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: Welcome to Manchester



Spring is here, time to start talking about run-ins.

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

Friday

Ligue 1: Monaco v Paris Saint-Germain
20.00 on TNT Sports 2“We have to get used to playing without Kylian,” was the response for PSG head coach Luis Enrique when asked why Mbappe was taken off after an hour of the draw with Rennes last weekend. Of course all the questions at the post-match press conference would be about Mbappe even if he’d played the full 90 - and he will continue to be the subject of most questions to Enrique until the 25 year old finally leaves in the summer. While the superstar striker has been unsettled at the club for a while now, it seems to have had very little effect on his form. He’s already scored 32 goals for the club this season, 21 of which in his 21 Ligue 1 appearances. If asked where PSG’s goals will come without Mbappe, Enrique could point to the game aganst Monaco earlier in Paris in November. On that day they ran out 5-2 winners with five different scorers (including Mbappe, with a penalty). Monaco have struggled to recapture their early season form that saw them top the table up to late-October. Monaco were in the Boxset as recently as last weekend, when they let a two goal lead slip against Lens for the second time in 2024, but this time Takumi Minamino found a winner in injury time. GS


Saturday

A League: Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney
08.45 on TNT Sports 1
What do you get when you mix two teams who leak goals and have animosity levels ratcheted up to 11? We’ll find out on Saturday night (or morning for UK readers) in Parramatta. Last season’s away win at Wanderers was one of very few positive moments for Sydney FC, and sparked a war of words that still simmers today. Wanderers striker Brandon Borello described the Sky Blues as “bang average” and Western Sydney’s coach Marko Rudan has taken every opportunity to take pot shots at his former club. This season looked like the Harbour City would once more be painted red and black, but Sydney’s new coach Ufuk Talay has now got his side playing fast possession based football and are now one of the form teams in the competition. Wanderers, meanwhile, have stumbled over the past few months and now only sit one point above their arch rivals. Part of this slump is a result of Wanderers’ habit of conceding very late goals, resulting in some high scoring losses. This derby is impossible to call but promises to be hugely entertaining. GA

Bundesliga: Wolfsburg v Stuttgart
17.30 on Sky Sports Football
In recent seasons we’re more used to seeing Wolfsburg hanging with the cool kids around the top end of the table and Stuttgart ligging around the bottom bumming smokes off the likes of Augsburg and Hertha. These days it’s Stuttgart’s milkshake that’s bringing all the boys to the yards while Wolfsburg sit in thirteenth, eight points away from the drop zone. The last time the VW club’s mildly engaged fanbase witnessed a win was a narrow 1-0 at Darmstadt. Since then it’s been two defeats and six draws. Coach Nico Kovac has been the subject of speculation about his position. The Croatian is, in my view a solid seven out of ten gaffer but is overseeing a club that is going through a period of managed decline. Last summer they sold Micky van de Ven to Spurs and Felix Nmecha to Dortmund for big fees. They also let go of Omar Marmoush to Eintracht Frankfurt for free which on reflection was a big mistake and suggests that no one is taking things seriously there. After a run of four league wins, Stuttgart could only muster a draw against lowly FC Koln, last weekend. They are missing Deniz Undav. The 27-year-old striker was in prime form and the Brighton loanee was even being touted for an international call-up before a knee injury interrupted his flow. His strike partner Serhou Guirassy is not finding the net with the sort of ridiculous regularity of his pre-Afcon days but has still returned two in the last five. Providing the ammo is Chris Furich; the former Borussia Dortmund youngster has six goals and seven assists this season and helps make VfB such a great watch. If the Swabians win they could extend the gap between their third place and fifth, bringing the bounty of a Champions League campaign next season closer to reality. TD

