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While plenty of leagues may be in a festive slumber with Christmas around the corner, there’s always exciting football to be watched somewhere on the globe. 3 To See this week features two derbies and a cracking looking duel in the Premier League.
Melbourne City vs. Melbourne Victory
Saturday 17th December, KO: 08:50 BST, BT Sport 2
Melbourne-based bragging rights are up for grabs in this one, and if you’re an early riser in the UK then you will have some football to watch over breakfast. Melbourne City – formerly Melbourne Heart – were subsumed in 2014 by the City Football Group who also own Manchester City and New York City FC.
They are a controversial A-League addition, not least because two of their players, Anthony Caceres and Luke Brattan, are on loan from Manchester City. City signed them then immediately loaned them to Melbourne, in a move widely seen as trying to circumnavigate the A-League transfer rules (clubs cannot pay transfer fees to one another).
The franchise side have some memorable names available from Thomas Sorensen (yes, he’s still playing, aged 40) and Tim Cahill. Opposing them will be Melbourne Victory manager Kevin Muscat, who will be able to call upon talented New Zealand winger Marco Rojas to beat their moneyed neighbours. In this second against third battle, Melbourne City have the upper hand, having won the last two derbies. It will be tough to bet against them making it three this weekend, if football betting is your thing.
Manchester City vs. Arsenal
Sunday 18th December, KO: 16:00 BST, Sky Sports 1
After Arsenal‘s title challenge took a dent with a midweek defeat away at Everton, they travel to Manchester to take on a City side who gave their hopes a boost last time out with a routine win over Watford.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have injury problems ahead of the game, with Ilkay Gundogan joining longer term absentees Vincent Kompany and Fabian Delph on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are still seeing out suspensions.
The gap in the midfield left by the absence of Gundogan is likely to be filled by a rejuvenated Yaya Toure. Arsenal have their problems, too. They will again be missing Shkodran Mustafi, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck (though that last one goes without saying at this point).
But depleted squads tend to be par for the course as the Premier League season heads into it’s frantic festive fixtures. Both managers should be experienced enough to handle it. Much could depend on how City’s wingers Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling fare, and what Guardiola decides to do up front.
Does he stick with Nolito through the middle, or bring in Kelechi Iheanacho? Wenger is likely to stick with the livewire Alexis Sanchez up front, but Olivier Giroud has a good record against City, so could prove a threat from the bench. This game could go a long way to telling us which of these teams will still be aiming for the title – and not just a top 4 place – come May.
Barcelona vs. Espanyol
Sunday 18th December, KO: 19:45 BST, Sky Sports 1
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 16, 2016
Barcelona head into this derby in the unusual position of seeing their big rivals Real Madrid some way in the distance. Zinedine Zidane’s side top the La Liga table, six points clear of Barça. With Real not playing this weekend due to their participation in the World Club Championship, anything less than a win will see Luis Enrique’s men fall further behind having played a game more. This time, it’s about more than local bragging rights.
Barcelona have a good record against their city rivals. With their three superstars of Leo Messi, Luis Suarez (who has just signed a new contract) and Neymar all available they will be hopeful of improving on a record of three draws from their last home five games. Espanyol, for their part, are looking impressive under ex-Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores. They are unbeaten in their last 11 games across all competitions. But if anyone can finally defeat them, surely it’s Barcelona’s all-star attack.