Jeremiah’s Weekend Picks: Feb. 26-28
By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
Pretty big weekend in store across Europe. After the relative excitement of the first half of the Champions League knockout round, we have an actual cup final – Arsenal v Birmingham City in the Carling Cup as well as big games in Germany, France, Italy and Holland. As usual, the two giants in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid, play nobodies that they should crush with ease. Yay for La Liga! All times Pacific.
Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund. (German Bundesliga, 9:30 a.m.) This is actually a pretty exciting match. It features Borussia Dortmund, or as I have dubbed them, The Fighting Bananas, who are running away with the Bundesliga this year, against Bayern Munich, who are generally the most dominant team in Germany and the highest scoring. Bayern is coming off an impressive 1-0 win in the Champions League at defending champion Inter Milan and have won their last two Bundesliga matches in impressive fashion over Hoffenheim and Mainz. Dortmund have struggled a little bit lately, if you could say a team that has lost only once in its last 22 league matches is ever struggling. Regardless, they’ve only won two of their last five matches (three draws). They beat Bayern 2-0 in the other match between the two this year. Right now, Dortmund leads the league by 10 points, and Bayern is 13 points back. Players to watch for Bayern are striker Mario Gomez and wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, as usual. For Dortmund, Nuri Sahin is my favorite player who is not Japanese and injured. (That’s right, I mean you, Shinji Kagawa.)
My prediction: Cliche alert! Bayern will win the battle, but Dortmund will win the war. 3-2, Bayern
Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners. (Australian A-League playoffs, 2:01 a.m.) So I know no one is going to watch this match due to the time, but if you can’t sleep … you know. Anyway, since I wrote so much about the last match, I’ll keep this brief. Brisbane are breaking records all over the A-League this season (only one defeat in 30 matches, a +32 goal differential), and they have a 2-0 lead in the two-leg match and are playing at home. Players to watch for Brisbane are Costa Barbarouses and Jean Carlo Solorzano, who have 25 goals between them, and Thomas Broich, who has 14 assists.
Prediction: Brisbane advances easily, 3-1
Arsenal v Birmingham City. (English Carling Cup final, 8 a.m.) This match offers Arsenal their first chance to grab some silverware in six years, and they should have a relatively easy time of it against Birmingham City, who although a fellow Premiership side, are not in the same class. Arsenal will cope without the services of captain Cesc Fabregas or winger Theo Walcott, but they’ll still have a plethora of good attacking players like Samir Nasri, Andrei Arshavin and Robin Van Persie to rely upon. Birmingham do have former Arsenal midfielder and Belarusian international Аляксандр Паўлавіч Глеб and David “I’m a poor man’s Beckham; Very, very poor” Bentley, in a not-really-that-interesting side plot. Failure to win this match would be a pretty big blow to Arsenal, though in fairness, they’re still in the Champions League, challenging for the Premiership and competing in the FA Cup, so it’s not THAT BAD, is it?
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0
Athletic Bilbao v Valencia. (Spanish La Liga, noon) I’m continuing my recent vow not to publicize matches involving Real Madrid and Barcelona since they win all the ones they play 4-0 and split 75 percent of the TV revenue from La Liga games, thus rendering any other Spanish clubs’ chances of winning the title at 0. So I’m picking this one. But it’s a pretty good one. Athletic Bilbao are a Basque club and one of the most decorated in La Liga history, though they haven’t won the league in almost 30 years. Valencia I think were the last non-Barcelona/Madrid team to win the league in Spain. Both teams are competing for spots in Europe, and Bilbao are notoriously difficult to beat at home, having only lost to Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and … Deportivo de la Coruna. Umm…ignore that last one there. Valencia are in third place and currently benefiting from Villareal’s poor run of form, as all of you know. Players to watch: for Athletic, Spanish international striker Fernando Llorente has 13 goals this season, and well, he plays for Spain. Valencia has a bunch of good young players (Aritz Aduriz – well, not young…, Juan Mata and Pablo). Lots of long hair and weird skinny hairbands here today, ladies.
Prediction: Athletic 2-1
Palermo v Udinese. (Italian Serie A, 6 a.m.) This match doesn’t have much bearing on Serie A title race, though both teams are still in the hunt for Europe. What it does have is two of the funnest, most attacking sides in Europe and two bright young stars (Palermo’s Javier Pastore and Udinese’s Alexis Sanchez) that you’ll hear mentioned again and again and again over the next couple years. Plus, neither team can defend, though Udinese are probably slightly better on that end…
Prediction: Palermo 4, Udinese 4
Lille v Lyon. (French Ligue 1, noon) This match gives current French frontrunners Lille the opportunity to end their recent poor run of form (two straight losses after not losing a match for four months) and knockout Lyon, who are generally probably considered the best French side, though they haven’t won the title in three years. A loss for Lille, meanwhile, would put Lyon back in the title race, and probably would knock Lille down to second or third place. Lille is led by Eden Hazard, a playmaker coveted by Arsenal and Manchester United and strikers Gervinho and Moussa Sow (27 goals between them). Lyon has quite a few good players, but Bafetimbi Gomes, who was once considered the heir apparent to Didier Drogba, though it’s never quite happened for him, will line up as the lone forward.
Prediction: Lille 2, Lyon 1
AZ Alkmaar v Twente Enschede, PSV Eindhoven v Ajax Amsterdam. (Dutch Eredivisie, 6:30 a.m.) The only thing bigger than a weekend with these two teams in Holland is when De Staat plays the Amsterdam Arena. Anyone? Anyone? The match features the Top 3 teams in the country and Alkmaar, who are currently sixth. Right now the Top 3 are only separated by five points, so if Ajax beat PSV and Alkmaar won, it would be down to a two-point lead. I don’t feel like listing all the team’s players, but Twente’s Theo Janssen is pretty good, so start with him in your search of Dutch superstars.
Predictions: Alkmaar 1, Twente 1; PSV 2, Ajax 2
AC Milan v Napoli. (Italian Serie A, 11:45 a.m.) Both AC Milan and Napoli were knocked out of Europe over the last two weeks. Oh wait, AC Milan gets knocked out in two weeks. My mistake. Anyhoo, This match features the top 2 teams in Italy. AC Milan have an excellent attacking trident up top, which I’ve already talked about in previous posts, so I won’t bother today. As for Napoli, they’re led by Edinson Cavani, who has 20 goals and probably has been the player of the season in the Serie A. Napoli will be missing Ezequiel Lavezzi, though, who doesn’t score goals, but doesn’t really need to with Cavani starting.
Prediction: AC Milan 1, Napoli 1