Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Acast, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

Weekend Boxset: Meanwhile in Cameroon



After the fun and larks of FA Cup football last weekend, it’s back to the bread and butter of domestic leagues - unless of course you’re in Cameroon for the Africa Cup of Nations, which this weekend reaches the midpoint of the group stage.

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



All times are GMT


Friday

Bundesliga: Borussia Dortmund v Freiburg
19.30 on Sky Sports Mix
A very late goal from Arminia Bielefeld’s Bryan Lasme spoiled what would have been an ideal start to the Rückrunde for Freiburg. Die Breisgau finished the first half of the Bundesliga season in third place which is an extraordinary achievement for a club with historically one of the lowest playing budgets in the league. Had they held on against Bielefeld they would not have surrendered that position to Hoffenheim and put pressure on the leaders Bayern Munich who’s Covid ravaged team lost to Monchengladbach on Friday. No one is expecting them to maintain their form throughout the remainder of the season but then again, few expected them to be this good by now. Their chief strength is in their defense. No club in the league has conceded fewer goals. At the heart of it is Nico Schlotterbeck, mentioned in previous boxsets and likely to be a Champions League player next season. How he handles the imperious Erling Haaland in this match will be key to its outcome. Borussia are the second-highest scorers in the league and stormed back from 2-0 down to beat Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend. Haaland as well as Jude Bellingham are not only in top form but are not afraid to get up in the grill of their opponents. The problem for BVB are their injuries. With big players, including centre half Manuel Akanji missing, they are leaking goals like a sieve. All of which makes this a tasty near top of the table clash. TD


Saturday

Premier League: Manchester City v Chelsea
12.30 on BT Sport 1
Arsenal provided a stern test for Pep’s side on New Year’s Day but the fact they still went back to Manchester with the three points suggests that City will go on to make it a third title win in the last four seasons, even without their nearest rivals making it easier for them. Both Chelsea and Liverpool have spent the last few weeks dropping points (most notably against each other), turning what was a three horse race into a coronation procession in just a month. A win here for Chelsea might raise some hopes of a revival of the title race but the gap will still be seven points. On their day, Chelsea look capable but the whole Lukaku saga points to deeper problems off the pitch, highlighting the potential kinks that those who have followed Tuchel’s career have witnessed before. Despite these being the top two, a win for this Chelsea side could be called an upset: when the sides met at Stamford Bridge in September, the home side didn’t register a single shot on goal. City still have a way to go to match their own record of 18 straight wins from 2017 (matched by Liverpool in 2020) - they’re currently on eleven - but those defeats to Palace and Nuno’s Spurs seem like a lifetime ago. GS


Premier League: Aston Villa v Manchester United
17.30 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event
Just five days have passed since these two sides met at Old Trafford in the FA Cup in a game overshadowed by the absence of Christiano Ronaldo and the spectre of VAR. Despite their win, United spent much of the game on the back foot, with de Gea keeping the home side in the tie with a string of fine saves. Given enough time, there’s little doubt they would have broken through. How fortunate, then, that they have the opportunity to set things straight today. Villa should welcome back Ashley Young but John McGinn won’t figure due to suspension. The big news, of course, is that Philippe Coutinho looks set to make his debut for the Villains. Yes, Philippe Coutinho… at Villa… I know! Quite the coup for Villa; also freeing up much needed financial resources for Barça and giving Coutinho a crack at getting into Brazil’s world cup squad. There’s also the draw of former colleague and Villa manager Stevie G. Villa are improved since his arrival, but recent results haven’t been great. If they repeat Monday’s performance, they should win comfortably, even with the moody Ronaldo back in the team. JB


