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Weekend Boxset: Bunga banter

Covering seven different competitions this week, there’s so much in this Boxset that we needed to call in some help. As if looking at Arsenal’s title wobbles, Silvio Berlusconi, the uncertain future of PSG and the women’s international football calendar wasn't enough, it’s great to welcome back Gary Andrews to review the big derby in Melbourne.

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

All times are UK


Championship: Cardiff City v Reading
20.00 on Sky Sports Football, Main Event & Ultra
New Cardiff manager, Sabri Lamouchi, finally got a win out of the South Wales outfit on Tuesday away at fellow strugglers, Birmingham. The former Forest manager was brought in a month ago to arrest a dramatic run which saw them winless since early November. New signing, Connor Wickham (remember him?), made his debut at Brum and helped his new side out with an assist for Callum Robinson who scored the kind of individual goal Messi would have been proud of. Watching the game back, Cardiff looked anything other than a side in trouble, which may mean they’ve turned something of a corner. Reading, too, had a vital win on Valentine’s day, thanks to a last minute winner in a hard-fought game. That result ended a dire six-match run for Paul Ince’s men where they collected just three points across a trio of score-draws. There were boos ringing around the ground when they went behind on Tuesday to Rotherham. Frustration, perhaps, at the side’s reputation for negative football. On that note, if you’d like a chuckle, and who doesn’t, have a listen to Ince’s feisty exchange with a local BBC journo following the recent loss at the Stadium of Light - the ‘negative’ accusation didn’t sit well with him that night. With one of the worst away records in the division, he’ll have to raise his charges to get something out of this one. Cardiff win, for me.JB


A-League: Melbourne Victory v Melbourne City
08.45 on BT Sport 3
Expect a lot of eyes on this game, both domestically and globally. This is less for the football itself (more on that in a minute) and more because this is the follow-up fixture from December’s abandoned match, when Victory fans invaded the pitch, injuring City keeper Tom Glover and referee Alex King. The background to the invasion is a bit too complex to go into detail here, but suffice to say the incident set back Australian football’s battle for hearts and minds in a country that genuinely gets behind the national sides but is, at best, lukewarm to the domestic league (Joe Gorman’s excellent Death and Life of Australian Soccer is good reading if you want to understand the game’s place in Australia).This Saturday’s match is unlikely to be quite as dramatic off the pitch with Victory restricted in ticket sales and under threat of a more several punishment if their fans misbehave. On the pitch, things are scarcely going any better for Australia’s biggest club. They sit plum last in the table - an unusual state of affairs for a Tony Popovic coached side - and have lost top scorer Nick D’Agostino to Norwegian club Viking during the transfer window. On paper they have a strong squad, but are leaking goals and are struggling to find the net. Opposite them are a Melbourne City side who are marching ominously towards another title, relentlessly crushing all who get in their way; a footballing version of Robert Patrick’s T-1000, if you will. Even the departure of coach Patrick Kisnorbo to French Ligue 1 club Troyes has failed to stop their march. It would be a huge surprise if Victory walked away with all three point, but this is the A League and a win puts Victory still in contention for a finals slot. GA

Premier League: Aston Villa v Arsenal
12.30 on BT Sport 1 & Ultimate
Well it was bound to happen sooner or later. After months of being The New Dominant Force In English Football, Arsenal have finally gone back to being a banter club. Having dropped just seven points in the first half of the season, the Gunners have dropped eight in the first three games of the second half, and have given up top spot in the table to Man City, albeit still with a game in hand. While they can feel genuinely hard done by through admitted refereeing incompetence in the draw against Brentford, the defeats against Everton and City were largely of their own making. Both games exposed the hole left by Gabriel Jesus, still out through an injury picked up during the World Cup. While Eddie Nketiah impressed in his early games after the restart, he missed easy chances against City and struggles to create as many chances for his team mates as the Brazilian. Analysts have speculated that Arteta could juggle things around up front, playing Martinelli centrally or even recalling Folarin Balogun from his impressive loan at Reims, but both of those options have been ruled out by the Spaniard. And so he goes into this one against his predecessor at the club, Unai Emery, hoping that the formula that worked before will work again. And maybe Emery will be hoping the same for his club. He had a sensational start to life at Villa Park but a heavy home defeat to Leicester followed by a 3-1 reverse at the Etihad have tempered the jubilant post-Stevie G mood a little. Interesting side note for fact fans: this is the first time a former Arsenal manager has faced his old club in the Premier League since George Graham’s Spurs drew 1-1 with the Gunners in December 2000. A similar result today doesn’t sound too far-fetched. GS

