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: Actual title races



It’s March and there are no runaway leaders in either England, Italy or Spain. Who needs a Super League? (Apart from Juve, Real and Barcelona).

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


All times are GMT


Friday

Championship: Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest
19.45 on Sky Sports Football & Main Event
A game between two teams that are getting stuck into the promotion battle after bad starts to the season. A 61st-minute goal from Jake Cooper interrupted an eight-game unbeaten run for Sheffield United as they went down 1-0 to Millwall at The Den last Saturday. That was only United’s second defeat in the league since Paul Heckingbottom was promoted to manager, from the Under 23s, after Slaviša Jokanović was sacked in November. I imagine many Blades fans are pondering where they would be had they kept the 44-year-old coach in post after they were relegated. Top men this season are Wolves loanee Morgan Gibbs-White and the evergreen Billy Sharp. The 22-year-old attacking midfielder, Gibbs-White, is in prime form with seven goals and five assists. Age hasn’t blunted Sharp’s goalscoring instincts. The 36-year-old has found the net 12 times this season. The home side already have an advantage over their opponents. Forest midfielder and one of their best players, Max Lowe is on loan from the Bramhall Lane club and will not play. This will be a blow for Forest who, based on their FA Cup form, look like one of the best teams in the country under coach Steve Cooper. Twelve goal striker Lewis Grabban is out injured, sadly. But Cooper has been using Keinan Davis instead, who plays up front with ten-goal Brennan Johnson. The Welshman has scored six goals in the last eight games, including one against Leicester in the FA Cup. TD


Saturday

A-League Men: Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney
08.45 on BT Sport 3
Two teams who have significantly underperformed this season go into the Sydney derby with one win apiece in their last five games and a lot more to play for than just bragging rights. Sydney have been the dominant team in the A League in recent years but an ageing squad and an inability from coach Steve Corica to move beyond his tried and tested 4-2-2-2 formation sees the Sky Blues placed precariously in 6th, the last finals slot, having played 3 more games than the chasing pack. That pack includes Wanderers, who have already dispensed with the hapless Carl Robinson and turned to Sydney old boy Mark Rudan to turn their season around. A win here would bring Wanderers to within three points of their crosstown rivals, which makes this an unusual must win for both teams. Their first meeting of the season was an entertaining goalless draw. That’s unlikely to be the case this time around. GA


Premier League: Liverpool v West Ham United
17.30 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event
Klopp’s side will no doubt be buoyed by their League Cup success last weekend. Of course, talk of a potential quadruple becomes unavoidable if you still happen to be in with a shout of everything else available. Having clawed back City’s lead in the title race, and secured the season’s first silverware, Liverpool look ominous right now but have they really been tested? Can it really be three months since Liverpool won a league match against anyone in the top half? Well, actually it is, which makes looking at the current form table a less than reliable predictor of where the title is going this season. And they will certainly get a stern test from The Hammers, who still have a reasonable shout at a Champions League place. The result when these sides met earlier in the season largely hinged on Craig Pawson’s decision to correctly award an early goal to West Ham when Alisson Becker failed to reach a near post corner. That decision has been seen by certain sections of the Reds’ support to be a part of a refereeing conspiracy against the club, which was confirmed by the split-second peek into Pawson’s soul that was shown by a super-slow-motion replay of Spurs’ winner against against City, for which he was the fourth official. GS


La Liga: Real Madrid v Real Sociedad
20.00 on LaLigaTV
If Atleti or Barca were six points behind Real Madrid at the top of the table then we might be inclined to think that the title race was still on. But with Sevilla a comfortable second and likely to be preoccupied with the prospect of hosting and playing in the Europa League Final (perhaps against Betis) it seems very likely that the championship will be making a short trip to the Bernabeau come May. This means that coach Carlos Ancelotti may himself choose to focus on European matters and rotate ahead of the Champions League return leg against PSG which is in the balance. The last time we had Sociedad on the Boxset it was for the Basque Derby and they were hammered 4-0. After that, they were knocked out of the Europa League by Leipzig. However, they’ve bounced back with back to back wins and clean sheets against Osasuna and Mallorca respectively. Those wins served to restore a bit of pride and lift the White and Blues up into sixth place. TD


