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: In the firing line

It may be the season of goodwill but this week’s selection of matches has more then a couple of managers who might be starting the new year looking for a job.

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

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All times are UK


Premier League: Nottingham Forest v Tottenham Hotspur
20.00 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
Despite having taken just one point from his last five games, Steve Cooper still has the support of Forest fans. Last weekend’s match against Wolves was seen by many as make or break for the Forest manager, with the draw they got merely bringing a stay of execution. Still they chanted his name, but will those chants become more of a fond farewell than a show of support if the defeats keep coming? Ange Postecoglou’s own run of just one point from a possible fifteen ended last weekend with a necessary 4-1 hammering of a Newcastle side clearly struggling to meet the demands of a combined domestic and European campaign. That’s not say that Spurs aren’t themselves struggling with missing players. Giovani Lo Celso became the latest name to be added to Spurs’ lengthy injury list, but all signs are that his absense should be brief. Brennan Johnson made the move from Forest to Spurs on deadline day for a fee of £47.5 million. That investment was clearly seen as long-term, but his role has changed from impact sub to starter with the absense of James Maddison, who won’t be returning until at least February. It should be a febrile atmosphere at the Forest ground and for Johnson an emotional return to the town of his birth, to play the club he joined as an eight-year-old. GS


Championship: Ipswich Town v Norwich City
12.30 on Sky Sports Football, Main Event & Ultra
They call this one the ‘Old Farm Derby’ in reference to the agricultural heritage of this ancient English kingdom of East Anglia. Usually left off the list of the most hotly contested rivalries, Ipswich versus Norwich is a big deal in these parts. Indeed, these are quite literally two tribes, with the invading Angles dividing the region up between the north-folk and south-folk, which gave the present two counties their names. In modern times, it’s been more or less even between the two sides over the 148 matches played, the last of which was almost five years ago. The promotion of Ipswich from League One last term revives a fixture which, despite lack of interest from the rest of England, will attract 30,000 fans to Portman Road, requiring extra trains and an early kick-off to keep the locals sober and less fighty. The hosts go into this one with great momentum, having stormed the Championship since their promotion. Currently in second place, they have swept all before them, save a little hiccup in November. They remain ten points clear of third place Leeds thanks to a good midweek win away at Watford. The man in charge is Kieran McKenna, who was assistant to Mourinho, Solskjær and Rangnick during a turbulent time at Old Trafford. His impressive record in Suffolk has seen him linked with higher profile roles, but being in charge of a side that is only a few months away from back-to-back promotions, he’s wisely chosen to remain. His opposite number is David Wagner, himself no stranger to the Championship following his successful spell at Huddersfield Town. His side may have put together a decent three-match unbeaten run, but Ipswich are incredibly strong at home, and should take the three points today. JB

Premier League: Burnley v Everton
17.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
I wonder if Vincent Kompany drives past The Royal Dyche on his way to Turf Moor? If he comes in on the M65, he’d have to make a big detour to avoid it. The pub (formerly known as the Princess Royal, until 2018) still has the image of Sean Dyche as Holbein’s Henry VIII as its sign, swinging above the main entrance, from which you can see the ground. Such is the former manager’s status in the town, the pub’s landlady has no plans to change the name any time soon, and of course she gets asked that question every day. Dyche was in charge of Burnley for almost a decade securing two promotions to the Premier League and taking the club into Europe. It was that sense that Dyche was Burnley that made the decision to fire him in April 2022 all the more surprising. Kompany was appointed in the summer and romped to the Championship title securing promotion by a huge 21 points. He was offered a new five year contract on the strength of that - which was either a sign that they wanted him around to create a new legacy, or they recognised that a successful manager of his profile would soon attract the attention of big clubs across Europe who’d be willing to buy him out. Whichever reason, the owners clearly have faith in him and are sticking by him in a difficult season. Who knows, maybe he does sit in traffic on Yorkshire Road, thinking: "One day it’ll be my name above that door". GS

