By Alex James
Manchester United vs. Chelsea
Old Trafford Stadium
Sunday, October 26th
7:45 a.m. EST
Manchester United: DWLWWD
Manchester United: (4-1-2-1-2) de Gea; Rafael, Jones, Rojo, Shaw; Blind; Herrara, Di Maria; Rooney; Van Persie, Falcao
Chelsea: (4-2-3-1) Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard; Costa
Style of Play
Manchester United: possession based; taking long shots; strong runs up the midfield; use individual skill and creativity to break teams down
Chelsea: possession in opponents half; break teams down off the dribble; short quick passes through the midfield; organized defensively
Manchester United: scoring; creating both short and long distance opportunities; freekicks; attacking from the wings
Chelsea: Overall defense; finishing; creating individual chances; keeping the ball; through balls to break teams down
Manchester United: giving up chances on the counterattack; stopping the opposition from getting chances; fouling; protecting the lead
Chelsea: defending through balls
Players to Watch
Manchester United: Angel Di Maria (3 goals and 4 assists in 6 EPL games), Wayne Rooney (3 goals and 2 assists in 6 EPL games)
Tottenham: Diego Costa (9 goals in 7 EPL appearances), Cesc Fabregas (7 assists in 8 EPL games)
This matchup features the two biggest soccer giants in English soccer today, and is shaping up to be one of the games of the season. United started off the season slowly, with losses to Swansea, Leicester, and 4th division MK Dons, leading fans to question whether or not Louis Van Gaal really is the man for the job. Their form has been steadily improving, and with some big acquisitions to start the season (most notably Di Maria) expectations are high for this squad. If United are going to win this game, it’ll have to be through Angel Di Maria. In perhaps the finest form of his career, Di Maria has added a much needed spark to this team, creating 18 chances in the first 6 games of his United career. The addition of Marcos Rojo at center back for United has solidified a previously weak back line; something necessary against a team like Chelsea. Rojo is averaging 2.6 tackles per game, and 3.2 interceptions per game (a team best) and is top 5 on United in every major defensive category. Raw numbers aren’t everything in soccer, but Rojo has passed the eye test as well.
On the other side of the ball is Chelsea, the favorites to win the league this year. They are currently the only undefeated team left in the premier league with 7 wins and a tie, and are leading the league in goals, averaging 3.29 goals per game. New additions Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas are major contributors to this recent offensive success, tallying 9 goals and 7 assists respectively. Chelsea has also only managed to give up 8 goals in 7 games, putting them in the top-5 for goals against in the EPL. This team doesn’t seem to have a weakness, and are firing on all cylinders to start the season.
Don’t expect this game to be high-scoring. With the game being at Old Trafford, and Manchester United having offensive weapons all over the field, I fully expect Mourinho to have his Chelsea team organized and ready to defend while striking on the counter. United has shown weakness in the back, letting up 5 goals to Leicester in a single game, and Chelsea are deadly on the counter. United should be able to keep possession and be given the opportunity to play their game, but Chelsea will be a tough team to break down defensively. This isn’t to say Chelsea won’t get their fair share of the ball, they currently sit at 5th in possession in the EPL with 55.1%. Mourinho also gets his teams to perform in big games, with 3 wins and 3 ties in his last 6 games against Manchester United as manager of Chelsea. This Chelsea squad is shaping up to be the best team the EPL has seen in awhile, and it’ll take United at their absolute best in order to grind out a result.
Stat of the Game
Jose Mourinho has only lost 3 games in 18 matches against Manchester United
Manchester United 1 - 2 Chelsea
Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona
Saturday, October 25th
12 p.m. EST
Real Madrid: LWWWWW
Real Madrid: (4-3-3) Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo; Modric, Kroos, Rodriguez; Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo
Barcelona: (4-3-3) Bravo; Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Munir, Messi, Neymar
Style of Play
Real Madrid: Possession in the opponents half, attempt through balls often, attack up the middle of the field, take lots of shots
Barcelona: Possession-based, tiki-taka, lots of short passes through the midfield, play through balls to the wing, high pressure defense when the ball is lost
Real Madrid: long distance shooting, finishing chances, creating chances through individual skill, counterattacking
Barcelona: possession, getting the ball back in the offensive third, creating easy chances through individual skill, quick one-two passing and forming passing triangles throughout the field
Real Madrid: Defending the lead, midfield letting up chances, stopping attacks up the wing
Barcelona: Defending set pieces, one-dimensional on offense, no aerial threat, susceptible to the counterattack
Players to Watch
Real Madrid: Luca Modric (90% pass accuracy, 11 chances created in 7 games), Isco (1 goal and 4 assists in 5 appearances)
Barcelona: Ivan Rakitic (91% pass accuracy, 2 goals in 7 appearances), Neymar (8 goals and 1 assist in 5 appearances)
El Clasico is the biggest game in European Soccer. It features the two most successful clubs in Spain, and arguably the world. Real Madrid and Barcelona are both in top form at the moment and this game is shaping up to be the biggest game in Europe so far this season. Real Madrid will be without both Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos, two of their best players. Bale has already contributed 4 goals and 3 assists in the La Liga campaign, and Ramos is leading the team with 2.9 interceptions per game as well as 1 block per game. They won’t miss his reckless play however, as he also leads the team in fouls with 2 per game. Their spots will be filled by Isco and Rafael Varane respectively, not much of a step down in terms of ability. Varane is already captaining the French squad at just 21 years of age, and Isco is a bright young star and is leading the team with 4 assists in 7 La Liga games. However, the real story of this Madrid team has been Ronaldo’s current form. He is scoring goals at an absurdly high-rate, with 20 goals in just 15 games in all competitions. He has 5 Man of the Match Awards already, and has scored in every La Liga game so far for Real Madrid this season.