Sunday

Bundesliga: Mainz v Borussia Dortmund
14.30 on Sky Sports Football
Off the back of three impressive results against, Leverkusen, Freiburg and Hoffenheim, Mainz were disappointed to lose to Union Berlin side last weekend. Dominik Kohr was red-carded after an hour and there was a lengthy VAR review for Union’s second goal which could have gone either way. Mainz coach, Bo Svennson was unable to contain his rage and was booked during the first half. The young Danish coach has done an amazing job but needs to be careful about the message he is sending to his players about staying cool under pressure. Defender Alexander Hack was also booked and, along with Kohr will miss this match. Dortmund meanwhile, while hardly in crisis, are hugely disappointed that their season is effectively over, bar the formality of Champions League qualification. Out of the DFB Pokal and following the humiliation against Rangers, out of the Europa League. Last week’s drab 1-1 draw with struggling Augsburg was another symbol of Borussia’s decline this season. Under pressure coach Marco Rose can’t even rely on the return of Erling Haaland, absent for 6 games now. The Norwegian striker is taking longer to recover from his muscle injury than expected and is not expected to be fit. TD
MATCH POSTPONED: Sadly this game has been called off and will now played on 16 March. Arsenal v Watford is on Sky Sports Premier league or maybe you'd prefer Venezia v Sassuolo on BT Sport Extra 2.

Premier League: Manchester City v Manchester United
16.30 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event
For many years under Ferguson, this fixture for United was less important than the game against Liverpool. These days it could be said that for City, this is the undercard for next month’s main event against Klopp’s side. The trouble is, this is a game City invariably lose. Pep’s only success at the Etihad against United came in the last knockings of Mourinho’s tenure. He lost all three against Jose’s sucessor, Ole Gunnar Skolsjaer (all of which kept him in post for longer than he should have been). Will he have any better luck against interim manager Ralf Rangnick? The two never faced each other in Germany, Rangnick was having a spell out of the game when Pep arrived at Bayern and by the time he’d taken RB Leipzig into the top flight, Pep was already off to City. If you don’t count the Cup exit to Boro on penalties, United have lost just one of their last 20 games in all competitions. Trouble is they’ve drawn nine of those games, more often than not, after taking the lead. Rangnick could do well to keep faith in Anthony Elanga. Having joined the United youth set up at the age of 12, the Sweden U21 has been handed an opportunity to show what can do in the absense of Mason Greenwood. Having received online abuse after missing the penalty in the aforementioned Cup exit, he was on the end of physical abuse from an object thrown at him in the recent win against Leeds, but came through it to score United’s equaliser in the their Champions League first leg against Atletico Madrid. GS


Serie A: Napoli v Milan
19.45 on BT Sport 1
Only goal difference separates the two sides at the top of the Serie A table, but Inter will most likely retake the top position by the time this match starts as they host bottom-placed Salernitana on Friday. Napoli are the current leaders but to get there they needed an injury time winner from Fabián Ruiz at Lazio last weekend, after Pedro grabbed a stunning late equaliser for the home side. Milan were the top team going into last weekend’s round of games but could only take a point at home to Udinese - with 19-year-old Destiny Udogie getting his first Serie A goal to deny the Rossoneri a win. It’s almost as if it just was meant to be. Milan’s goal came form their in-form young striker from Portugal, Rafael Leão. If you’re the sort of person who likes their stats to be as meaningless as possible, that goal saw him become only his side’s second player to score on every day of the week (Sheva was the other one). This game should create many more worthier talking points, mostly centring around whether or not Napoli have it in them to end their 32 year wait for a third league title. GS


Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham and Gary Andrews (@gafootbl)

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