Borussia Dortmund vs Bayer Leverkusen (Bundesliga)
Saturday 7th December 2013 – Kickoff 17:30 GMT
A fortnight after their demoralising defeat to league leaders Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund come up against the side that leapfrogged them into second place. Bayer Leverkusen, while on an excellent run domestically, have also suffered disappointment recently in the shape of a 5-0 home defeat to Manchester United.
A win will put Dortmund back in second place but by the time this match kicks off Bayern could be 10 points clear of last season’s runners-up. Defensively Borussia will be in for a test as they continue to be without Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic while Lukasz Piszczek is still feeling his way back to match sharpness. His rustiness was apparent last weekend when giving away a penalty against Mainz.
Perhaps the biggest loss to Borussia’s backline has been Marcel Schmelzer, the German international is one of their most underrated players. His place has been admirably filled by Erik Durm but even still Jurgen Klopp must be eager to field his first choice backline.
The onus will be on the front line to mask the deficiencies behind them and none more so than Robert Lewandowski. The man who is seemingly set to join Bayern at the end of the year is the league’s top scorer (just take a minute to process that) and he’ll need to continue this form against Bayer. There have been frustrating nights, notably against Arsenal, but on his day he is one of the most complete centre forwards in European football.
Leverkusen will be pinning their hopes on their own deadly hitman, Stefan Kieβling. Last season’s top scorer found the net against Nurnberg last weekend and he’s just one goal behind Lewandowksi. He’ll be ably supported by Son Heung-Min, the Korean forward who’s benefiting from the absence of Sidney Sam.
Interestingly, German sports magazine Kicker are reporting Sam has agreed a deal to join Schalke at the end of the season for 2.5 million Euros. Two questions immediately spring to mind from this. 1) Why did no Premier League clubs move for him given his buy-out clause was well documented? 2) Does his move signal the departure of Julian Draxler, potentially to Arsenal?
Sam is a seriously talented player and this season it has all clicked into place for him. He’ll be missing through injury against Dortmund and that will hurt Bayer’s counter-attacking game. Nevertheless they will provide tough opposition.
Roma vs Fiorentina
Sunday 8th December 2013 – Kickoff 11:30 GMT
It’s all gone off the boil recently for Roma, hasn’t it? After their incredible start to the season was ended at Torino, Roma have suffered three further draws. Last week they needed a late goal from Kevin Strootman to spare their blushes and they’ll have to raise their game against Fiorentina.
Incredibly, Roma haven’t scored two or more in a match since the middle of October and it comes as no surprise this is happening while Francesco Totti is injured. At 37, Il Gladiatore continues to belie his years and in his absence Roma have dropped behind Juventus in second place.
Nevertheless, the season so far has been quite remarkable for manager Rudi Garcia, who is in his first season in charge at the club, and especially given pre-season predictions tipped Roma for the Europa League at best. The defence continues to be rock-solid with just four goals conceded and if they maintain this form we should definitely see them back in the Champions League next season.
As for Fiorentina, they’re one of the more exciting teams to watch in Serie A this season and their last match was the manic Monday game, a 4-3 victory over Verona. They possess the division’s top scorer in Giuseppe Rossi and in Mario Gomez they have another world-class forward on his way back from injury.
Former West Brom midfielder Borja Valero bagged a brace against Verona and he has been a revelation this season for Fiorentina. Another who will be a real threat for La Viola is Juan Cuadrado: the Colombian has been excellent so far this year; pacey, direct and a constant threat. He could be on the move next summer. A win for Vincenzo Montella’s men could move them above Inter, depending on results, and will keep the pressure on the top three.
Arsenal vs Everton
Sunday 8th December 2013 – Kickoff 16:00 GMT
This probably represents the toughest test this Arsenal team have faced so far. After 14 games they sit four points clear of second place Chelsea and their opening day shock reverse to Aston Villa remains their only blemish at home. Their only other defeat has been at Old Trafford and surely at some point people will have to accept the Gunners as real title contenders.
Arsene Wenger finally opened the infamous war chest when he brought Mesut Ozil to the Emirates. It has turned out to be an inspired signing. The German has been the catalyst for Arsenal’s season, has lifted the dressing room and he exudes confidence and talent on the pitch.
Of course one man who has more than matched Ozil so far this season has been Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman is in the form of his life and barring Luis Suarez or Sergio Aguero he’s probably the best player in the league right now. Goals, tackles, interceptions, passing, close control Ramsey has the lot. If he keeps it up for the entire season he’ll be a shoe-in for player of the year awards and they could be going alongisde a first Premier League winner’s medal…
Of course the place of Arsenal’s most recent defeat is also the scene of Everton’s most recent triumph. Roberto Martinez’s men come into this clash on the back of an excellent 1-0 win at the home of the Champions, and the home of their former manager. Everton hadn’t won at Old Trafford in 21 years and already the Spaniard is looking like a shrewd appointment as Moyes’ successor.
Everton are well organised, strong defensively and lethal on the counter. They’ve got a great mixture of youth and experience and pace and power. In Romelu Lukaku they have a centre forward that gives central defenders nightmares and in Ross Barkley they have one of the most promising young English talents since Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
If Arsenal win they’ll maintain at least a four-point gap and they’ll have defeated a team that has already beaten Manchester United and Chelsea this season. Suddenly their upcoming games against Chelsea and Manchester City won’t look so daunting. Lose and the media will jump on them like a pack of wolves claiming that they’ve been found out. This will be a huge test of character.