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Nick : Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sunday 26th February.
Whilst it is the Carling Cup final this weekend, with Liverpool and Cardiff City fighting it out at Wembley for to win the first trophy of the season, for me the most exciting game of the weekend is the North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham. These games are always passionate affairs but there’s a little extra spice to the game this weekend. Both clubs have seen something of a turn of fortune this season, since his time at Arsenal Arsene Wenger hasn’t finished below local rivals Spurs, but it will almost certainly happen this year following a poor season for the Gunners and a fantastic one for Tottenham. It could be Harry Redknapp’s last taste of a North London derby as well, after he has been strongly linked to the currently vacant England managerial position and may well be in charge of his country by the end of the season.
Arsenal go into the game on the back of an awful week for the club. An absolute drubbing in the Champions League at the hands of AC Milan was followed by an end to their FA Cup campaign, as Sunderland beat them 2-0 to knock them out of the competition. With no realistic hope of winning a trophy this season, all Arsenal now have left is the fight for a Champions League position. Tottenham haven’t had a particularly great lead up to the game either, after drawing 0-0 in the FA Cup with Stevenage of League 1 but will be hoping to confirm the shift of power in North London by doing the double over their rivals, after beating Arsenal 2-1 in the reverse fixture earlier this season. One thing is for sure, both fans and players will be up for this one, which should make for an engrossing match.
Michel: Milan vs Juventus, Serie A, Saturday 25th February
Milan against Juventus is the big match of the Serie A this week, and one of the biggest games in Europe. Milan is currently first and Juventus second. They are sundered by just one point but the bianconeri still have to play the called-off math against Bologna.
The home side will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish striker is still banned for the punch at Salvatore Aronica. Out, for injuries, are Maxi Lopez and Kevin Prince Boateng. Massimiliano Allegri has told already that the Pato and Robinho will be the starter strikers. After the defeat against Lazio and the draw against Napoli Milan came back for a late win against Udinese, then the impressive win over the Gunners in the Champions League and finally the 3-1 win against Cesena. The last three victories have been a big boost for the rossoneri who look very confident at the moment and finally ready to win a big match in this Serie A.
La Vecchia Signora, the Old Lady, with a victory would significantly get closer to the scudetto, even though the season is still long. They are probably aware, however, that a draw would not be a bad result for them but Antonio Conte told the press that “they want to win” and that “they are working since the begging of the year to do so”. Juventus, who on the contrary to Milan has basically all his players, is still unbeaten this season but the many draws (ten, five more then Milan) prevented them to be in a better position. In their last game, against Catania, Andrea Pirlo, former Milan player, scored his first goal for the bianconeri and as usual he will be the playmaker for Juventus. Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri are running for the two places in front of Conte’s XI.
Prediction: even without so many important players I see Milan slightly favourite, especially for the last convincing performances. But it won’t be easy, both for the several absences and the fact that Juventus is not playing in any European competition and it is totally focused on the championship. 2-1 is my guess for the exact result.
Matthew Wallace England vs Wales 6 Nations. 25th February 2012 KO 4pm
Wales travel to Twickenham knowing that victory will see them secure the triple crown.
This will be the toughest test yet for the new look England side. They have been solid rather than spectacular in their opening two games but have been victorious nevertheless. England will have home advantage on their side and their record against Wales at Twickenham is excellent. The defence is in for a stern test with Wales’ back 3 looking particularly strong. Ben Morgan is handed his first start and after an excellent display against Italy, will be looking to make a similar impact against the side he is also eligible for due to residency. They also welcome back Tulagi at 13 which gives them another attacking platform
Wales welcome back Sam Warburton after he missed the Scotland game with a dead leg. Should they get the victory, it sets them up very nicely to mount a challange for the Grand Slam and the tournament. Wales will be looking to use their blend of experience and youth to win the tie.
