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Weekend Boxset: Rebuking shaky hands

Football returns from the international break with some clubs hoping to start a new era. Also, a new season kicks off in Australia, and it’s time for the play-offs in MLS.

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

All times are GMT


Ligue 1: Monaco v Lille
20.00 on BT Sport 3
This battle between the 2017 and 2021 French champions finds both sides struggling for form in mid-table. Maybe it’s not so surprsing that Lille are struggling this season. Their title winning coach Christophe Galtier left just two days after winning the title, citing that he’d done all he could do at the club and set off for Nice (who are currently third in the table). Given that his replacement Jocelyn Gourvennec is still having to rely on a 36 year old Burak Yilmaz up front and Jose Fonte, 38 next month, in defence, you can perhaps see where Galtier was coming from. They do still have a wealth of young talent that fill the shopping lists of top clubs across Europe, although Sven Botman and Renato Sanches could both miss this game. 21 year old Jonathan David should start having helped Canada to wins against Costa Rica and Mexico. Monaco’s head coach Niko Kovac also has to rely largely on youth, having only been able to call on the services of veteren Cesc Fabregas twice this season. However, they can still rely on Wissam Ben Yedder for goals, ably assisted by Kevin Volland. GS


A-League: Perth Glory v Adelaide United
11.05 on BT Sport 2
And so Australia goes again. The A-League’s return has generated the most buzz and column inches down under in nearly a decade due, in no small part, to the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in Western Australia. Perth’s marquee signing is the biggest name to ply his trade in the A League since Sydney signed Alessandro Del Piero. Sadly, like Del Piero, Sturridge has signed for a squad very much in transition. Head coach Richard Garcia has made some smart additions, including midfield enforcer Brandon O’Neill, but much will depend on whether Perth can actually give Sturridge the service he needs to fire them into the finals. Standing in their way are an Adelaide team who were one of the most entertaining sides to watch last season but struggled for consistency. It would be a surprise to see either side challenging for the title come May, but this should be an entertaining way to kick off the new season. GA

Premier League: Liverpool v Arsenal
17.30 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event
Are Arsenal fixed now? Well they certainly look a lot better than they did at the start of the season. Their first three games saw them caught flat-footed against Brentford and then summarily dismantled by City and Chelsea. Since then Arteta has successfully bedded in a raft of summer signings and seems to be getting performances from his experienced strikers - who were unavailable in those early defeats. Given their relatively equivalent league placings, this match should be a good barometer of where these sides are right now. Well it should, but the truth is, for pretty much a decade, no matter what state either have club found themselves coming into this fixture, it’s been largely one-way traffic. Mikel Arteta was playing for Arsenal the last time they managed an away win against Liverpool, back in 2012. In their last eight Premier League visits to Anfield since then, Arsenal have conceded 28 goals - at least three in each of the last six. Given that track record, getting a point would be received as a win for Arsenal - for that matter just going home having only conceded twice might be seen as another step in the right direction. GS

La Liga: Barcelona v Espanyol
20.00 on LaLigaTV
What a game to kick off a new era for Barcelona. After some back and forth with Al Sadd, Barcelona have a new coach, albeit an old face. Xavi Hernandez is back at the Camp Nou and has already made his mark by fining Ousmane Dembele for turning up late for training. With the former Barca midfield maestro’s feet barely under the desk, he delved into the free-agent market to re-sign the 38-year-old prospect Dani Alvez who was let go far too soon after only 247 appearances in his previous short-lived spell at the club. The Brazilian is there to bring a bit of the old school charm to the Barca dressing room and provide some guidance to the younger members of the squad, especially Pedri and Gavi. The former, along with nine others in the Camp Nou treatment room. As is Ansu-Fati who had only just returned from a long-term layoff earlier in the season. Xavi’s first game is a doozy against city rivals Espanyol. The last time Barcelona’s other team won the Derbi was in 2009 under rookie coach Mauricio Pochettino. Espanyol’s current coach is Vicente Moreno who joined last season after their relegation and has shepherded them back into the top flight and above their august rivals in the current table. TD


Premier League: Manchester City v Everton
14.00 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event
Everton have not won a football match since beating Norwich at the end of September. The nadir of their slump - so far- was 2-5 reverse to Watford. Tough times for Rafa Benitez who is not helped by key absentees Yerry Mina and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. I imagine the former Liverpool boss will be given time and not much will be expected of him against this Manchester City side who bounced back from recent defeats to West Ham and Dirty Cheating Palace with a drubbing of Brugge in the Champions League and a thoroughly convincing win against Man United. If you’re looking for chinks in the City armour then you could say that they could have scored more in the derby, had they been a bit sharper. Also, that Palace defeat did come after the last international break so it’s just possible that Pep’s cosmopolitan squad of superstars may be a tad leggy as they return from this one. Everton’s last win over City was when Ronald Koeman’s Toffees smashed them 4-0 at Goodison in 2017. And it was as recent as 2019 when Rafa guided his then Newcastle team to a 2-1 win at St James’ Park. TD

Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur v Leeds United
16.30 on Premier League & Main Event
Not being a football manager, I couldn’t tell you whether or not having an international break just a week into a new job was a good thing or a bad thing. It’s certainly a bad thing for Antonio Conte as far team selection is concerned with Giovani Lo Celso and Christian Romero both picking up knocks on duty for Argentina. At least his star man Harry Kane got a chance to stat-pad against Albania and San Marino - scoring as many goals in 123 minutes in an England shirt as he has in the last eight months in the Premier League for Spurs. Leeds have injury problems of their own with Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling still unavailable; which is part of the reason why the club are only a bad weekend away from the dropzone. With most of the clubs below them looking for an uplift from new managers, the pressure is starting to build on Bielsa to start getting wins,especially when you look at their December schedule, when they play Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Liverpool in consecutive games. Like many of his peers, Conte is a huge admirer of Bielsa but the two have never faced each other on the touchline until now. With any luck, this first meeting will be more about two sides desperate to win rather than two sides desperate to avoid defeat. GS

MLS Eastern Conference 1st round play-offs: New York City v Atlanta United
20.00 on Sky Sports Football and FreeSports
The MLS post-season is upon us. The fourteen best placed teams from the regular season in a straight-ish knockout over the next four weekends, for the MLS Cup. The 2018 winners, Atlanta, missed out the play-offs last season and would have done so this season if they’d stuck with Gabriel Heinze as head coach. They fired him after just six months in post and with just two wins from their opening thirteen games, replacing him with Seattle Sounders assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda, who brought about an almost instant turnabout in fortunes. NYC’s good start to the season looked as if it was coming off the rails in the later stages but three wins in their last four, including six goals from league top scorer Valentin Castellanos - saw them over the line relieving the pressure on their head coach, former Celtic manager, Ronny Diela. The winners of this one will face the runaway Supporters Shield winners, New England Revolution, in the Eastern Conference semi-final next week. GS

Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham and Gary Andrews

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