Serie A: Monza v Milan
17.00 on BT Sport 2
The Berlusconi bunga bunga classico is back, baby. It’s not a classic derby but one we are likely to see again at least next year. In case you missed our last preview on Monza, they are the proud possession of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who, as I’m sure you know, used to own Milan back in their heyday. Under his loving care Monza are looking set for a prolonged period in the top flight, propelled by the former media mogul’s financial largesse and imaginative incentive schemes. The team’s success has not been achieved by parking the busload of hookers. Raffaele Palladino’s team have been spreading the goals around and, a defeat to Juve in the cup aside, are undefeated in nine league games. The coach still benefits from the performances of his highest rated defender, Armando Izzo despite facing a four-year prison sentence for charges relating to mafia links and sporting fraud. Perhaps the club owner can put a word in on the young man’s behalf? The last time these two teams met was at the San Siro and Milan convincingly won 4-1. But as we know it’s been a troubled season for the champions. The week before last, when I previewed the Milan derby, I suggested that the Rossoneri would need to bring the chaos to have a chance against Inter and that did not happen. But the result does look like it’s helped them turn a corner. Last weekend they beat Torino 1-0; a result they duplicated in the Champions league against Antonio Conte’s Tottenham that was enjoyed by all. Are the champions on their way back? A good indicator is if they can bring a tear to Papa Silvio’s eye. TD


Ligue 1: Paris Saint-Germain v Lille
12.00 on BT Sport 1
Have PSG become a crisis club? They are still five points clear at the top of Ligue 1 and they’re only one goal down to Bayern going into the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 tie. But things are definitely not going well. They conceded three before half time in their defeat to Monaco last weekend and were knocked out of the Coupe de France before the quarter final stage for a second season in a row (they were previously on a run of seven consecutive finals, winning six). The fans are protesting and their mega-star players are reportedly looking for a way out. And on top of disappointing performances on the pitch, the future of PSG as a European supergiant looks in doubt as it appears that their Qatari owners are emerging as the favoutites to secure a buyout of Manchester United. Under UEFA rules you can’t own two teams in the same tournament. That said, club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi also happens to be on UEFA’s Executive Committee and is a key ally of UEFA boss, Aleksander Ceferin (after the European Super League nonsense) so maybe they will be able to own both clubs at once. Red Bull obviously found a way around it with Leipzig and Salzburg even facing each other in the 2018/19 Group stage of the Champions League. Lille sit fifth having struggled to maintain any kind of form all season, but a good win away to Rennes at the start of the month is showing encouraging signs for Les Dogues. 23 year old German-born Kosovan midfielder Edon Zhegrova shone in that match scoring Lille’s first and assisting with the other two. GS

Arnold Clark Cup: England v Italy
15.15 on ITV1, STV and ITVX
With the first glimpses of spring comes the raft of women’s mini-international tournaments. In just its second running, the Arnold Clark is a newbie compared to the Algarve Cup, the SheBelieves or even the Pinatar but has taken advantage of the growing popularity of women’s football in England. Where there’s popularity there’s money and the days of these mini tournaments could be numbered with UEFA burdening the women’s international calendar with a Nations League starting in the autumn. The Lionesses played 19 matches last year - six more than their male counterparts - and with club football also looking to expand, both domestically and in Europe, something will have to give. Italy got to the quarter finals of the World Cup in 2019 but had a poor Euros last summer finishing bottom of the group after a disastrous start that saw them trail France 5-0 at half-time in their opener. Women’s football in Italy should see improvement in the coming years now that Serie A has become fully professional, from the start of this season. Most of this young Azzure side come from perrenial champions Juventus but a growing number are coming from the new power in Italian women’s football, Roma. Italy had a disappointing start to this tournament against Belgium, losing to a last minute goal on Thursday afternoon. England’s tournament couldn’t have had a more comfortable start with a 4-0 win over South Korea, with goals from Georgia Stanway, Chloe Kelly, Alessia Russo and a first inetrenational goal for Chelsea’s Lauren James. Belgium and South Korea face each other after this game on ITV4. The final round of fixtures is on Wednesday. GS

La Liga: Atlético Madrid v Athletic Bilbao
17.30 on LaLigaTV and Viaplay Sports 1
Athletic Club appeared in the Boxset only last week ahead of their supporting role in the latest episode in the psychodrama that is Valencia CF. The Basque club played its role to perfection: beating the home side 2-1 while, in the opening stanza of the match, a mass of Valencia fans picketed outside the Mestalla, calling for the club’s owner. The win was Athletic’s second in a row and broke a run of three losses that has set back their ambitions this season. The club started the season with a new president and a new old coach in the form of Ernesto Valverde, most recently of Barcelona but back in Bilbao for his third stint as coach. Valverde also played 170 games for the club in the 90s and although has not worked since losing his job in Catalunya in 2020, the two times La Liga winning coach is seen as something of a prestige appointment, especially in view of his history with the club. But Velverde’s record as coach against their opponents is none too impressive, having only ever beaten the Madrid club three times at Barcelona. Atleti, for their part, have found some consistency in recent weeks and new signing Memphis Depay from the aforementioned Barca has settled in. The title is an unlikely target this season but this match is between two Champions League qualification hopefuls so there will be plenty at stake. TD

Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham, Jan and Gary

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