Prediction: It will be a lot tighter than some bookmakers and journalists are suggesting. England have home advantage and are beginning to regain some of their old confidence. England will need to show more in terms of attack than they have in the opening two games if they want to win the game. I think Wales will win it as they have more try scoring potential in their ranks but its going to be tight. 14-20 Wales (Not at all biased) Dewch Mlaen Cymru!
Matthew Wood: WGC Accenture Matchplay Championships, Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Arizona, Wednesday 22nd-Sunday 26th February.
Although already heading in to its 3rd day at the time of writing, with the last 8 matchups commencing on Saturday, the first WGC of 2012 in the form of the Matchplay tournament from the American West attracts a field only to be rivalled by the 4 golfing majors. With defending champion and World #1 Luke Donald already dismissed by Ernie Els, both Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood have been presented with an early chance to ascend to the top of the world golfing tree in the early throes of the new season. Westwood, of course, has held the coveted top spot before, while McIlroy is hoping to follow up his domination over a world class field at the 2011 US Open at Congressional in Maryland by securing the pinnacle in the golf rankings for the first time in his fledgling career.
Standing in McIlroy’s way is the lowest ranked competitor remaining; Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has made a career in winning big tournaments when others are more favoured. Awaiting McIlroy or Jimenez in the last 8 in the Gary Player bracket will be Australian John Senden or Korean Sang-Moon Bae, both of whom were not expected to progress beyond the 1st round. The Sam Snead bracket is dominated by Westwood and American Nick Watney, who saw off former World Number 1 Tiger Woods in the 2nd round. Scot Martin Laird or fellow countryman Paul Lawrie awaits the winner of this highly anticipated tie. On the opposite side of the draw the host nation is extremely well represented, with Hunter Mahan facing up against perennial Mr. Consistency Steve Stricker for the opportunity to meet either Matt Kuchar or Germany 2010 PGA Champion Martin Kaymer in the last 8 of the Ben Hogan bracket. Both matches involve some of the more prolific names in world golf. Finally, the Bobby Jones bracket sees big hitter Dustin Johnson take on fellow American Mark Wilson for the right to take on either Brandt Snedeker or Swede Peter Hanson. Saturday and Sunday will both be 2 tiered tee-off days as these multiple golfing champions look to secure some early season form and money ahead of the US Masters from Augusta National Country Club in April.
Dian: Bayern Munich vs. Schalke 04, Bundesliga, Sunday 26th February
Allianz Arena will host yet another big game this season, and one of massive importance for both teams involved- hosts Bayern and the visitors from Schalke.
The Bavarians are currently third in the Bundesliga with 45 points, while The Miners are fourth, a point behind their rivals. The outcome of this match might decide which team will go out of the title race, but is also a direct clash for the last spot that allows German teams to qualify directly for the group stage of the Champions League.
The players with most goals in the Bundesliga this season, Mario Gomez and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, will aslo go head-to-head on Sunday, both having scored 18 goals in 21 games each.
Bayern and Schalke have been performing shakily recently, as each team has won just 2 out of their last 5 games. Der FCB surprisingly lost the first leg of their 1/8 finals Champions League match away to Basel, and on top of that they managed just a draw against struggling Freiburg last Saturday in the league. The Royal Blues on the other hand needed extra time to beat Viktoria Plzen in the Europa League, not the best possible scenario ahead of the game against Bayern.
The hosts will have to deal with the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger, the midfielder being out for an undisclosed period of time, while Schalke will most probably be missing the likes of Lewis Holtby and former Bayern player Alexander Baumjohann.
After Wednesday’s loss to Basel, Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge stated that “it’s time to wake up”, so Jupp Heynckes and his men will certainly have to try and win on Sunday, otherwise they risk losing their title chances as early as March.
“It won’t be easy for us, but as always it’s about getting the three points“, said Schalke 04 boss Huub Stevens. He also admitted that he thinks Bayern have the best squad in the Bundesliga.
Anyway, we’ll have to wait until Sunday to see what will happen at Allianz Arena, but one thing is for sure- it will be a very interesting and tense game. I think that the most likely outcome is a draw, but with these two teams you never know.