Barcelona’s Messi dilemma, Chelsea v Liverpool on Friday night: The Big Weekend Preview
Previewing the best of this weekend’s action as well as the footballing world’s biggest talking points.
Do Barcelona have the strength in depth?
It seems ridiculous to question one of the best squads in world football but the Spanish champions have a unique issue. Lionel Messi is so good, so integral to the way his side play that they so often struggle when he is rested. As a result, manager Luis Enrique is loathe to rest his star man; when he is fit, Messi plays.
But the Argentine is now 29. He needs only look over at his rival Cristiano Ronaldo to see injuries becoming more frequent with age. It is in Barcelona’s best interests to manage Messi’s game time, but it may not be possible.
Against Alaves last week, Enrique rested Messi along with Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Barca struggled to breakdown Alaves and lost 2-1.
If Enrique can’t trust his backup players, Messi won’t get any rest and Barca are an injury away from losing him for the key part of the season.
Can PSG rebound?
The French champions romped to the title last season, but they have already stumbled this time around. Their opening four fixtures have been blighted by a demoralising 3-1 defeat at title rivals Monaco and a 1-1 home draw with Saint-Etienne last week, when manager Unai Emery rested several key players ahead of their opening Uefa Champions League Group A fixture against Arsenal on Tuesday. The match finished 1-1.
Two of their most influential players of recent seasons — Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Luiz — left in the summer, and they have a new manager. Is it possible that this squad will struggle to replicate last season’s quality? A tough away trip at Caen on Friday will give us an idea.
Are Leicester out of it already?
Common consensus was that Leicester City would struggle to even make the top four this season, let alone retain their Premier League title.
Four games in and they have just four points. New signings have yet to be integrated into the first XI and they have a Champions League campaign to focus on, too.
Saturday’s match at home to Burnley is a must-win because three of their next four matches are away trips — at Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. The top four could already be out of sight for Leicester after those games.
Players to watch
• Diego Costa, Chelsea: The way Costa has played this season is as if Chelsea have kept him in a dark room all week and only let him out before kick off. He is playing on the edge and it is working, with four league goals in as many games.
But he also seems to be on the verge of a red card at all times. Costa has been booked in three of four games this season and should probably have been sent off in every one.
Liverpool at home on Friday is Chelsea’s biggest game of the season so far. Expect Costa to ramp up the aggression.
• Oliver Burke, RB Leipzig: Big things are expected of the 19-year-old Scottish winger, who signed for Bundesliga new boys RB Leipzig for £13 million (Dh53m) from Nottingham Forest over the summer. He set up the winner on his debut against Borussia Dortmund last week and could emerge as an international star in Germany. People have called him Scotland’s answer to Gareth Bale. That’s an exciting comparison.
• Arkadiusz Milik, Napoli: Poland’s Milik impressed at Euro 2016 and he is doing a good job replacing Gonzalo Higuain at Napoli. Milik, 22, netted 22 league goals at Ajax last season and he has two in three for Napoli so far, plus a double in the Champions League in midweek against Dynamo Kiev.
Milik has a wand of a left foot and he could score a hatful in Serie A this season.
Matches to watch
• Chelsea v Liverpool, Friday 11pm (UAE): Friday night Premier League football is a new thing this season, one of the best ideas in a while. This is a mouthwatering clash so early in the season. Liverpool’s last trip to London saw them destroy Arsenal and the players must be licking their lips at the prospect of playing against David Luiz on his second debut for Chelsea.
• PSV Eindhoven v Feyenoord, Sunday 4.30pm (UAE): One of Dutch football’s classics. Feyenoord have not won a title since 1999 but they have won five from five this season and possess a quality squad, led by veteran Dirk Kuyt.
While Feyenoord have scored 15 and conceded just twice, PSV are not far behind with 11 goals and one conceded. Only a surprise 0-0 draw at home to Groningen has kept them from top spot. This should be a cracker: the last two encounters at PSV were 3-1 and 4-3 and there was even a 10-0 in 2010.
• Inter Milan v Juventus, Sunday 8pm (UAE): The Derby d’Italia comes at a crucial time in the Serie A season. Just three games in, Juventus are cruising and look like they could again stroll to the title. They lost Paul Pogba in the summer but have improved their squad in every other way, especially with Higuain arriving from Napoli.
Inter are one of the few teams with hopes of challenging Juventus, but they are already five points behind. Most of their hopes lie in Mauro Icardi, their Argentine forward who has three league goals already. Inter will be desperate to dent Juve’s confidence.
The weekend’s best TV games
(All games on BeIN Sports. All times UAE)
• Serie A: Sampdoria v AC Milan, 10.45pm
• Premier League: Chelsea v Liverpool, 11pm
• Ligue 1: Caen v PSG, 11pm
• Primera Liga: Leganes v Barcelona, 3pm
• Bundesliga: Bayern Munich v Ingolstadt, 5.30pm
• Premier League: Hull City v Arsenal, 6pm
• Premier League: Watford v Manchester United, 3pm
• Premier League: Tottenham v Sunderland, 7.30pm
• Eredivisie: PSV v Feyenoord, 4.30pm
• Serie A: Inter v Juventus, 8pm
• Primera Liga: Espanyol v Real Madrid, 10.45pm
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Published: September 14, 2016 04:00 AM