5 World Football Games To Watch This Weekend
Another weekend in world football arrives, and with it the resumption of a historic rivalry that is without equal in the English game. When Manchester United and Liverpool come together, intensity and incident are all but guaranteed.
Elsewhere, the world's best player will get back to doing what he does best for Barcelona. Lionel Messi can't pick a suit, but he can pick a pass, and a finish, and a route through 10 defenders. Miss him at your peril.
We've also got defending Premier League champions Manchester City heading to Arsenal, where nothing less than three points will do in their quest to keep pace in the title race. Will Mario Balotelli start? Which Arsenal will turn up? These are just two of the questions that await.
Then there's Edinson Cavani, hot off a perfect hat-trick for Napoli and arguably the form striker in Europe right now. If you like full-blooded forwards and you like goals, watch him this weekend.
There's also a big game to watch in Portugal. The top two teams come together with everything at stake and long unbeaten runs there for the taking.
It should be a good one. Here are my five games to watch this weekend.
5. Napoli vs. Palermo
Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images
When: Sunday, 9 a.m. ET
Where to watch in the U.S.: beIN Sport en Espanyol
There are no really big games in Serie A this weekend, but Napoli's clash with Palermo will be headlined by the hottest striker in Europe.
Edinson Cavani scored a perfect hat-trick in Napoli's 4-1 defeat of Roma last week. As B/R's Jack Alexandros points out here, his team need to take advantage of every opportunity if they are to keep hold of a Champions League spot.
Napoli are currently third in Serie A, two points behind Lazio and seven off leaders Juventus. They take on struggling Palermo, who've lost four of their last five and should be ripe for the plucking.
Expect goals. Expect Napoli to score most of them. Along with Cavani, watch for midfielder Goran Pandev, who Alexandros described as "sensational" against Roma.
4. Benfica vs. Porto
When: Sunday, 3.15 p.m. ET
Where to watch in the U.S.: ESPN3, Sport TV Americas
It doesn't get any bigger in Portugal than this one. They call it the Classico, and if last season's 3-2 win for Porto is anything to go by, we're in for a potential classic.
Benfica have won their last nine in the league, Porto their last seven. Porto are three points back in second, but the defending champions have a game in hand. This game is a good, old-fashioned six-pointer and also offers the chance to scout Porto ahead of their Champions League last-16 meeting with Malaga.
Players to watch include Porto's Joao Moutinho and young striker James Rodriguez (injury permitting), along with Benfica's in-form forward Lima.
3. Arsenal vs. Manchester City
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
When: Sunday, 11 a.m. ET
Where to watch in the U.S.: Fox Soccer
Roberto Mancini will take his Manchester City team to Arsenal desperate to come away with three points and stay in touch with runaway Premier League leaders Manchester United.
City suffered a costly defeat to Sunderland on Boxing Day, but they have responded with free-scoring victories against Norwich and Stoke in the league and Watford in the FA Cup. They've found their way to goal again, and a vulnerable Arsenal defence will need to be better than they usually are.
Arsenal will come into the game on the back of a 2-2 draw at Swansea in the FA Cup, in which they failed to take their chances and paid for dips in concentration. While Arsene Wenger's team remain a frustrating proposition, they also remain fully capable of putting on a show and knocking City over.
Arsenal will go at City. It's the only way they can play, and we should be served a fascinating clash of football cultures between the Gunners' expansive attacking style and a more cagey approach from Mancini's visitors.
2. Malaga vs. Barcelona
David Ramos/Getty Images
When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET
Where to watch in the U.S.: beIN Sport USA
The otherworldly Lionel Messi is set for his first start since winning the 2012 Ballon d'Or in this one, which is enough reason alone to sit down and watch.
But there's more.
Malaga are fourth in La Liga and through to the last 16 of the Champions League. They beat Real Madrid in December and can also count AC Milan and Zenit St. Petersburg among their scalps at La Rosaleda this season.
This is not a forgone conclusion for Barcelona.
That said, Tito Vilanova's men have won their last 11 Liga games on the spin and have scored 18 goals in their last five. They're the form team of European football and possess one of the greatest talents of them all at the peak of his powers.
Suffice to say, they'll take some stopping.
1. Manchester United vs. Liverpool
Michael Regan/Getty Images
When: Sunday, 8.30 a.m. ET
Where to watch in the U.S.: Fox Soccer
The feud between two working-class cities that started with the building of the Manchester ship canal in the late 19th century—taking trade and jobs away from Liverpool's port—lives on in England's most intense football rivalry.
Liverpool and Manchester United fans can't stand each other. The two most successful teams in English football have won 18 and 19 league titles respectively and, in some cases, relish each others' failures almost as much as they do their own successes.
The 1970s and '80s belonged to Liverpool. When Sir Alex Ferguson took over at Manchester United in 1986, he said his biggest task was to "knock Liverpool off their f**king perch," and he duly set about making it happen. Thanks to Ferguson, United owned the 1990s and have been on top ever since.
A new chapter for this tale of two cities will unfold at Old Trafford on Sunday with a 71-year-old Ferguson still in charge and a Robin van Persie-inspired United seven points clear atop the Premier League. Liverpool are eighth, 21 points adrift and in a rebuilding phase under Brendan Rodgers.
Meetings between these teams rarely pass without controversy, and there's sure to be a hostile reception for Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, who will return to Old Trafford for the first time since refusing to shake Patrice Evra's hand.
Put simply, this is as close as it gets to essential viewing in the Premier League.