THE BIG GAME
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Borussia Dortmund:
The top four teams in Germany meet in two huge clashes at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time. Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach are tied at the top of the Bundesliga-with 29 points each- heading into Saturday’s game. As if that wasn’t enough motivation, this is also a rivalry game for the two teams from North Rhine-Westphalia. Famous Borussenderby games include Monchengladbach’s 12-0 trouncing of Dortmund in 1978, and the game with five penalties in 1962. Just last year, M’gladbach managed to avoid relegation because of a end-of-season upset victory against Dortmund, who looked invincible at the time.
Now, M’gladbach find themselves at the top of the table, a win against an out-of -sync Dortmund team away from total ecstasy.
The Bundesliga table could look very different by 11:30 Saturday morning, because, in addition to the Borussenderby, the 3rd and 4th placed teams in the Bundesliga meet. Werder Bremen (26 pts) must travel to the intimidating Allianz Arena, to take on an angry Bayern Munich (28 pts) coming off back-to-back losses to Dortmund and Mainz.
Bayer Leverkusen (22 pts.) will join the mix at the top of the standings if they take care of business on Friday against TSG Hoffenheim (2:30 E.T.). Schalke (25 pts.) will also profit from the two top-of -the-table clashes.
And the big games in Germany will continue into next week, with Werder Bremen, the least likely of the top four to get a win on Saturday, hosting Wolfsburg, always a tough team to play against, and Stuttgart (in seventh place) hosting Bayern Munich.
PREDICTIONS: Borussia Dortmund are nowhere near last year’s form, especially in Europe, but are managing to scrape some victories together. At the end of a huge three-game stretch- they already have wins against perennial challengers Bayern Munich, and their biggest rivals, Schalke 04- that should be enough to get a win against the surprise league-leaders, even away from home. Borussia Monchengladbach 0-1 Borussia Dortmund
Werder Bremen will be overpowered by the Allianz Arena and the full force of an angry Bayern team. Werder Bremen still have a decent chance at a victory, because of Bayern’s inconsistency. Bayern Munich 3-0 Werder Bremen
Leverkusen tends to play in high scoring games, because of a leaky defense. Eren Derdiyok scored all three of their goals against Werder Bremen. If he doesn’t deliver, Hoffenheim will pull the upset. Bayer Leverkusen 1-2 Hoffenheim.
Can Newcastle contend for a Champions League spot?
A week after earning a lucky 1-1 draw against Manchester United, Newcastle will drop out of the Champions League spots if they lose to Chelsea. Newcastle would love a draw here, to remain above their opponents’ and Liverpool in the standings, and they could easily get it- Chelsea have been in terrible form recently.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Chelsea
ON THE LINE THIS WEEKEND
Andre Villas-Boas’ job security: Along with an attacking style- something Chelsea haven’t had since Mourinho took over- AVB brought atrocious defending to London. His pressing style of play just hasn’t been working with such old, slow defenders, and they have been caught out time and time again this season. This was particularly evident in their two biggest games of the season: the 3-1 loss to Manchester United and the 5-3 loss to Arsenal. Now, after losses to Bayer Leverkusen and Liverpool, and with Abramovich as owner, the new coach could be gone. The crucial four-game stretch:
vs. Liverpool (Carling Cup Quarterfinals) 2:45 E.T., Nov. 29
@ Newcastle United 7:45 E.T., Dec. 3
vs. Valencia (Champs League 1st Phase) 2: 45 E.T., Dec. 6
vs. Manchester City 3:00 E.T., Dec. 12
A brutal schedule, with no recovery time between games. But three of the four are at home, and when Chelsea hired AVB for €15 million, these were the types of games that he was expected to win.
In other news, Guus Hiddink is no longer the manager of the Turkish National Team.
Barcelona and Manchester United’s repeat chances: Both should win, but both will get very interesting tests this weekend. Depth has always been an issue at Barcelona, and Iniesta and Fabregas only recently returned from injury. Meanwhile, Barca is coming off a 1-0 loss to Getafe, and are already at the end of their two-day recovery attempt. (They host Rayo tomorrow at 3 E.T.)
Once again, Manchester United’s weakness is their away form, and they have to travel to Aston Villa- one of the Premier League’s better teams-on Saturday (12:30 E.T.).
The stakes are high. United could fall eight points off City’s pace, and Barcelona could fall nine points behind Real Madrid’s.
Inter Milan’s relevance: Even under Claudio Ranieri, Inter have been very shaky, but they were able to beat Siena 1-0. Ranieri thinks they are still the Serie A favorites. They’ll have to look more impressive against Udinese (2:45 E.T., Saturday), currently in third, to convince anyone else.
Napoli’s title hopes: Another key game in Serie A sees leaders Juventus take on Napoli (Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2:45 E.T.) , who have slipped considerably since defeating Inter Milan and going top of the league. The latter need to win to stay in the Scudetto race, and the game is just as important for Juve.
Predictions: Man-U and Barca win 2-0. Juve wins 2-1. Udinese wins 1-0.
The fate of 16 International teams: The Euro 2012 Final Draw is Friday. Most teams will be trying to get into a group with Ukraine or Poland, instead of Spain or the Netherlands.
The next two weeks offer some intriguing possibilities.
Germany and Spain could get put in the same Euro 2012 group.
And what if Real Madrid beats Barcelona? It would lead to an amazing end to the season in Spain, with Barcelona trying to make up a nine-point-gap.
Who will advance in the Champions League?
How will AVB do in that crucial four-game stretch?
We’re about to find out.