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

Weekend Boxset: Title racing

With all the feverish activity in the transfer market, you would think that everyone is far too busy to talk about title races but here we are. Arsenal are now officially favourites to win the Premier League but will they still be on Sunday evening?

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

All times are UK


Bundesliga: RB Leipzig v Bayern
19.30 on Sky Sports Mix
The Bundesliga is finally back after an extended break and its legion of patient fans can look forward to another rip-roaring season ending with Bayern winning the title again. And that’s not the only familiar feeling. The age-old trope of “Buy ‘em” - poaching their rival’s best players - has made a less than welcome return. Borussia Monchengladbach ‘keeper Yann Sommer is a January transfer to Bavaria. The outstanding Swiss international takes his place between the sticks, replacing Manuel Neuer who is out injured for the rest of the season after his skiing accident. This opening fixture sees Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann returning to his previous club, Leipzig. His record against his former employers is perfect, having won all four encounters since moving to Bavaria in 2021. In fact, the last three competitive games have been doozies with the two teams sharing 17 (seventeen) goals between them. Despite its plasticity, Leipzig have themselves have found some authenticity in their latest coach who is not only a Red Bull alumnus from his time at Salzburg but a Leipzig native. Marco Rose’s unhappy spell at Dortmund is behind him. His team have not lost in all competitions in 13 games. But don’t let that encourage you to put a home win on your coupon. Bayern have only beaten once all season and have won their last ten matches. Only a hopeless optimist would put money on them not making it an eleventh. TD


Premier League: Liverpool v Chelsea
12.30 on BT Sport 1 & Ultimate
It’s hard to believe that a match between these titans of the English game would see them sitting at ninth and tenth respectively. Equally mind-boggling are the rumours surrounding the stability of both managers’ positions. Klopp may be enduring a tough old time currently, but given all he’s achieved at Anfield after years in the (relative) wilderness, surely his job must be as safe as houses (current property market situation aside). Similarly, Graham Potter has been in his role since only October, picking up following the turmoil of the club’s change of owner and the exit of the ever capricious Thomas Tuchel. Still, it’s a numbers game and, to be fair, the numbers don’t look good for either of them. While Liverpool remain very good at home, the pressure of this fixture becoming their third straight defeat will sit heavy on their shoulders - there’s also Bighton away next, for good measure. Despite a good start for Potter, winning six of his first nine, he met his match against his former club, taking a 4-1 hammering. Failing to stem the flow of that particular wound, Chelsea endured a further three defeats before a very welcome world cup break. Inconsistency followed the restart which has brought calls from some knuckle-dragging, Oligarch-worshipping Blues fans to demand his head. A false dawn came in the form of the signing of the excellent Joao Felix who knocked the ball around beautifully for nearly an hour last week against local rivals, Fulham. Sadly, the straight red he received for a needlessly reckless tackle, means he won’t take part today. On the home bench, the injury list makes for weary reading. Out for this fixture are: Firmino, Jota, Nunez and van Dijk. Anyone’s guess, this one. I doubt we’re going to see a score-draw, but a goal either way may be enough. JB

Premier League: Crystal Palace v Newcastle United
17.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
These two met as recently as last November in the League Cup, a game that the filthy rich mags won on penalties. Since then, the Geordies have progressed in that competition and must be a good bet for the win. Their league form has also been impressive, only twice dropping points since October; although the FA Cup upset to lowly Sheffield Wednesday would have hurt. However, their Champions League qualification push continues apace and even without the injured Bruno Guimaraes, they will fancy their chances against a Palace side whose season was in danger of falling apart had Michael Olise not intervened on Wednesday evening at Selhurst Park. Palace kept pace with Manchester United in their 1-1 draw until Cheick Doucoure’s mistake let Bruno Fernandes in. Yes United dominated but David De Gea had to pull out two decent saves and Olise’s last gasp free-kick was fully deserved in my biased opinion. But it’s goals that are the problem - only 18 nets bulged this season. And they can’t hide behind expected net bulges which stand at just over 17. Patrick Viera switched to two strikers on Wednesday which may be worth persisting with given Palace are unlikely to be signing a 20-goal striker in the January window. Viera can be encouraged by the performance of Chris Richards. The former Bayern Munich USMNT defender put in a decent shift on his full debut standing in for the injured Joachim Andersen. TD

La Liga: Sevilla v Cádiz
20.00 on LaLigaTV and Viaplay Sports 2
Where has it all gone wrong for Sevilla? A side that has won the Europa League four times in the past decade and finished 4th in La Liga for the last three seasons, finds itself embroiled in a very real relegation scrap. Both of these Andalucian sides are in the relegation zone. For Cadiz that’s nothing new, they were in the 3rd teir of Spanish football as recently as 2016 and as they’re only three points behind Valencia in 12th they may feel that can enjoy the ride and let the fates decide. For Sevilla it’s much more important. If they were hoping for a new manager bounce with the return of Jorge Sampaoli it hasn’t materialised. They were awful when they sacked Julen Lopetegui and they’re still awful now. The last time they were relegated, in 2000, they appointed their recently retired goalkeeper, Monchi, as director of football. Throughout all their success since then he has been there pulling the strings but there is a feeling he’s no longer being supported in the transfer market. Players have been sold - most tellingly the centre back partnership of Joules Koundé and Diego Carlos - and not replaced. Injuries have plagued the squad all season but they still have a number of familiar names in the line up. Familiar, but not stellar, and in many cases a little creaky. Moroccan World Cup heroes Bono and Youssef En Nesyri line up with Ivan Rakitic (34), Fernando (35) and Jesus Navas (37). Sprinkle in names like Erik Lamela and Adnan Januzaj and you get an idea of the disperate bunch Sampaoli has to work with. While this match wouldn’t usually generate a febrile local derby atmosphere, the home fans certainly won’t hold back with their frustrations. A fascinating but uneasy watch. GS


