by Roma FC & coffee bean expert Eric Giardini
With a new year,
we’ve decided to bring a new feature bring back an old one. While it’s easy to know which matches are going on in the Premier League each week, it can be difficult to know what other matches are going on around the continent (for now) and around the world. That’s where I step in – to be your guide and shed some light on these other matches.
Unfortunately, I’ve picked a slow week with many leagues either on winter break (Germany, France, Netherlands) or playing Cup matches. That being said, let’s start in England.
Who: Crystal Palace v Stoke City
What: FA Cup, Third Round
Where: Selhurst Park
When: January 5, 10:00am ET
Low Down: While there are a few other Championship sides hosting their EPL “betters” in Third Round FA Cup action, this one could very well be the one with the biggest chance of an upset. Will Stoke City get …. Taken? (Yeah, I know).
Crystal Palace has been the surprise team of the season as it enters this weekend in 3rd place in the Championship trailing only Cardiff City and Hull City. They’ve turned Selhurst Park into a fortress (cliché alert) by losing only once in 13 matches – with that loss coming on the first match day of the season on August 18. Since then they are unbeaten and have scored a league best 33 goals at home and 16 conceded. The Eagles rely heavily on striker Glenn Murray who has scored a ridiculous 22 goals in 22 matches, which, coincidentally also leads the league in scoring. The other player to watch out for is Wilfred Zaha. Zaha, who made his full England debut in November against Sweden, has been a heavily sought after player this transfer window with Manchester United and Arsenal fighting it out for his services.
Stoke come into the match sitting in the very Stoke-like position of 10th. Before their 3-0 defeat to Manchester City on New Year’s Day, the Potters were on a 10 match unbeaten streak ending back to November and they will be hoping to get back to those ways ahead of next weekend’s match against Chelsea. The big news out of Stoke-on-Trent is the new five-and-a-half-year contract with captain Ryan Shawcross – the biggest in club history. Manager Tony Pulis has also hinted that Michael Owen may see action this weekend as he looks to get the unhappy striker minutes while resting players for the aforementioned Chelsea match. With Stoke City still in the hunt for a European spot, however, improbable, I wouldn’t be surprised to see players rested for the second half of the league season.
Who: Swansea City v Arsenal
What: FA Cup, Third Round
Where: Liberty Stadium
When: January 6, 8:30am ET
Low Down: Back on December 1, Swansea City went to the Emirates and left with a 2-0 victory behind two very late Michu goals. Now Arsenal travel to Wales and hope to exact a bit of revenge in this FA Cup tie. In typical Arsenal fashion, they are left for dead by everyone only to turn things around and right the ship. Following that loss, Arsenal is unbeaten in the league and scoring goals for fun (5 against Reading, 7 against Newcastle). Everything up top is running through Theo Walcott who leads the club in both goals and assists and his recent hat-trick performance led to the Arsenal faithful to serenade both him and whoever in the Arsenal Front Office that was listening with chants of “Sign Him Up, Sign Him Up, Sign Him Uuuuup.” Please, Arsenal, listen to them. With the Gunners being currently in 6th place, and a seemingly insurmountable 18 points behind Manchester United, and a tricky Round of 16 affair with Bayern Munich in the Champions League, this FA Cup run appears to be Arsenal’s best chance at winning silverware since…it’s been so long, I’ve forgotten. Expect Arsene Wenger to put out a strong side for this one.
The Swans come into this match on the heels of a last gasp draw their last time out against Aston Villa at the Liberty Stadium. While their recent form as steady (4-4-2 in their last 10 league matches), Swansea City goes where Michu takes them. Michael Laudrup and company got what appears to be the steal of the summer with Michu who has earned his first call up for Spain’s February 6 friendly against Uruguay with his 13 league goals so far this season. Troubling; however, for Swansea City, appears to be their home record. Three wins out of 11 is what could be the downfall for The Swans both this weekend and in their surprise run for Europe. Also, a trip to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday for the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final against Chelsea is also on the horizon and may play a factor on Swansea’s squad selection.
