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: Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon kicks off this weekend and in the UK all of it is on Sky (some of it's on BBC too). We love it.

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


Bundesliga: bayern Munich v Hoffenheim
19.30 on Sky Sports Mix
The Bundesliga returns from its winter break in mourning after the passing of Franz Beckenbauer at 78. This weekend, tributes will be paid across the football nation, beginning on Friday with Der Kaiser’s old club Bayern Munich, to the memory of one of Germany’s true icons. Beckenbauer was more than a footballer. He was a working-class lad who rose to the top and projected the best qualities of Germany at a time in their history when they needed heroes and great leaders. Later in life, his reputation was tarnished due to his involvement with FIFA, an organisation that could corrupt the soul of a saint. Beckenbauer was no saint, but few will say he was anything other than a decent man who will be greatly missed. It will be incumbent on Bayern to produce a performance and result to honour the great man’s memory. Coach Thomas Tuchel will have to work hard to keep the players emotions in check as they seek to deliver a performance worthy of the occasion and not get carried away. Hoffenheim should in theory hold no terrors for Bayern but the seventh placed team are no mugs. More broadly, the Bavarians are second in the table and need to go on a tear if they are to overhaul Bayer Leverkusen whose squad is not as diminished by Afcon as initially thought (although Nigerian Victor Boniface and B04 top scorer is injured). I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Harry Kane and Leroy Sane seized the moment and orchestrated a fitting tribute to Der Kaiser. TD


Premier League: Chelsea v Fulham
12.30 on TNT Sports 1 & Ultimate
The West London derby doesn’t generate the same level of interest as other footballing rivalries due, in part, to Chelsea’s status as a Premier League big-hitter. However, their recent decline means both sides go into this fixture only three places apart in mid-table. Of course, this wasn’t in the script when tonight’s hosts brought in Mauricio Pochettino. Despite his reputation, he’s not managed to get a song out of this dysfunctional side as yet. That said, Cole Palmer is flourishing at the Bridge and will be a handful for Fulham today. Indeed, they’ll need him on form with Nicolas Jackson away with Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations. Afcon also means Fulham will be without three members of their squad in the form of Alex Iwobi, Calvin Bassey and Fode Ballo-Toure. Quite whether these absences will have much of an impact on what is a mid-table fixture, remains to be seen. There’s also the potential hangover both sides may be suffering following contrasting fortunes in the League Cup midweek. Chelsea’s first leg defeat to Championship outfit, Boro, will have hurt as will Fulham’s two-one reverse at Anfield despite them leading at half-time. Chelsea won the reverse fixture back in October and, given Fulham’s dismal away form, they’ll probably run out as winners today. JB
La Liga: Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad
17.30 on LaLigaTV and Viaplay Sports 2
With the big boys busying themselves with the Super Cup in Saudi, tonight’s Basque derby is the biggest game in Spain, if not across Europe. Adding to the spice is the impact the outcome of this tie will have on each clubs respective Champions League ambitions. A win for Athletic will further cement them in the top four, bringing them level on points with third place Barcelona. However, they will have to make do without top scorer, Iñaki Williams, who is at the Africa Cup of Nations with Ghana. Indeed, La Real themselves will be without three first teamers due to Afcon and the Asian Cup. This will severely dampen their ambitions of completing the double over their rivals and may well further skew success in this fixture towards Athletic. Up to this point, both have excellent defensive records and both remain unbeaten in their last twelve games in all competitions. Slightly more impressive is Real Sociedad’s success so far in the Champions League, where they will meet PSG in the first of the knockout stages in early February. It may well be too early for that to have a bearing on this fixture, but missing three influential players probably will. Home win. JB
Africa Cup of Nations 2023 Group A: Ivory Coast v Guinea-Bissau
20.00 on Sky Sports Football and BBC Three & iPlayer
The biennial African championship kicks off in the 60,000 seat Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan, the second largest city in West Africa and economic capital of the Ivory Coast. The stadium, was built (like so much other Ivorian infrastructure, with Chinese help) to host the 2021 tournament. But African football being what it is the 2019 tournament, which was meant to be hosted by Cameroon, was moved to Egypt for reasons; Cameroon were then given the 2021 tournament, with Ivory Coast’s hosting duties pushed back to this one. This was scheduled to be played last summer, hence the name Afcon 23, but, in this part of the world, June can see over half a metre of rainfall, so the traditional timing of the tournament is restored. Ivory Coast last won Afcon in 2015, but the international retirement of Yaya Touré shortly after saw the start of a slump for Les Éléphants, that has seen them miss out on the two World Cups held since. A host nation hasn’t won Afcon since 2006 and that run is likely to continue with Morocco the strong favourites. Guinea-Bissau sit just outside the top 100 in the FIFA rankings but have qualified for the last three Afcon. OK, they didn’t win a game at any of them, and failed to score at the most recent two, but they should have enough about them to make sure that the hosts will have to work for their showpiece win to start what promises to be a fantastic month of football. GS


