10 Players to Watch in World Football This Weekend of March 20-22
There are big weekends of football, and then there are huge ones.
This weekend, particularly Sunday, sees some of the world's most watched and most anticipated fixtures take part, with plenty to play for in different domestic leagues and competitions. In Spain, of course, we have El Clasico, with Barcelona and Real Madrid fighting for the title. In England, Liverpool and Manchester United face off in a fight for the Champions League, while it's also first vs. third in Germany, Turkey and Netherlands—so there is no shortage of individuals to look for in selecting our players to watch.
We've chosen them by recent headlines, by form, by ability to impact each game in isolation and for their standing in their respective teams, and we've chosen 10 of them.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, El Clasico
Right, we're doubling up on el Clasico so let's get the classic battle out the way first: Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo.
They're both obviously going to want to score and win for their own teams' sakes and to aid a charge toward title aspirations, but of course they also want to hit the back of the net to beat each other. If Real are 4-0 up and Barcelona get a penalty in the last minute of the game, is Messi letting someone else take it? Of course not, and vice-versa.
They want to out-do each other, want to finish as top scorer and will be shooting at every opportunity on Sunday.
Luis Suarez vs. Sergio Ramos, El Clasico
Elsewhere, where is the biggest battle likely to take place? It's going to be in Barcelona's attacking third, where the buzzing industry and tenacious skill of Luis Suarez will come up against the fit-again Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid's defensive enforcer and chief organiser.
Suarez's movement is key to letting Lionel Messi do his thing, creating space by pulling wide and sprinting through gaps for through passes. His finishing has been much improved and his confidence is through the roof; he'll be desperate to have a big impact in this game and could easily be the match-winner.
Against that, Ramos is one of the most determined and all-round impressive defensive characters in the game. He can do everything the modern centre-back requires and can impact at the other end too.
Who keeps their head most in this physical, as well as mental and technical, one-on-one could be as important as who gets their timing perfect.
Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool
Enough of El Clasico—Liverpool are hosting Manchester United in the Premier League before all of that kicks off, anyway.
A Champions League berth for next season is at stake, the Reds in fifth and the Red Devils in fourth, so only a win for the home team will do. Philippe Coutinho has been one of their several standout players in the past couple of months, with his movement and creativity a perfect fit in the 3-4-3—and a few spectacular goals of late don't hurt either.
United's midfield looks much stronger of late but Coutinho can pick the defence apart with his passes and vision. There's no telling how the game will unfold, but if Liverpool get their No. 10 on the ball it's a great place to start.
Yann Sommer, Borussia Moenchengladbach
Let's run down the first-vs.-third battles then, starting in Germany. Bayern Munich play Borussia Moenchengladbach and will be expected to have more chances and push for the win, of course, so we're opting for the man charged with stopping them as the key figure.
Yann Sommer has been largely excellent since signing for 'Gladbach in the summer and will have to raise that quality even higher to keep out Robert Lewandowski and co.
Only Bayern have conceded fewer than BMG this term, but it will take an almighty effort for Sommer to keep a clean sheet at the Allianz Arena.
Luuk De Jong, PSV
League leaders PSV Eindhoven travel to third-placed Feyenoord in the Dutch Eredivisie, with both the league's two leading scorers in the usual PSV lineup. Memphis Depay of course has long attracted admirers and links, but it's Luuk de Jong we'll go for.
With 15 this term he's revelling being back in a familiar environment, showing all his penalty-box abilities and profiting from being in a dominant side who play high up the field, allowing him to operate where he can hurt teams most.
De Jong hit 25 in his last Eredivisie season, with Twente in 2012; he'll need to up his present rate to hit that tally again but he's certainly capable of helping his team to victory and toward the title here.
Dirk Kuyt, Fenerbahce
Turkey now and, despite Fenerbahce triumphing over Galatasaray in the big game a couple of weeks ago, they are down to third after slipping up at Genclerbirligi last time out. Another huge fixture is right around the corner though: They take on Super Lig leaders Besiktas on Sunday, with a four-point gap to overcome.
Dirk Kuyt was the winner against Galatasaray and he can do exactly the same again here; the Dutchman is impervious to pressure and has played in the very biggest of matches, and always comes up trumps.
Not a 20-goal-a-season man, he'll always put in the most effort of anyone on the pitch regardless and still come up with the winners at the most vital of moments.
Salomon Rondon, Zenit
Russia and its Premier League got back underway a couple of weeks back, with Zenit quickly settling into their rhythm as league leaders.
They play third-place Dinamo Moscow this weekend, knowing that a win will kill off any lingering hopes of a title challenge that Dinamo may have—the gap is already 10 points, with a game in hand for the chasing side. CSKA Moscow sit between the two, five points away from each.
Hulk and Salomon Rondon have been tremendous this term in front of goal for Zenit and it's the 10-goal Venezuelan we opt for, with his power and pace a perfect fit for Andre Villas-Boas' side to play off and challenge in the final third with.
Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy
That's enough first-vs-third games, now we're off Stateside. MLS this weekend sees reigning champions LA Galaxy face Houston Dynamo, who had a disappointing 2014 campaign and will be hoping for better fortune this year, having switched over to the Western Conference.
Robbie Keane will remain pivotal to Galaxy's hopes for the season, already up and running with his goals after netting on the opening weekend at home to Chicago Fire, but he'll want to offer more this time out than last week.
Galaxy are already up to second after a win and a draw in their opening games, with this representing a chance to make it three unbeaten at the start of the new season.
Luis Muriel, Sampdoria
Back to Europe and over to Serie A, where Italian sides Sampdoria and Inter Milan face off in an intriguing match on Sunday.
Samp are well in form and fighting for that third Champions League place, four points off the pace but with three wins in a row to their name—including 2-0 at Roma last week. Luis Muriel netted his third of the season in that match, all of which have come in the past month.
The Colombian is really having a big impact at his new club after a January transfer and he can be pivotal once again as Sampdoria look stronger than an Inter side still struggling for an identity at times under Roberto Mancini.
Pablo Piatti, Valencia
We'll finish up where we started, over in Spain as a reminder that there are nine other games taking place in La Liga over the coming days!
Valencia have been one of the form sides of late, picking up wins to move into third and finding results going their way even when they aren't quite at their most fluid. Pablo Piatti is the undoubted star at the moment, carving up teams and laying on chance after chance for his team-mates...several of whom keep spurning them a little too frequently.
Piatti's involvement and end product were just obscene last weekend against Deportivo La Coruna and he could certainly go even more to town on Elche on Friday night.