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: Good to be back



Club football returns and so do we, with a couple of huge derbies in the Premier League and Slaven Bilic back in English football (for now).

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


All times are UK (GMT+1)


Friday

Primeira Liga: Porto v Braga
21.15 on BT Sport 3
While Benfica sets the pace sitting atop Liga Portugal having made a fantastic start both domestically and in Europe, last season’s champions and tonight’s hosts, Porto, aren’t having the best of times by their own high standards. Despite starting the season with three straight wins, they went down 3-1 away to Rio Ave and, most recently, spared their own blushes with a ninety-ninth minute equaliser against Estoril. In between these games came two defeats in the Champions League, the latter of which was a 4-0 drumming at home to Club Bruges. To be fair, they are still third, but they’re well behind the form they showed last season where they lost only once… and who was it that spoilt their unbeaten run? Well, I’m glad you asked me that! It was none other than tonight’s visitors, Braga. While not as fashionable as the clubs from Portugal’s principal cities, Braga quietly get on with the job, usually finishing a (very) comfortable fourth and occasionally reaching the Champions League qualifiers. This term they have started incredibly well, only dropping points in an epic 3-3 draw against Sporting in the season opener. Since then they have scored on more occasions than anyone else, helped, in no small part, by the arrival of Simon Banza from Lens who spent last season on loan down the road at Famalicão. A hard one to call, this one: Porto have yet to lose at home and Braga have a 100% record on the road. My money is on Braga nipping it 1-0. JB


Saturday

Premier League: Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur
12.30 on BT Sport 1
The sides may be first and third respectively in the Premier League table but there is still a feeling that both still need to prove themselves when it really matters. Arsenal lost their biggest game so far, away to United, while Spurs came out of the chaos of Conte’s return to Stamford Bridge with a 3-3 draw. Both games, its fair to say, were affected by choices made by the referees and their video assistants and it won’t be a shock if this game has similiar chaotic scenes. That said, recent North London derbies have been a little less febrile than other standout fixtures, probably helped by the fact that neither side has an away win in this fixture going back to 2014. Conte too is without a win at this ground but you wonder if his mind goes back to a 3-0 defeat early in the 2016/17, which was the turning point in a season where his Chelsea side would become champions. As ever, after an international break, there are injury issues involving key players. Dejan Kulusevski has a hamstring niggle after his two games for Sweden, but for Arsenal the news looks better with Keiran Tierney and Oleksander Zinchenko looking set to return having missed out on facing each other for their respective countries. One player definitely out for the Gunners is Emile Smith Rowe, who, having undergone surgery, will not return to the side until after the World Cup. With Liverpool coming up next week, it’s the start of a tough month for Arsenal (though the fixtures have been made easier with the postponement of the City game to play the rescheduled Europa League match against PSV). It’ll be an even tougher month if they lose top spot to their local rivals. GS


La Liga: Sevilla v Atlético Madrid
17.30 on LaLigaTV and Premier Sports 2
A match between two teams packed with talent but with problems. Atleti’s run deep. The Madrid club have a crippling debt that is even affecting team selection (due to the structure of his loan, the club can’t afford to play Antoine Griezmann for a full 90 minutes per game). Coach Diego Simeone is being criticized for continuing to play with the handbrake on. His persistence in using Axel Witzel as a centre back is bizarre as any Dortmund fan will tell you. There is even talk that his time may soon be coming. Most seriously, the club’s fans are under scrutiny following the racist chanting of “monkey” aimed at Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jnr before and during the derby defeat in the last match day. The last time Sevilla were on the Boxset it looked bad for coach Julen Lopetegui. Since then, he’s coaxed his team into a somewhat chaotic 3-2 win over Espanyol followed by a decent point against Villareal. This doesn’t get Lopetegui off the hook and there are some good quality coaches still out of work. So, the ice remains pretty thin in the heat of Seville. TD