Africa Cup of Nations 2021 Group D: Guinea-Bissau v Egypt
19.00 on Sky Sports Football
A North African team hasn’t won the African Cup of Nations in sub-Saharan Africa since Hassan Shehata’s all-conquering Egyptians lifted the trophy for the third consecutive time in 2010. Two of the region’s strongest nations have started slowly. Holders Algeria were held to a surprise 0-0 draw with Sierra Leone and Egypt lost to a very good Nigeria side 1-0 in the first round of games. Tunisia lost too but let’s not get into that here. If the Pharaohs are going to buck the trend in this tournament then coach Carlos Quieroz will need to ensure that Mohamed Salah can get in the game. The Liverpool striker struggled to find space against the Super Eagles and did not get enough support. That said, Egypt’s opponents were pretty wretched in their opener: a bore draw against a very limited Sudan side. Guinea-Bissau spurned an opportunity late in the game to take all three points, from the penalty spot, but Pele shot straight at the keeper and Piqueti found the crossbar on the rebound. That’s five games without a win for the Djurtus and if Sudan had any genuine quality upfront then it could have been far worse. Egypt should have no excuses for this one. TD


Sunday

Africa Cup of Nations 2021 Group F: Gambia v Mali
13.00 on Sky Sports Mix
Assuming the result of Mali’s first game stands, both teams can secure a place in the next round with a game to spare. Mali celebrated winning their opening game against Tunisia alone. The Tunisians were not on the pitch at the time. They stayed in their dressing room despite being ordered back to play the final few minutes of the match which has been ended prematurely by referee Janny Sikazwe, not once but twice. The first time was on 86 minutes. Play did restart but the ref blew up early again, with only 89 minutes. Both mistakes happened after lengthy VAR decisions. 1-0 down and having just missed a penalty, the Tunisian players were livid with the referee. Some 40 minutes later when having realised the mistake, CAF officials told both teams to get back on the pitch and finish the game. Mali complied but Tunisia refused and have subsequently lodged a protest. They want the match replayed. This Graham Poll level of incompetence has, understandably, overshadowed Mali’s impressive form: their seventh game without defeat. Gambia also won their opener. A considerably less eventful 1-0 win over Mauritania. This was The Scorpians’ first ever match in the Africa Cup of Nations and Ablie Jallow has the honour of scoring the first goal for his country in this tournament, with a sweet left-foot volley. TD


Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
16.30 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event
It’s almost eight years since either side experienced an away win in a league North London derby. The win Arsenal had at the Emirates in September was a milestone for the Gunners, placing them above their local rivals for the first time in almost a year. It was particularly noteworthy because just two weeks earlier, three games into the season, Tottenham were top of the Premier League while Arsenal were pointless at the bottom. Tottenham’s Nuno Espirito Santo lasted just five more weeks in the job after that defeat, and following the appointment of Antonio Conte their form has been as good as anyone else’s (apart from City, obviously) and are unbeaten in the league in the eight games they’ve played since the start of November (best not to dwell on performances in other competitions). What sort of spectacle this game will be largely depends on which Arsenal shows up. Already this new year we’ve seen Arteta’s side put in a creditible, if ultimately futile, performance against City, a lacklustre display against Forest in the FA Cup, and a gritty ten man shut-out of Liverpool at Anfield in the League Cup. GS


Ligue 1: Marseille v Lille
19.45 on BT Sport ESPN
In England, as soon as City opened up a ten point lead at the top of the table, the discourse turned to that of the sky having fallen and that the Premier League was now no better than all the other leagues with one runaway team. PSG’s lead at the top of Ligue 1 is still a yawning eleven points. I say still because they’ve been trying their hardest to make a contest out of it by drawing four of the last five league games. Sadly, no one seems to be able to take full advantage of the Parisiens’ fug, with the wheels having completely fallen off of Rennes’ challenge and everyone else falling short of title chasing form. Marseille look capable but have picked up an annoying habit of dropping points at home to sides in the lower mid-table. It took a penalty deep into injury time to salvage a point against Reims, which followed a defeat to Brest in a game where they led at half time. At the end of November, Lille, the current champions (always good to remind ourselves of that) were bottom half of the table. Things have improved for Les Dogues, and that has seen them join a chasing pack of seven teams, separated by just three points, hunting down the lower European spots. Transfer speculation hangs over both sides, with fatter wallets across the channel looking to tempt key players like Boubacar Kamara and Sven Botman. On the the pitch, both sides are tight defensively so there may only be one goal in it, but it’s far too close to say who’ll get it. GS


Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham and Jan

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