Serie A: Torino v Fiorentina
19.45 on TNT Sports 2
Can Fiorentina recover their season and make a late push for the Champions League? I Viola started the second half of the season in the top four but inconsistancy since the start to the year has seen them slip into a bunched chasing pack. With the expansion of the Champions League next season there is potential for an extra place for leagues that perform well in this season’s competitions. All seven of the Italian clubs that qualified this season are still in Europe there’s a good chance one of the two extra spots on offer could go to Italy, meaning a fifth Champions League place. Back to back defeats to the clubs from Rome has probably but aside any hopes of European football for Torino but there season is by no means dead. A win today closes the gap between the sides to just two points. GS


Sunday

FA Women’s Super League: Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur
12.30 on BBC Two & iPlayer
For Arsenal the equation for the rest of the season is a simple one: if they want to win the title they’ll have to win all eight of their remaining fixtures. They currently sit three points behind both Chelsea and City and play them both in the run-in. All three of the Gunners’ defeats this season have come against teams from outside the top four. They lost at the Emirates in the first game of the season against Aston Villa and have since lost to West Ham and also to today’s opponents. The North London derby is yet to be a real thing - and with supporter culture in women’s football still evolving, such things may never be “a thing”. Spurs’ win against the Gunners in December was more of a statement of their development as a competitive force in the women’s top flight rather than just another point on the tally sheet of an argument that stretches back to the Great War. Being the “best of rest” may be little consolation for Spurs but it’s certainly within reach. In future there may be a second tier of European competition to play for, and if Chelsea go into a post Emma Hayes funk there could bigger prizes within reach. Arsenal are without Emily Fox, Chloe Lacasse and Sabrina D’Angelo who are in Gold Cup action with USA (Fox) and Canada, they will also be without Vivianne Miedema for several weeks as she undergoes more knee surgery. With so many names missing, Spurs should back themselves to give Arsenal another tough game, and maybe even do the double on them. GS

Premier League: Manchester City v Manchester United
15.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
I wonder how far we are from City describing this fixture as ‘United’s derby’. To be fair, I think any football fan would say that the real local contest for Pep’s men is in a week’s time away to Liverpool. City are fifteen points and four places above today’s visitors and, along with Arsenal, are the only side capable of catching leaders Liverpool. Meanwhile, United’s only decent run of form this season came to an embarrassing end at home to Fulham last week. Adding to the misery, the Cottagers social media team’s cheeky dig at the blatant play-acting of Bruno Fernandes was made all the more amusing when it enraged ten Hag in his recent prezza. A narrow win in the FA Cup at Forest may have kept the slimmest hope of some silverware alive, but I think United’s new era will start slowly, if at all. Their hosts have no such concerns: unbeaten in eighteen, won five of the last six Manchester derbies and remain on course for back-to-back trebles. In addition, any concerns over Haaland’s form is surely now gone following his five goals in the 6-2 midweek FA Cup demolition of Luton Town. Like a cat with a mouse, City have the quality to toy with United and kill them off when they get bored - look away United fans, this has the potential to be less like watching a massacre and more like watching a crucifixion. JB

La Liga: Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona
20.00 on LaLigaTV and Viaplay Sports 1
Well, it’s all very exciting at Athletic Club: on Thursday night they beat Atletico 3-0 in the second leg of the Copa del Rey to reach the final and potentially win the trophy for the first time in forty years. This means they now have two potential routes into Europe as they sit fifth in La Liga, eight points behind their Catalan visitors who they beat 4-2 on the way to the final. However, while they’ve enjoyed some good form since their last appearance in the Boxset back in mid-January, of late they failed to beat a ten-man Almeria and lost 3-1 at Betis - their rivals for the last European spot. Tonight’s visitors come into the game unbeaten since Xavi announced his departure; however, they’ve overcome sides they’d be expected to beat and dropped points in a 3-3 draw at home to relegation certainties, Granada. There’s little doubt that the San Mam├ęs will be rocking for tonight’s game, and why wouldn’t it be? Athletic are probably the strongest side Barca will have faced since Xavi’s resignation, and they’ll be emboldened by their cup success. Home win. JB


Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Graham, Terry, Jan and Gary

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