Africa Cup of Nations 2023 Group A: Nigeria v Equatorial Guinea
14.00 on Sky Sports Mix
Like Ivory Coast, Nigeria also missed out on the last World Cup and have had a poor start to their campaign to get to 2026. The Super Eagles have suffered a spate of injuries going into this tournment, with the aforementioned Victor Boniface the biggest miss. But with attacking options like Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman, late call-up Terem Moffi (Nice) and skipper Moses Simon (Nantes) in good form for their clubs, there should be plenty of service for their main threat, Victor Osimhen, who could be the star of this tournament. In December, the 27-year-old picked up the awards for both the African Footballer of the Year and the Italian Players’ Player of the Year. He was top scorer in qualifying for this tournament, scoring twice as many as his nearest rival. His only previous playing experience at Afcon was as a half-time substitute in the 2019 third place play-off. He controversially missed the 2021 tournament, with his club Napoli claiming that he had Covid. The resulting dispute between club and country lead Napoli’s owner Aurelio De Laurentiis to say that he would no longer sign any African players unless they agreed to not participate in the Cup of Nations. Luckily, it would appear that his position has since softened. Equatorial Guinea hosted the 2015 tournament, and went as far as the semi-finals. This is only their fourth Afcon but they’ve made it out of the group on each previous occasion, losing out to the eventual winners Senegal in the 2021 quarter-finals. GS

Premier League: Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur
16.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
If you can drag yourself away from the fun and colour of Afcon, of course there’s the usual business of the Best League In The World™ still going on. Having survived this far, the start of the second half of the season gives Erik ten Hag the chance of a rematch against all those top half sides that have enjoyed taking points from his clearly uncomfortable ensemble. The match in North London was Ange Postecoglou’s first home game and gave him his first win as Spurs manager. The story of what’s happened since is told in a fine collection of Manager of the Month awards - but then even his opposite number has picked up one of those as recently as November. Tottenham’s rocky spell this season coincided with the loss to injury of Papa Matar Sarr, and results immediately improved on his return. Joining Senegal at Afcon, he is likely to be almost as big a loss for Spurs as top scorer Son Heung-min, who is in Qatar for the Asian Cup. Cover for Son comes in the shape of Timo Werner looking to repair his Premier League reputation on loan from RB Leipzig. He could be joined by former teammate Conor Gallagher who has been heavily rumoured to be a £60 million target for Spurs. In that game between these sides in August, Jadon Sancho came on for the last 25 minutes, in what proved to be his penultimate appearance for United. This week his long expected loan back to Dortmund was confirmed. With all the talk of “marginal gains” the end of a relationship that was damaging for both sides could signal the first signs of an upturn for United, but you can’t escape the feeling that plenty more of those gains will be needed before any real improvement is noticeable. GS

Ligue 1: Lens v Paris-Saint Germain
19.45 on TNT Sports 3
Only a point separated these sides at the top of the final table of last season, which gave the impression at least that PSG were challenged for the title. In the summer Lens lost two of their best players, Lois Openda to RB Leipzig and Seko Fofana to Al Nassr, and they’ve been rebuilding since. They’ve recovered from a woeful start to the season which saw them take just one point from their opening five games but they now sit in a pack of sides just outside the Champions League places. Traditionally, the winter-run Afcon has affected French football far more than other leagues and this year the number of French-based players at the tournament is twice that of those who are based in England. PSG are missing just one player to Afcon, but it’s a big miss: Achraf Hakimi, arguably the best right back in the world right now. Also absent is Lee Kang-in who is with South Korea for the Asian Cup and who has been a regular in midfield for Les Parisiens since signing from Mallorca last summer. Ghana’s Salis Abdul Samed is the only usual starter missing for Lens, though regular second half substitute Morgan Guilavogui (Guinea), Nampalys Mendy (Senegal) and Abdukodir Khusanov (Uzbekistan) will be missing from their usual places on the bench. GS

Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Graham, Terry and Jan

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