Ligue 1: Lens v Reims
20.00 on TNT Sports 5
While the two sides sit level on points in the table, they come into this game in markedly different form. While Reims have lost three of their last four, Lens are on a run of ten without defeat - closing a seven point gap between the clubs within a month. Earlier this week, reports in France emerged that Reims head coach and 2022 meme Will Still was in London to discuss the vacant role of Sunderland manager with club owner Kyril Louis Dreyfus. The 31 year old Belgian/English coach (five years the senior of the Black Cats owner) has denied that the meeting took place, adding that he travels to London every week to visit his girlfriend. Speculation will continue to surround Still until Sunderland eventually appoint Michael Beale. Which would be a shame as with Sunderland’s love of exciting young midfielders they might hope that Still would bring Amir Richardson with him to the Stadium of Light. The 6’6" 21 year old recently selected Morocco, his mother’s country, as his full international option, though he could have opted for France, where he was born, or his father’s country, the USA. His father is Micheal Ray Richardson - the first player ever to be banned for life from the NBA. If you’d like to know the story of Amir’s dad you should check out Chris Rock’s 2000 documentary Whatever Happened to Micheal Ray? GS


Serie A: Milan v Monza
11.30 on TNT Sports 2
If you heard this week’s podcast, you’ll know that these sides met as recently as August in what will be a regular pre-season fixture to compete for the Silvio Berlusconi Trophy - a competition to commermorate the man who benefacted both clubs and who passed away in June. It took penalties to decide who would go home with the silverware that day and this match looks like it could be just as close. It may only be 18 months since Stefano Pioli delivered the Scudetto to Milan but the 58 year old’s position as head coach is now in the balance. Injuries and ill-discipline have seen the Rossoneri fall away from the leading two and slide towards a congested pack of teams chasing the Champions League places. They picked up their fifth red card of the season in last weekend’s defeat to Atalanta. Davide Calabria’s subsequent suspension will leave their defence looking even more threadbare. This week the club’s owners announced the appointment of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as an advisor. Quite what his role will be is unclear at the moment, it just seems they like the idea of having the big guy around. No need to worry yourself, Stefano. Monza’s first season in Serie A saw them finish midtable, winning as many games as they lost - which was a fine achievement when you consider they started the season with just one point from their opening six games. That was the point they promoted their U19s coach Raffaele Palladino. Had the season started at that point Monza would have finished in sixth place. Palladino has maintained that good form into this season and a finish among the European places doesn’t look beyond them. GS

Premier League: Liverpool v Manchester United
16.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
When a man reaches a certain age, he begins his decline: no longer as potent as he once was up front, and certainly not as confident at the back, his glory days are behind him. He might crack a misty-eyed smile at a time when he was considered to be at his zenith, the centre of attention, awarded for his successes, the toast of the town, but, no more - sadly, decline comes to us all. Which brings me nicely on to Manchester United. Dumped out of the Champions League by Bayern midweek, United travel to Anfield to the scene of last season’s bloodbath of a game where they were humiliated by their bitter rivals seven-nil. In recent weeks, ten Hag’s men looked poor as they lost to a tired and under-strength N*wcastle and then were thoroughly beaten at home by a brilliant and deadly Bournemouth. Across the Pennines, while everyone else was losing their minds over City and Arsenal’s latest slip-ups, Liverpool quietly made their way to top spot. I can’t imagine a scenario more challenging than the one facing United. Seemingly directionless both on and off the pitch, they go to Merseyside not just as underdogs, but as condemned men. Perhaps another ‘right hammering’ is precisely what United need: they’ve become encumbered by their past successes and need to evolve and reinvent themselves to become a relevant force in both English and European football again - home win. JB

La Liga: Real Madrid v Villarreal
20.00 on LaLigaTV & Viaplay Sports 2
When Marcelino fled the scene at Marseille after a disastrous and traumatic three-month spell in charge, he would have been entitled to a break. But top-flight sporting directors are always hungry for new coaches to replace the ones they just fired, so after just three months the former Valencia and Athletic Club coach was declared the new boss of Villareal, a club that he had previously coached a decade ago. The 58-year-old is the third manager of the Yellow Submarine after Quique Setien was tossed overboard in September, soon to be followed by Pacheta last month. Living up to last season’s magnificent fifth place in La Liga was always a tough task. Doing so without Pau Torres and Nicolas Jackson has proved impossible and Villareal are languishing in mid-table. Marcelino has turned things around somewhat; his team were unbeaten until the 3-0 home reverse to Sociedad. Their Europa League campaign is on track: winning a thrilling and highly contentious group decider at a rainy Rennes, 3-2 and booking passage to the last 16, avoiding the playoff. Villareal can now focus on domestic matters until March starting with a daunting trip to the Bernabeu. Real Madrid have injury problems and dropped points against Rayo and Betis, recently. However, their home record is almost spotless and they are unlikely to miss Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelien Tchouameni and Vinicius Jnr for this game. And with Jobe Bellingham’s Older Brother still among the goals Real are managing these absences, so far. TD

Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham and Jan

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