FC Barcelona has had the best defensive start to a season in recent memory. In the first 8 games of La Liga Barcelona has yet to allow a goal, the only team in Europe to have not been scored on yet in their domestic league. This is a change up from their usual defensive abilities, as they are not known for being a defensive side. This hasn’t stopped them from scoring however, as they also have 22 goals in 8 games. Messi and Neymar have been dominating the offensive stat sheet; Neymar has 8 goals and 1 assist, while Messi has moved more into a playmaking role with 7 goals and 7 assists. Off-season additions of goalies Ter Stegen and Bravo, as well as Mathieu have solidified what was previously a weak defense, and signing Croatian star Rakitic has helped fill the gap that aging Xavi has left. The headliner of this match will certainly be Luis Suarez, whose three month match ban ends the day before the game, making him officially eligible to play. How much he will actually play remains to be seen, however the best striker in the world can change the game in a second.
Goals, goals, and more goals. That is what we should be seeing in this game. Both teams play a very offensive oriented style, with firepower all over the field. Expect Barcelona to keep the majority of the possession as they always do, and Madrid to strike on the counterattack. If Madrid go with Modric, Kroos, and Rodriguez in the midfield, this will leave Madrid susceptible in the back as none of the three play a very defensive role. With a midfield of Iniesta, Busquets, and Rakitic, expect Barcelona to have the better midfield play and to create lots of chances. This will be countered by the speed and power up top that Madrid has; give Ronaldo or Benzema even a few quick breaks, and they’ll shred you for it. Although Barcelona’s defense has been stellar, they haven’t been tested by a team like Madrid, and they will get scored on. This should be the best game of the season so far.
Stat of the Game
If Ronaldo scores 2 goals this game, his La Liga goals per game average will actually go down.
Real Madrid 2-3 FC Barcelona
Borussia M. Gladbach vs. Bayern Munich
Sunday, Oct 26th
12:30 p.m. EST
Monchengladbach: (4-4-1-1) Sommer; Korb, Stranzi, Jantschke, Dominguez; Hahn, Kramer, Xhaka, Traore; Raffael; Kruse
Bayern: (4-2-3-1) Neuer; Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Lahm, Alonso; Robben, Muller, Gotze; Lewandowski
Style of Play
Monchengladbach: short passing, attacking down the wings, rotating the starting eleven, attempting through balls and crosses
Bayern: control the ball in the opposition’s half, possession-based, short quick passes, create chances up the middle, getting the ball to the wingers with through balls
Monchengladbach: attacking down the right wing, creating chances, protecting the lead, winning balls in the air
Bayern: finishing, possessing the ball, creating scoring opportunities through individual talent, play on the wings, creating easy goal scoring chances
Monchengladbach: fouling in dangerous areas, allowing goal scoring chances, defending against long shot opportunities
Bayern: stopping the opponents from getting chances, defending balls in the air
Players to Watch
Monchengladbach: Max Kruse (5 goals and 2 assists in 5 league games), Raffael (17 chances created in 8 appearances)
Bayern: Robert Lewandowski (4 goals and 2 assists in 6 appearances), Mario Geotze (6 goals in 6 league appearances)
This game features the two best teams in the Bundesliga so far, with Bayern sitting atop the league table, and Monchengladbach at number two. Both teams are undefeated so far in the league and are playing great soccer. It’s a big game, as Monchengladbach can close the gap between first and second. Monchengladbach has had a great start to the season, after finishing sixth last year and missing out on Champions League soccer. Kruse is leading the attack with 5 goals in 5 appearances, putting him at second in goals scored for the Bundesliga. Their defense has been playing great as well, letting in an average of 0.5 goals per game in the league. Martin Stranzi has been a force at center back for them as well, playing every minute of every game so far and winning headers all over the field; he is currently 5th in the Bundesliga, winning 6.1 aerial duels per game. Monchengladbach is a well-rounded team that is looking to give Bayern some serious trouble.
Bayern have looked unstoppable so far this season under second-year coach Pep Guardiola. Guardiola became famous at Barcelona, where he put together arguably the best team to ever play. His tenure at Barcelona was a huge success, and it has continued at Bayern, winning 2 major trophies in his first season as coach and winning the league faster than anyone has before. He has implemented his same style of soccer at Bayern as what he had at Barcelona, small and quick passes through the midfield to create chances along the wing, and high pressure on defense to win the ball back immediately. He changes his lineup all the time, using 6 different formations in just 8 games. He’s not afraid to put players where he thinks they should go, as he’s been playing long-time right back Philipp Lahm at center midfield for the past two seasons with great success. He’s finally settled in at Bayern and they are looking incredibly dangerous. They are leading Europe right now with 70.6% possession, and are also leading the Bundesliga with 18.4 shots per game and 87.9% pass accuracy as a whole. Off-season acquisition Robert Lewandowski has a lot to do with this, as he’s given Pep the natural striker that Bayern has been looking for.
Expect Bayern to have the majority of the possession in this game, and to create more chances through midfield and wing play. Gladbach will get their chances on the counterattack, as they create many goal-scoring opportunities with through balls. Gladbach will look to get a lot of players behind the ball, and hopefully be able to gain some possession through organized defending. They will have to play at their absolute best if they want to beat Bayern, especially with Bayern having just trumped Italian giants Roma 7-1 in the Champions League this week.
Stat of the Game
Bayern have won 29 of their last 34 Bundesliga games
Borussia Monchengladbach 1-3 Bayern Munich