June 18, 2021

The big weekend preview: El Clasico, United vs Chelsea

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After an engrossing midweek of continental action in the Champions League and Europa League, attention returns to Europe’s biggest domestic leagues this weekend—and another fascinating collection of fixtures.

In this feature, Goal pick out our five most mouth-watering matches to watch over the coming days.

The Hammers will enter this one with genuine belief that they can get a result, having demonstrated remarkable resolve to come from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 against a rampant Tottenham Hotspur side last weekend.

It was a sensational comeback from a side who have been accused of lacking character over the years, and was testament to the great work David Moyes is achieving in East London.

This weekend they face another tough assignment in Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola’s side having won this corresponding fixture 5-0 last season.

It’s unlikely to be the same this time around, even if the Hammers’ defence looked particularly vulnerable during that opening spell against Spurs.

An intriguing subplot here could be the Irons debut of Said Benrahma following his arrival from Brentford.

Could the Algeria maestro be the spark the Irons need to finally get to the next level and banish any relegation concerns for good?

After encouraging performances in the Champions League in midweek—against Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla—both United and Chelsea should have renewed confidence when they meet in Saturday’s showdown.

Domestically, they’ve been less than convincing recently, although the Red Devils did bounce back in style last weekend after falling behind to Newcastle United, eventually running out 4-1 winners.

Defensively, both have had their issues; Chelsea, latterly, when they shipped three in a 3-3 draw with Southampton to drop two valuable points.

Frank Lampard will hope that new arrival Edouard Mendy steps in between the sticks again—as he did against Sevilla—to continue his fine start to life in England, banishing all requirement for him to ever use the hapless Kepa Arrizabalaga again.

For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and United, the return to form of Harry Maguire following a testing international break should be cause for optimism that the Red Devils can rediscover the excellent form they demonstrated during Project Restart.

Even in front of an empty stadium, the Clasico should still be a spectacle, as these two old rivals collide again in a meeting of the world’s biggest club sides.

Neither have been particularly convincing in recent months, as Barca pick themselves up after a horror 2019-20 and the Lionel Messi affair that utterly overshadowed their offseason.

Real Madrid won the last meeting between these two back in March, but their limitations and vulnerabilities were exposed in their 3-2 Champions League defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk.

Barcelona, by contrast riding high after a 5-1 thumping of Hungarian heavyweights Ferencvaros, will be in fine fettle, although they will still be without Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who missed out with a tendon injury.

Samuel Umtiti is another absentee, while Jordi Alba is in contention to feature.

Real, meanwhile, will be able to call upon fit-again Sergio Ramos, who will start alongside Raphael Varane.

There may not be much separating these two come the end of the season, with the Gunners looking like a revitalised force under Mikel Arteta, and Leicester going in the right direction under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers.

The last time these two played—in July—Jamie Vardy rescued a late point for the Foxes, but he’s a doubt due to injury, which may come as a major boost for the Londoners.

If he can’t play, Rodgers may well turn to Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho, who excelled in the Europa League, while James Maddison could make his return to the starting XI after playing over an hour in midweek.

The midfield battle could be key, and all eyes will be on new arrival Thomas Partey, who won’t have to worry about injured Wilfred Ndidi as he looks to feed the likes of Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Juventus vs Hellas Verona

On paper, this one should be a comfortable home victory for Juventus, but that is what was expected of the Old Lady last weekend, when they were held 1-1 at home against newly promoted Crotone.

While rookie coach will be concerned that his side weren’t able to swat away the Serie A minnows, he’ll perhaps be most worried about their inability to break down their lowly opponents to take all three points.

They dispatched Dynamo Kyiv 2-0 away in the Champions League in midweek, but now up against a stubborn Hellas Verona side—they’ve conceded just once in their first four matches—Juve will have to find some better solutions going forward.

Similarly, Pirlo will also have to find ways of replacing various key absentees.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Weston McKennie are both still isolating due to coronavirus, and Giorgio Chiellini will miss out after picking up an injury in the Ukraine.

Federico Chiesa is suspended after being dismissed against Crotone, while Alex Sandro and Matthijs de Ligt are also set to miss out due to fitness concerns.