.45 on BT Sport 1


French league football returns after its Christmas break - a break which saw both sides nestled in the Champions League places at the half way point of the season. 2019 ended very well for Rennes, after they were elminated from the Europa League, and they're currently on a run of five straight wins. Not that they're tearing the league up - each of those wins was by a single goal margin - but three points is three points. After an indifferent start to the season Andre Villas Boas' Marseille side have closely matched PSG's results to maintain their second place in the table without applying to much pressure on to the top side. Rennes' good form sees them in a position now where they can overtake Marseille with a win here and in their game in hand on Wednesday (a very winnable tie away to Nimes). GS
 



Saturday



Premier League: Crystal Palace v Arsenal


12.30 on BT Sport 1


VAR is a cruel mistress and while Palace have benefited from her dubious charms at times this season, last weekend they discovered she can quickly turn. Luka Milivojevic's red card for violent conduct was only awarded after the referee checked the incident on the pitch-side moitors - the first time they have been used in this season's implementation of VAR in the England. Many will wonder why Alexandre Lacazette didn't suffer a similar fate on Monday night when he looked to kick out at Leeds player in an incident VAR studied closely, but as we are all discovering, just because VAR does something one day, it doesn't mean it will do the same on the next. The system dominated discussion when these sides met earlier in the season, Sokratis denied a winner for what was deemed an off the ball foul by Calum Chambers. A decision that Mike Riley, head of the Premier League referees would later admit VAR had got wrong. Milivojevic's ban means he joins a long list of players unavailable to Roy Hodgson through injury. Whatever team he can piece together for this one will have their hands full against a seemingly rejuvenated Arsenal side under Mikel Arteta. GS
 



Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool


17.30 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event


As we discussed on this week’s pod, it’s going to take something biblical to stop Klopp’s Liverpool side. With the self-styled Special One’s days of walking on water remain all but a memory, a miracle is probably the best he can hope for when they line up against the Reds. Jose’s Spurs were somewhat cavalier in the games immediately following his appointment, and I even suggested that his infamous ‘park the bus’ was all but dead.  That was before a very poor set of results which started just before Christmas with defeat to an inconsistent Chelsea. With fans already starting to turn on him, injury has been added to insult with Sissoko missing from midfield and Kane from up top. Son should return from suspension and Lucas Moura is always dangerous, but the reality is that Liverpool are comfortably better than their hosts in every position and will run out as clear winners in this one. JB
 



Serie A: Inter v Atalanta


19.45 on Premier 1


The Atalanta project continues apace. Qualified for the Champions League last season, and this season through to the second stage of the competition like they were veterans. Currently fifth and the highest scorers in Serie A, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men are the team to watch. Moreover, the coach got a nice new year boost after star left-back, Robin Gosens signed a contract extension despite, interest from Chelsea. The German defender said he didn’t want to be anywhere else but Bergamo and only his home club Schalke could tear him from the arms of La Dea. Up next are the leaders Inter with their own goal-machine Romelu Lukaku who has been working through his Man United issues by taking it out of the Italians. The 26-year-old Belgian has 14 goals from 18 games in the league so far this season. Victory in the San Siro will place the onus on Juventus with whom they share the lead at the top of the table. TD
 





Sunday



Championship: Cardiff City v Swansea City


15.00 on Sky Sports Football


After a blistering start to the season Swansea's goals have seemingly dried up. Having scored 21 goals in August, it's take them four months to score the same number again. The opening of the January transfer window is rarely helpful for sides looking for goals but the Swans could have made a very shrewd play in secruing the loan of 19 year old Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster. The tournament top scorer in England U17's World Cup success in 2017 has only this season managed to broken into the senior side. While he only has 12 minutes of Premier League experience, he could be the missing part of the puzzle for Steve Cooper who was coach of that successful England side in India. Neil Harris has yet to see much of an uplift in Cardiff's fortunes since taking charge in November. His team sit just four points but six places behind their South Wales rivals, such is the congestion in the chasing pack. With teams like Boro and Reading hitting good form too, the chase for the play-offs looks to be even more unforgiving than usual.  GS
 



Premier League: Bournemouth v Watford


15.00 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event


You may raise an eyebrow at this particular selection for our boxset. You may even be forgiven the odd head scratch; however, this is one of the key fixtures of the weekend where nineteenth placed Watford seek to leapfrog eighteenth placed Bournemouth. The Hornets have, of late, enjoyed something of a renaissance under the direction of their no-nonsense, and occasionally terrifying manager, Nigel Pearson. Indeed, their only reverse under his stewardship was against Liverpool, where they created several good goal-scoring opportunities, which on any other day would have seen them grab an unlikely result. That said, they threw away a three-goal lead against League One strugglers Tranmere in the Cup at the weekend, a game which also saw midfielder Roberto Pereyra dismissed - which has now been rescinded. While this will offer Bournemouth some hope ahead of today’s fixture, quite what Eddie Howe has left in his locker is anyone’s guess. Their poor run of form culminated last week in a total capitulation to West Ham, a team with their own significant relegation headache. I can’t see past Watford in this one, a result which will pile the pressure on Howe who surely must be edging closer to the exit by the day. JB
 



Serie A: Roma v Juventus


19.45 on Premier 1


Despite 31 shots, Roma were unable to extend their unbeaten run in the league to six games against Torino in front of their home fans last Sunday. The 2-0 defeat came in part thanks to a bizarre handball from Chris Smalling. The defender, on loan from Manchester United, gave away a penalty and handed the 11th placed team a the second goal. Despite that, the Englishman is happy enough in the eternal city and it’s been reported that the Giallorossi have offered United £17 million to make the move permanent. After having failed against one Turin club, Roma will try their luck against the other. Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus are wresting with Inter for the title in a Derby D’Italia writ large. They have Cristiano Ronaldo is blistering form and supposedly bearing a grudge against his opponents. Apparently back in 2007, as a young Cristiano, he was threatened by a number of Roma players during Manchester United’s 7-1 mauling in the Champions League. He’s vowed never to swap shirts with a Roma player again. TD
 



Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.



Terry (@terryduffelen), Graham (@grahamsibley), Jan (@janbilton) and Gary (@gafootbl)



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