Championship: Sunderland v Middlesbrough
12.00 on Sky Sports Football, Main Event & Ultra
The natives of the Teesside region are referred to as ‘Smoggies’ due to the hazardous levels of heavy metals in the air and drinking water. Like most of us from God’s own country, I don’t really mind Smoggies. I have one as a brother-in-law and Sunderland’s current manager, Tony Mowbray, is both a teessider and a ‘Boro legend. For the inhabitants of Teesside, though, a match against either Sunderland or the (dirty) Mags is definitely a Northeast derby. Of course, this definition is as inaccurate as it is one way - Middlesbrough is, in fact, in North Yorkshire. Imagined rivalries aside, Mowbray takes today’s game hoping for a bounceback from last week’s needless loss against fellow play-off contenders, Swansea. The game seemed to be going well until baby-faced utility player, Luke O’Nien, scythed down Swansea’s Ollie Cooper in an unnecessary challenge on the centre-spot. Predictably, he was shown a straight red and his exposed, but spirited, colleagues ultimately went down 3-1. A frustrating afternoon for a side who had put together a decent run of late. Six places above in fourth sit ‘Boro, one of two Yorkshire clubs in the top six. Last time the sides met, ‘Boro had won just one of their opening seven, and pipped Sunderland 1-0 in their first of many games without Ross Stewart who pulled up during the warm-up. According to the aforementioned brother-in-law, ‘Boro are a different side to the one we faced back in September. He’s not wrong, either (for once); the Smogs have lost just once since early November, winning eight times. “We’re able to score from multiple sources and grind out results’ he went on to say. "We’ll squeeze a 2-1 win despite the atmosphere" was his prediction. I know, I know - he can’t help it. It’s all the lead in his brain. JB

Scottish Cup fourth round: Hibernian v Heart of Midlothian
14.00 on Viaplay Sports 1
If it’s the Scottish Cup then eventually we’ll get an Edinburgh derby. These sides meet in this competition for the sixth times in eight seasons, with the two most recent meetings being semi-finals. Hearts narrowly had the better of those semis (though went on to lose the finals) and are in better form in the league than their city rivals, but at a packed Easter Road this is a tough one to call. Former Sunderland and Bristol City manager Lee Johnson is now in charge of Hibs. Nicknamed "Streaky" by fans of the clubs he’s managed, he has the reputation for stringing short runs of good or bad form - which, while frustrating in leagues, can come in handy in cup competitons. He took Bristol City to the EFL Cup semis and won the EFL Trophy with Sunderland so he may be just the man to take Hibs to a fourth consecutive Cup semi-final and beyond. Johnson also knows a little about the opposition, he briefly joined Hearts when Graham Rix was in charge back in 2006 and played alongside Hearts manager Robbie Neilson. Rix was sacked within a couple of months and Johnson dropped out of the squad - not even making it to the bench for Hearts’ Cup final win against Gretna - after which he left to play for his dad Gary at Bristol City. The only other all Premiership tie in the fourth round is St Johnstone against Rangers on Saturday evening, and is also on Viaplay. Monday night sees sixth tier Darvel host Aberdeen. The West of Scotland League side has scored 23 goals in their four games in the competition so far, including five away to League One side Montrose. That game will be on BBC Scotland and the iPlayer. GS

Premier League: Arsenal v Manchester United
16.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
Despite them taking an eight point lead in the table, Sky Sports pundit Gary Nevile is doing his best to take the heat from under Arsenal’s title chances and reckons they will finish third behind City and his former side United. Had United beaten Palace on Wednesday night, you would say that ten Hag’s side certainly had the momentum behind them to cause concern for a team that hasn’t finished in the top four for the last five seasons. Michael Olise’s injury time equaliser - a screaming direct free kick that delightfully caught the underside of the bar - could prove another turning point in United’s season. It certainly makes a more spectacular turning point than Casemiro picking up a yellow card for a rash scissors challenge on Wilfried Zaha - a fifth of the season and crucially enough to him miss this match. Fred is likely to come in for his Brazil teammate, which United fans shouldn’t be too disappointment by: he had one of his better games against Arsenal in a 3-2 win at Old Trafford in 2021 - providing an assist for Bruno Fernandes for the first, and winning a penalty for Ronaldo to bag the winner. United’s chances of finishing above Arsenal look to rest on a win here. For them to claw back the gap will be hard enough but they also have a relentless schedule. In addition to the extra game they’ve played this week, United play three more games than Arsenal between now and the end of next month, including two legged ties in the EFL Cup semi-final and against Barcelona in the Europa League. Of course that doesn’t mean it’ll be plain sailing for the Gunners. It doesn’t require too much imagination to picture Arteta in April vorciferating to Geoff Shreeves that Pep "has to go to Fulham and get something". GS

Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham and Jan

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