Ligue 1: Paris Saint Germain v Nice
20.00 on BT Sport 2
Whatever the French term is for having the dreaded vote of confidence from the board, Nice head coach Lucien Favre has it. You know you’re in trouble if Scott Parker is being rumoured to replace you. His side, featuring former Premier League misfits like Nicholas Pepe and Ross Barclay, is unsurprisingly struggling for consistency. While they definitely have the talent, it all looks a bit faded. You can easily imagine any promotional material for the club looking like a poster for a provincial theatre panto: "Starring: 2016 Premier League champion Kasper Schmeichel, Euro 2016 semi-finalist Aaron Ramsey, and Joe Bryan (from Fulham)". Their defensive rock, Dante, is a couple of weeks short of his 39th birthday, and has played every minute of the season so far (including the extra half hour in their Conference League play-off against Maccabi Tel Aviv). Having taken Nice to fifth in the table and the French Cup final last season, Christophe Galtier is now in charge of a bunch of geniune A-listers at PSG and has them in the form they should be in. The only points they’ve dropped so far this season were at home to Monaco. Can the principality’s neighbours spring a similar shock and save Favre from the chop? They certainly have the individual talent, and sometimes that’s all it needs, but you can’t base a season on it. GS


Sunday

Championship: Stoke City v Watford
12.00 on Sky Sports Football & Main Event
In April 2019, Watford changed their walk-on music from the Z-Cars theme tune to Elton John’s 1983 hit I’m Still Standing. While they may have changed their tune in a literal way, the club’s owners certainly haven’t in the idiomatic sense of the phrase. Slaven Bilic becomes their seventeenth appointment since sacking Sean Dyche in the Pozzo familiy’s first month in charge, back in July 2012, and their ninth since the introduction of a walk-on song which is about bouncing back from a toxic relationship. Why the club chose to dispense with services of Rob Edwards is anyone’s guess but with Bilic already experienced in winning promotion from the Championship with West Brom, they obviously feel they have the better man for the job. And despite a lukewarm start, promotion is still very attainable. Aside from the teams at the extremes of the table, the Championship is as impossible to call as ever; both of these sides are sat in the middle of a table which has teams in the play-off places and the relegation zone separated by just five points. Having sorted out his work permit, Bilic should be on the touchline for this one, which also happens to be Alex Neil’s first home game in charge of Stoke since joining from Sunderland just before the international break. GS


Premier League: Manchester City v Manchester United
14.00 on Sky Sports Premier League & Main Event
Six weeks ago, the conversations around Manchester United were quite different. Humiliated by Brentford and with the club’s ownership and foundations under attack. Then coach Eric ten Haag, anxious to last more than ten games, did what had to be done. He dropped Ronaldo and (unlike Gareth Southgate) Harry Maguire. Four league games later and the narrative has shifted. Casemiro joined and of more immediate impact, so did Antony. Now the Old Trafford club look the part and Eric should be around for considerably longer than ten games. But can they overcome a pretty ominous looking City? Pep Guardiola’s team have dropped points against Newcastle and Villa but only Brighton have conceded fewer goals this season. And there is of course the small matter of how to stop the human cheat code, Erling Haaland. So far, the former Dortmund striker is being used as a sharp instrument, averaging just under 14 touches per goal. United will need to isolate him from Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden. Maybe this will be the time for Casemiro to make his first start. This feels like a perfect challenge for the combative midfielder in a derby atmosphere that he should relish. TD


Serie A: Atalanta v Fiorentina
17.00 on BT Sport 3
After a moderately disappointing eighth place last season, Atalanta have leapt out of the blocks and only goal difference keeps them from the top spot of the table after seven games. Gian Piero Gasperini’s team have benefited to some degree from slow starts by champions Milan, likely challengers Inter and the less said about Juventus the better. Another potential title contender is Roma, who the Bergamo side beat 1-0 just before the international break. 18-year-old Giorgio Scalvini scored the only goal. A note of caution though: La Dea were lucky not to concede two goals in what was a feisty game which saw Roma coach Jose Mourinho sent off. Fiorentina’s 2-0 win over Hellas Verona was their first victory in the league since the opening week of the season. The xG table actually places La Viola above their opponents in the table, but the club are having problems scoring actual goals; just the seven so far. Part of the problem is Luka Jović. The Serbian former Real Madrid striker couldn’t get past Karim Benzema and is now struggling to get past Serie A defenders, troubling the scorers just once so far. But he is getting games and if he can recapture his old Eintracht Frankfurt form, could be a big player this season. TD


Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham and Jan

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