Who: Barcelona v Espanyol
What: La Liga
Where: Camp Nou
When: January 6, 1:00pm ET
Low Down: Yes, I realize Espanyol sits in the relegation zone. And yes, Barcelona is easily on its way to another La Liga title to put in the Camp Nou trophy case. Finally, yes, I can read your mind in asking why you should care about this match. You can either look at this in one of two ways. First, it’s a matchup of the two Catalan clubs in Spain. Granted, this derby means a heck of a lot more to Espanyol than it does to Barcelona, it is still a chance for the “other” Barcelona-based club to show that they can play too. Besides, they need the points. Badly. A decent run of form since December, unbeaten including a draw away to Real Madrid, has seen Espanyol creep closer to safety but they are by no means safe. Interesting to CONCACAF followers, this little spike in form coincides with former Mexico boss Javier Aguirre taking over on November 28. Yes, the same Aguirre who kicked Panamanian player Ricardo Phillips in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2009. So who knows, maybe he does us all a favor and kicks Dani Alves. I’m kidding.
We all know Barcelona. We know who they have and what they can do. It will be interesting to see who lines up next to Leo Messi in attack for Barcelona. Both David Villa and Alexis Sanchez have both been rumored out (Villa to a host of teams, including Tottenham. Sanchez linked to a move back to Italy with Juventus). I don’t seen anything happening before Sunday but whoever is out there next to Messi at the opening kick may be more likely to stick around. Speaking of Messi, 91 goals in 2012 was great and all but this is 2013. Here’s his first chance to go for 92.
Who: Napoli v Roma
What: Serie A
Where: San Paolo
When: January 6, 2:45pm ET
Low Down: My penchant for Roma has not been a secret here at TSG. That being said, that is not why I specifically chose this match out of the others occurring in Italy. I chose it because this, the Derby del Sol, is the best of the bunch. Fresh off winter break, Napoli sit in 5th place and only two points ahead of Roma. If remove the two point deduction that the club received for punishment for match fixing (surprise!), Napoli would be in second. That’s how close the battle for Europe is in Serie A – four points separates 2nd (Lazio) from 6th (Roma). And with the top 5 qualifying for either the Champions League or Europa League, this match is huge for both clubs. After dropping back-to-back league matches for the first time all year to Inter and Bologna, and a third-in-a-row to Bologna again in the Coppa Italia, Napoli regained some of their momentum with a comfortable 2-0 away win over Siena before Christmas. As to be expected, the offensive firepower is coming from Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik who have combined for two-thirds of the club’s goals. The San Paolo is always a difficult place to play and this season has proven to be no different. Napoli have lost just once in nine matches and are only conceded a goal a game.
Roma is back from its vacation, I mean training stint, at Disney World in Orlando and come into this match hot. Winners of 5 of their last 6, the “Zemanlandia” swashbuckling, attacking style that fans and neutrals were promised over the summer is finally taking hold with Roma leading the league in goals scored with 42 (ok, technically 39 if you take away the 3-0 forfeited victory over Cagliari. 39 still puts them tied with Juventus for top spot). On the flip side, the club’s 29 goals conceded are tied for 4 most in the league. Again, that’s what you get. Not helping things out defensively is Roma’s star CB Marquinhos is out for this match after seeing red against Milan.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Marquinhos, he was signed over the summer on a loan deal from Corinthians with a clause that he would be purchased for 5m euros after 8 appearances of at least 45 minutes. Chelsea reportedly offered 28m euros. Marquinhos is 18 and before this season he had made a whopping six professional appearances. The kid is the real deal and it’s a shame he’s out because seeing him match up with Cavani would be fantastic. Enough about that. For all you USMNT fans, Michael Bradley has started nine straight matches for Roma going the full 90 in seven. He’s settled in nicely and the midfield of Bradley – De Rossi – Pjanic is Roma’s strongest, and it’s the one that I personally want to see.
So those are the four matches that I’ll be keeping an eye on this weekend. Did I overlook anything? As a reminder, next week marks the return of Ligue 1 and the resumption of Premier League matches