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Many of Europe’s top leagues may be winding down ahead of their winter break (don’t worry, the Premier League will still charge headlong into an absurd number of fixtures over the festive period) but there’s still some important games to be played.
This weeks’ Three To See features an emotional Turin derby in Serie A, a clash between the surprise leaders and reigning champions in France’s Ligue 1 and one hell of a grudge match down in England’s League One.
MK Dons vs. AFC Wimbledon
Saturday 10th December, KO: 13:00 BST
It’s the grudge match to end all grudge matches. Both these clubs were spawned in 2002, when financially crippled Wimbledon were controversially moved from their traditional home to Milton Keynes, a city without a football club, and renamed MK Dons. Fans of the real Dons, bereft, angry and without a club to support, formed AFC Wimbledon in response. Now, 14 years later, the two meet on an equal footing in the league for the first time.
They have met before in the F.A. Cup, EFL Cup and what was formerly called the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. But now they meet in League One, with upstarts AFC Wimbledon actually above the hated usurpers in the table. Many AFC Wimbledon fans don’t see it as a rivalry, and plenty will be staying away from the game due to a desire not to put money in the pockets of the Milton Keynes club that they say stole their identity. For those who do make the trip, it’s bound to be an emotional occasion. Wimbledon will be on a high after an epic comeback win over Curzon Ashton in the F.A. Cup recently.
Amazingly, this game will not be televised in the UK. Sky Sports apparently believing the Premier League mediocrity of Watford vs. Everton is more likely to draw in viewers than this genuinely intriguing, passionate, one-of-a-kind rivalry. Even if you’re only able to catch the highlights, this one is surely worth a look.
Torino vs. Juventus
Sunday 11th December, KO: 14:00 BST, BT Sport 2
Torino celebrated the 110th anniversary of their founding recently, and it would have been a bittersweet celebration, coming so soon after the Chapocoense plane crash disaster. That would have brought back so many memories of the crash that robbed the world of Il Grade Torino back in 1949.
Modern day Torino, while no match for their illustrius forebears, are quietly impressing in Serie A. Going into this match against their local rivals Juventus they are 7th, stalking horses for the European places. They won’t be challenging Juve for the title but nonetheless they could put a dent in the champions’ run to reclaim the crown. In Italy international Andrea Belotti they have a genuinely in form striker, and he will be rubbing his hands with glee at the news that Juventus are missing two of their fabled back three (Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci are both injured).
Torino may never have a better chance of sticking it to their illustrious rivals. Gianluigi Buffon could be set for a busier than usual afternoon.
PSG vs. OGC Nice
Sunday 11th December, KO: 19:45 BST, BT Sport 1
It seems as though Leicester City’s unlikely Premier League triumph last season inspired everyone except themselves. While the Foxes toil to avoid a relegation battle, over on the continent Nice are trying to emulate them and bring home an unexpected league title.
They lost their impressive manager Claude Puel to Southampton and talisman Hatem Ben Arfa to PSG (where he has barely played) but recruited astutely with Lucien Favre in the dugout and Mario Balotelli filling the “complicated yet brilliant enigma” role. The small side who last one the top flight title in 1959 currently top Ligue 1, being trailed by an impressive Monaco side and stuttering Paris St. Germain in third. On Sunday, first meets third and a win for Unai Emery’s big-spending side would see them move to within one point of Favre’s upstarts.
Things haven’t gone well for ex-Sevilla boss Emery thus far. They have struggled to adjust to a post-Zlatan world and the Spaniard has not been able to imprint an identity upon them. Laurent Blanc’s tenure in the capital was dubbed a failure by the club’s hyper-ambitious owners even though he brought home three league titles and eight domestic cups. At present, Emery’s team aren’t the terrifying domestic force of old and have not convinced in the European stage either. Lose more ground to Nice this weekend and the vultures will really begin circling for the Spanish boss.